This past week a mental health provider sent me a Vanderbilt Assessment Scale to fill out for one of our members. Over the nearly twenty years I have worked with kids, I can assure you this is not the first one I have completed when asked (and won't be the last). I fully admit that I filled out the first few without looking at the questions with a critical eye and without considering how my answers would affect the child's life.
Then as time passed and I explored and learned more, my personal philosophy shifted dramatically into something closer to self-directed education or SDE - not progressive education (read the Peter Grey Article in the link to decipher the difference). As my foundational beliefs evolved towards the concept of unschooling, I began to scrutinize each item on the assessment and realized that it was, as a whole, crucially biased. Therefore, the data collected by the mental health professional could only be faulty.
Any evaluation scale that I have seen - assumes that whatever they are testing for is straight-up bad. Not surprisingly, on this particular scale, I consider at least 85% of the "symptoms" positive traits. The outcomes can only be skewed when the tool you are using is subjective. In the end, the one thing you have learned is the diagnosis. You know very little or nothing about the person you are assessing. How can that, ultimately, be good for them? They, along with anyone in their life, will probably only see the negative connotations of the label first.
In this most recent one that I had to fill out, I wrote in "NA" beside most of the items on the list. I refuse to rate a particular behavior as negative - that I consider beneficial. I also wrote a long explanation in the comments section - that may have extended (absolutely did) to the back of the paper.
I understand that these type of tools are helpful on some level. No, I am not a mental health professional, and, for that reason, I can't legitimately create a better device. Nonetheless, I challenge the professionals to design them better; without the perceived negative connotation of each item - being rated (or the "disorder" itself). We have so much more knowledge about neurodivergence and the way the brain works than when these tests were first developed. I see the fall-out from the harmful implications - every day. The only way to change how people regard themselves and their potential is to alter the notion that they are in some way broken.
As someone who has worked with kids for nearly two decades, I can say that instead of noticing "symptoms," we should be looking for ways to see the whole person - getting to know them in all their breathtaking uniqueness (not compartmentalizing the things we want to fix). Only then can we fully understand them and help guide them into embracing their neurodiversity and all of their pure awesomeness - toward learning and growth.
*In this post, I am focusing on the various rating scales that mental health professionals use to diagnose certain disorders. Next week I will talk about exams and other standardized testing tools used to determine the proficiency of students.
Weekly Creative Meditation
Thankful for Community Opportunities
We are grateful that the Canton Rec. Dept. has created an open skate opportunity for DRC and other homeschooled kids in the community every Tuesday and Thursday at 10 am (except for this coming week because CCS Phys. Ed. classes will be there). DRC kids (Canton and sometimes East) plan on being there every Tuesday morning. Our kids had a great time this past week.
Sensory Safe Space
As you can see, the Sensory Safe Space at Canton is coming together with an eclectic cast of characters painted on the walls.
DRC Gender Clothing Closet
The Social Justice class is also in the process of creating a Gender Clothing Closet in Canton. We have clothing sorted by size, not gender, for any student to borrow for the day or take home for good. The kids would like to open this up to the larger community. As it comes together, stay tuned for DRC Social Media Posts addressing the logistics.
Leadership is often confused with bossiness. A leader intentionally creates safe, supportive environments where the mission is clear, and people feel comfortable enough to be themselves and then generate and bring forward innovative ideas. Along with not coercing people - a leader models the basic concept of taking responsibility and expects that their team will too.
In addition, a leader will:
A boss will: well, do the opposite of most of those things, and on top of that, usually micro-manages everyone and everything to the point of frustration.
We all know a few leaders and have had the misfortune of working with (for) some bosses. I try hard to be the person described within the top list. I freely admit, some days, I am way more successful than others.
My role extends far beyond being an employer - I try to follow the same protocol for all of "my kids," the members of DRC. My greatest wish is that they each feel trusted and supported to become innovative, kind, intuitive, fun, and responsible leaders in their own right.
