Affirmation and Validation
… are the two basic requirements, after other rudimentary needs have been met, for human beings to achieve true contentment. Yes, true happiness, as defined by Eastern philosophy, comes from inside and can not be purchased, bartered, or commanded.
Homo sapiens, however, are social beings; it is, in fact, one of the defining characteristics for all members of the Primate Order. Connecting and identifying with others is absolutely essential to our well being. Institutional experiments have been tried, with disastrous results, where all human interaction is denied to babies, children, and adults (solitary confinement is just one example). Many have equated these practices with torture.
Therefore, I (and many others) will argue, that genuine serenity and fulfillment are born and carried within another's appreciation and recognition (spoken and unvoiced) of our essential being, including all of our inherent gifts and talents.
The question that begs to be asked, if this is truly the case, is: why are these often the first things we withhold when other individuals do not meet our (societies, organizations, institutions, families) expectations for “proper” behavior? In many cases, as a first step in most confrontations, we go on the offensive and offer punishment, recrimination, debasement, shaming, or manipulation instead of real conversation, acknowledgement, acceptance, endorsement, assistance, and understanding.
I firmly believe that our society is hung up on the notion that everything should be hard earned – no free lunches here – instead of cooperation and compassion, with the real and deep-seated fear that we will end up with a spoiled, self indulgent, and entitled citizenry. News flash folks – we already have that, but not from the people we are most concerned about taking advantage of the system. In the words of musical artist, Alanis Morissette, “Isn't it ironic”?
A system that resorts to stick and carrot mentality for the populous, meting out silly rewards for those who remain within the lines of conformity, and harsh judgment for those who are willing to step out of the system and make their own path, is simply not sustainable nor is it morally tenable.
When people are denied the very fundamental right of dignity, self respect, and value, they will often go in search of it through whatever means are necessary. They, to be quite honest, already feel societies disapproval and contempt, so, no amount of constriction, control, discipline, coercion, or chastisement will change their thinking or their conduct. As individuals and organizations it is not up to us to determine who is deserving of our admiration, support, cultivation, empathy, and encouragement, because, all humanity merits respect, reverence and honor.
Our epilogue is being written as I compose this, and, I hate to present the spoiler, but, it does not bode well for the happy, rosy, and optimistic ending many of us desire.
Or --- instead of waiting for this tale of impending doom to come to a crashing conclusion on its own, I invite (challenge) you to roll up those proverbial shirt sleeves and join me in taking action, before it is too late, to re-imagine and re-create our collective postscript one positive interaction, one supportive connection, one encouraging exchange, one validating affirmation at a time.
Upon entering Deep Root Center many people, who are unfamiliar with our basic philosophy, would probably equate the seemingly chaotic environment of our facility to a three ring circus. And on many days, to be completely honest, I do feel like the grand ringmaster under the big top. Not because I direct or control the various activities, but instead, because I facilitate the available resources to support the multitude of ideas and possibilities that flow feverishly through the space daily.
On any given day you will find between ten - fourteen students, spanning in age from six - sixteen, engaged in a wide variety of self-directed activities that excite, inform, enlighten, engross, absorb, captivate, motivate, influence, encourage, empower, and inspire their intrinsic desire to learn more about their individual interests and passions.
These range from quietly reading or crocheting on the couch, playing Wii U - Just Dance, building a stable and barn out of cardboard, creating a theater under a table and watching horse rescue You-Tube videos, researching the history of football on the internet, drawing cartoon characters, constructing a robot out of an old computer that will hold positive messages, creating an imaginary world filled with outlandish characters and acting it out with friends, building with Legos, wooden blocks, and K'nex, playing with plastic animals, designing bridges and other inventions, playing video games, watching You-Tube tutorials, sewing a pillow or quilt, and designing promotional materials, to taking an algebra, French, photography, or social studies class, writing a story, creating a power point about indigenous people, designing a web page to teach others about Greek Mythology, making a clay cup, creating music, painting a picture, watching documentaries about influential people and events, designing a science experiment, observing the fish in the aquarium and determining if the mama is pregnant, again, and putting together the breeder box for the decidedly expectant mama fish, or facilitating a community meeting or math class.
