Owning your education is compelling and rewarding, but often a logistically, culturally, and emotionally challenging objective to accomplish, and is possibly the single scariest thing people can execute in our society. Because, it is the exact antithesis to the messages of conformity, control, and competition that are ingrained in the very foundation of our formal educational system.
This, however, is the fundamental gift we offer to every youth member of Deep Root Center.
The message of ownership is implicit in all we do: We foster an atmosphere of mutual respect that is palpable for any individual who enters our doors. We never tell a kid what or what not to do. Respect for yourself, the space, and each other is, in fact, our only rule. We ask for opinions and listen carefully to the responses. We involve our members and implement their proposals in every aspect of DRC. We offer ideas for one-on-one classes, internships, or independent research during our individual mentoring sessions, without demands. We have expectations that are offered as a guide, not as coercive or restrictive directives. We (staff, students, and volunteers) are all delighted to learn and explore new ideas and seek out knowledge and our excitement is simply contagious.
In what other educational environment are kids encouraged to not only take ownership of their learning, but to take possession and personal responsibility of the learning facility itself?
I was so happy (actually ecstatic) to watch a group of kids, ranging in age from 7-15, do just that during DRC's first group meeting this past Tuesday. These youth had never been in a room all together, but yet in this short amount of time, they were comfortable enough with themselves, their ideas, the space, the staff (me), and the philosophy of DRC to confidently present ideas for group classes and then implement those ideas.
During that half hour session, they built a group schedule of one or two classes each day, to begin with. As more members and volunteers join us, their suggestions and interests will be welcomed and added to the mix.
DRC Promo, the class they seem most excited about so far, is one they initiated. They, as a collective, decided that they will be responsible for producing and writing weekly tag-lines for the signboard on the sidewalk. This week's is: “Real Kids, Learning Real Stuff at DRC”. They will also be creating and distributing the monthly poster advertising the DRC Third Thursday Info Sessions. As they gain steam, I can imagine their creative energy exploding into other areas of promotion. They may even have the opportunity to do PSA's on a local radio station.
Ownership is indeed powerful, enticing, and grounding. Amazing things happen when kids realize they are in charge of their own education. Not only has their desire to learn become intrinsically motivated, these kids are seeking out opportunities to explore their world in ways that are, for the most part, unheard of in school.