Weekly Creative Meditation
Both Centers are implementing Sensory Safe Spaces. The one in Canton already has large cushions and fleece throws, a weighted blanket, noise-canceling headphones, and a basket full of fidget toys.
These are cozy spots designed to be safe places for kids to chill out or de-stress whenever they feel overwhelmed or anxious.
A local supporter has sourced (searched for and purchased) a beanbag for us and will bring it by this week to upgrade the cushions (Thank you, Anna). We will also need one for the North Lawrence space. If you have one that your family no longer uses, please consider getting in touch & passing it on to us. We will put it to good use. Thank you!
I am a writer. Nearly every week for at least eight years, I have written a blog post, and the last few have included a creative meditation in the form of a haiku. You will also find a children's book floating around on Amazon - that I wrote and self-published many years ago. And there is a follow-up book that has yet to be illustrated and published. I have also come to love graphic design (thank you, Canva) and dedicate many of my evenings to generating social media posts and website content. In addition, Fashion Design was my first degree, and I also like to paint (mainly trees) and cook. I don't often question the how, what, or where of inspiration. It seems to always appear in the right place at the right moment, and I have finally begun to trust that it will.
Whether you claim to be a creative person or not, our brains are constantly working on something (many things), way down in the depths, where all the scary, innovative shit hides out until it is ready to make a grand entrance. And I always know that mine is working overtime down there when I am super distracted, forgetful, and over-the-top spacey. I sometimes worry about early on-set dementia when I find myself trying to remember if I had done routine tasks. Did I take my thyroid med, or do my eye drops? (It was getting so bad that I set reminders on my phone.) Did I put salt (or herbs) in the tomato sauce already? Or, when leaving the Center - did I turn down the heat, lock the backdoor, and put the stool in front of the kitchen cabinet so Digby Doo Cat can't get under the sink?
I have always believed that mindfulness is a fantastic ideal to aspire to - except it is often involuntarily drowned out with a deluge of fresh, unconventional, original, and sometimes obsessive thoughts tangentially related to whatever I am working on at the moment.
Creativity works differently for everyone and sometimes in various ways for each of us. Over time, I have discovered, the essential piece for me (usually), no matter how the inspiration first appears, is to keep my fingers on the keyboard. It is the same for painting, working with fabric, or cooking - I am very tactile - I have to feel it (taste it) and, most importantly, play with it.
The other thing I have learned is that I can not force innovation. When an idea is not fully ready to be expressed - no amount of trying (external coercion) will influence (compel) it to completion. If I don't allow for the quiet spaces where inspiration develops, steeps, and brews and then make space to play with it in real-time - all that delightfully, juicy ingenuity will dry up.
Intrinsic motivation is firmly bound up in the satisfaction of following your creative energies to a where ever they take you - whether it be a finished product or simply the joy of the experience.
That is the foundation where self-directed educational philosophy firmly sits. No matter where inspiration originates for you - it can, ultimately, only be controlled by you.
PS - My husband, Mike, is in a creative musical space. I am proud to share this original song that he's been working on this past week. Watching him take a deep dive into the creative process partially inspired this post.
Weekly Creative Meditation
DRC offers consultation services to help families navigate the legalities of homeschooling. Many families who are intimidated by the process seek our help - and in many cases, if they didn't, their kids who desperately want to leave school would not be able to. We are here to help in any way we can. Click here for more info.
DRC-East is seeking donations to purchase the church they are now renting. If you can help, please contribute here. And add a note in the comment section for how you would like it to be used. Stay tuned for information about a fundraising event they are planning in May. They will be seeking vendors, food trucks, and musicians.
There is irrefutable scientific evidence that being under stress and feeling fearful make it harder to do just about everything. It becomes nearly impossible to think, be creative, and problem-solve - your brain feels like it is short-circuiting. You can't remember anything (for shit). You become uncoordinated (for some of us, that spells disaster because we are exceedingly clumsy on a good day). Everything seems to take ten times longer than it should.
But yet, as a society, we insist on using coercion, along with punishment and reward, to force people to do what we want them to. The disconnect is astonishing.