Where else can you find a thirteen year old instructing six other students on how to collect data and make a bar graph, while the teacher leaves the room?
Where else will you find a ten year old teaching a fourteen year old how to use a sewing machine and then how to make a patchwork pillow?
Where else will you find a fifteen year old playing horse rehab farm as the resident trainer with the plastic farm animals and three younger kids?
Where else will you find a seven year old and a sixteen year old creating and acting out a world filled with evil characters being vanquished by the good?
Where else is a young student encouraged to destroy a pop-up book (one we own, not from the library), so he can figure out how to make his own?
Where else are exploration and play celebrated and advocated as the means of learning how to solve problems, be inventive, and to cooperate within a diverse group?
Where else does the daily routine include walking up the street with several bags filled with books to the public library?
Where else is a teen, who has been in and out of “trouble” her whole academic life, told that she has amazing ideas and that she is trusted to work towards her personal goals?
Where else will you find an adult listening to a student's idea and brainstorming with him ways to make his vision reality?
Where else are students in charge of their own schedules, deciding when to eat, when to use the bathroom, when to rest, when to socialize, and when to be completely focused and engaged in projects and classes?
Where else can a teen get frustrated, vent, and walk away from a project he has spent hours on?
Where else do you hear the adult say, “of course,” in response to most requests?
Where else are kids encouraged to be true to themselves --- their interests, their personalities, and their emotions?
The ingenuity, artistry, freedom, and brilliance that reside within the pandemonium at Deep Root Center are easy to find when you sit back and let the positive energy that surges freely through the space inspire and engender the curiosity that lives deeply inside you.
* We welcome all visitors who would like to experience this phenomenon themselves. Give us a call to ensure that we will be in the space when you visit.
Our population explosion has us a bit short on seating options. If you have a chair (any kind: folding, kitchen, student, office, etc..) to donate, please contact the Center.
We are also looking for book shelves and storage furniture such as dressers, old school lockers, or wooden cubbies.
The DRC crew is taking to the road and crossing the border this Thursday with a field trip to Ottawa. We are so very excited to visit Compass Centre for Teens, another learning center in the Liberated Learners Network, to meet other kids doing “this” thing. We will also have the opportunity to tour the Canadian Museum of Nature.
No, this is not the opening line to a classic joke every 5 year old might learn as part of his repertoire, nor, is it a rhetorical question.
It is, in fact, one of the many questions we should be asking ourselves everyday.
What, indeed, can occur when a child is not coerced, controlled, diagnosed, criticized, punished, bullied, antagonized, shamed, manipulated, or simply afraid to be themselves?
What if we celebrated all differences instead of pathologizing.
What if every child was offered choices, instead of directives and absolutes?
What if every student was honored instead of patronized?
What if kids were provided the space and opportunity to learn from their mistakes instead of being reprimanded.
What if we revered cooperation and took away competition?
What if we expected equality and justice instead of entitlement?
What if education became a conversation instead of a lecture?
What if flexibility replaced rigidity?
What if a youth's ideas and interests were affirmed and validated instead of disparaged?
What if every decision a young person made was not based on desperation?
What would our planet look like if every youth was given the opportunity to follow their spirit of independence?
I will argue, quite strenuously, as usual, that we would discover a world filled with people who are creative, intelligent, interested and interesting, witty, empathetic, emotionally healthy, funny, talented, giving, wise, passionate, intuitive, compassionate, resilient, imaginative, courageous, honest, real, ingenious, ethical, hard working, dedicated, intrinsically motivated, outside the box thinkers, who are committed to ensuring others have the same opportunity to simply be happy.
Sounds like a great place to inhabit --- will you work with me to make this dream a reality?
Mid - Winter Break Week
There is still space available. Sign your child up today for artistic, scientific, “play - tistic” fun!
Our Growth Spurt Continues!
We are signing on several new kids each week. If you have an interest or talent you would like to share, a suggestion for raising funds, or any other ideas that will help DRC through this exciting time, please contact us.
On a related note the DRC board has recently instituted committees to facilitate all the work we do. Members of a committee do not need to be part of the board of directors. If you would be interested in joining a committee, contact Maria or Karen Gagne the Board President.