Therefore, most kids I meet have (at the very least) an anxiety diagnosis and are so tightly wound they are convinced that they are screwing up something - everything - all the time. They are deathly afraid to try anything new for fear of not understanding it or messing it up.
As a result, I present an (over the top - exaggerated) open, receptive, calm (easy-breezy) demeanor in every interaction. Along with our laid-back, homey, comfortable environment, where most requests are met with "yes, of course," it is their first clue that DRC is different - a place where they can relax, let their guard down, and be their authentic selves.
We try to provide opportunities that are easily accessible and fit within that child's interests - that are always optional. We give them space to sit by themselves, work on something independently (checking in every once in a while to see if they need anything), or join a group activity - with no external expectations.
Kids feel the difference almost immediately. Visually, you can see their shoulders come down, their facial muscles loosen, their eyes widen with a bit of confusion (and curiosity). You can see the thoughts racing through their brain - Is this (she) for real? What is the catch? Wait, I can literally do anything - with no judgment?
I watch kids get totally involved in tasks they may have never tried - losing themselves in the joy of free choice. And (as I have said many times before), when a kid looks at me and asks, "can I ...?," and I answer, "yes, go for it" - it is the precise moment I know that they understand, deeply, they are in charge of their education and life.
It really is that simple. Trusting kids to take a deep dive into their interests and curiosities is how education is supposed to work. There is no coercion and no sticks and carrots. Only a space filled with resources, creative energy, and kind, fully supportive mentors and guides where kids are given free rein to relax, take it easy, explore all the possibilities they can possibly imagine, and develop aspirations for their future.
Weekly Creative Meditation
I think we often forget that anything we want to learn is readily accessible to any of us. We no longer need an expert who holds all the information to disseminate it and interpret it for us. The Resource page on the DRC website is a good place to find a few resources to start exploring the things that interest you (whether you are a kid - or not).
The DRC- East crew is starting a gaming club. They are looking for a used X-Box. If you have an old one you would be willing to donate, please get in touch.
If making good decisions is the backbone of creating a successful life, what happens to those who don't have good options to choose from? As a society, we judge every decision made by people who live in circumstances we can not even imagine. Part of this judgment is confusion around the definitions and usage of the words privilege, entitlement, and freedom. (All from the Apple dictionary.)
Privilege - a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group
Entitlement - the fact of having a right to something
Freedom - the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint
Culturally, individual entitlements are clearly determined and delineated by the circumstances of our birth (ethnicity, gender, and status), especially in our Capitalistic society.
For those who know me (or have read this blog for a while), you will not be surprised to learn that I believe everyone is entitled to a basic level of privilege.
None of these things should be determined by birthright or the amount of money you have. Let me be perfectly clear - you are not, in fact, entitled to more than anyone else simply because you have more. Additionally, the pursuit of your individual freedoms does not allow you to hurt or disregard anyone else.
The basic fact that these things are all current reality - is a massive failure of all humanity. As is our misplaced blame. Our "judgy" statements do not help those who live in dire circumstances. They are in that place not because of the decisions they have made - but because they have not had the options afforded those with wealth.
Freedom to live comfortably without fear while learning and growing is everyone's birthright - recognize your privilege and use it wisely. Because - every time you choose your rights over someone else's, you hurt us all.
Weekly Creative Meditation
Happy New Year from the entire DRC Crew!
We will happily be back in person this coming week after our Holiday Break. Our schedules of sessions are still being adjusted. Once we hear from all of our members as to what they want to include - the Google Calendars for both Centers will be available on our website.
DRC membership is rolling. If your child is unhappy in their educational environment - please get in touch. We can help - right now.
"At DRC, we understand that your kid may not be into school. Or - that school is no longer serving your child. We also get that you know they would thrive in the right environment. We trust that each young person will lead the way in working together to create that environment from scratch." Because - "At Deep Root Center (DRC), we believe that all young people deserve a safe, educational environment where they feel like they are part of a community - and where they are free to explore all the possibilities."
And - if you feel compelled to start your year off by contributing to our work - find the donation button here. Thank You!
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