Thank you for indulging my storytelling compulsion as I relate the following tales, from this past week, that demonstrate the basic component of our philosophy beautifully.
On Monday morning, a student who was enrolled to audit a college class came to me and said, “I want to withdraw from the class.” My heart sank, to be quite honest, because I saw her as DRC's pioneer at SUNY Canton, paving the way for future DRC kids --- blah, blah, blah …..
She continued the conversation, after that jaw dropping exclamation, by explaining that she believes at this point, after honestly and painstakingly evaluating all the components, including possibly disappointing me and her family, that she most benefits from being at the Center interacting with all of the kids and working on her hands-on projects. She also loves working at the horse farm with the horses and her mentor.
As a Sophomore, she has already researched colleges that offer Equine Programs and has poured over their catalogs and websites. However, even with all that, she is allowing for the possibility that she won't go to college, immediately, and may focus on the hands on experience she so craves.
How could I possibly be upset or dismayed by her carefully thought-out decision, when she is doing exactly what I have encouraged her to do? The process she followed to arrive at this personal conclusion is self-directed learning in a nutshell.
DRC goes on an excursion every Thursday. This past week we were invited to the very same horse farm the above student apprentices with. Eight kids, with mud boots and winter gear (well most of them), packed into two vehicles for the short trip outside of Canton. I should mention that a few of those kids are completely enthralled (addicted) with horses and the world they represent. There are others who could really care less about horses, but always appreciate any opportunity to get outside to breathe fresh air and to RUN!
This particular story highlights one kid from the latter group. The owner graciously escorted us to the paddock area and barn were several horse were standing outside. She retrieved Blackberry, a very cute, sometimes rude, black pony with mischievous eyes, from the stall and attached the cross ties to his halter, inside the central area of the barn.
The kids shuffled impatiently, petting Blackberry's nose, while she spoke about safety around the horses and explained the myths and misconceptions some people have about them. Then she grabbed a curry comb and handed it to the boy, who stood closest to her, and showed him how to use it on Blackberry's dusty, winter worn coat.
Pure and unadulterated love is the only way I can come close to describing the immediate connection between that boy and pony. He was not interested in any of the other horses she brought out; he only wanted to spend time with Blackberry. When the feisty little pony was returned to his stall and paddock, this kid followed to the outside fence to continue their earlier silent conversation.
Many people, including potential students, don't completely understand that DRC members participate on their own volition. They each choose when to be there and what they will do while in the space. And, many do not believe that DRC kids are at the Center as early as they can get there and are often asked to leave (kicked out) at the end of the day when a certain staff person needs to go home, until it happens with their own child on the very first day. Each kid understands that they are truly responsible for building this welcoming, safe, and inspiring community.
This phenomenon, I would like to believe, is in response to our unwavering support, encouragement, and honor we hold for each them and for their personal choices, as long as they adhere to our one guideline. Respect yourself, everyone here, and this space.
I often say that my main task (despite the long list of other responsibilities) is to shut up (really) and listen closely to every kid who walks through our doors, whether they are already a student, a potential member, a workshop participant, or a visitor. That listening extends past the words being spoken, to the body language, the words that have gone unspoken, the energy that surrounds them, and sometimes even the cynicism shining brightly from their eyes.
These individual interactions occur during an initial meeting, a mentoring session, on the fly, or a quick check-in while I sit with them for a few minutes, throughout every single day and provide information about what they require at that time, whether the need be physical, inspirational, or emotional.
Trust is the fundamental principle that inhabits every singe one of those personal connections. I inherently and steadfastly believe that each of “my kids” has a good heart and an open mind and that they are all naturally curious with talents and interests, which may be deeply hidden at the moment, but none the less, reside inside an intrinsically motivated human being.
DRC students completely understand that the proposals we offer are, in reality, nothing more than suggestions, no coercive devices or guilt trips are employed. They participate in every mentoring session, class, project, excursion, and social interaction purely by choice.
Those opportunities, sometimes, are the key to unlocking a powerful hidden treasure within and in other circumstances become the means for discovering the reason for staying true to the original plan.
Open House and Fun-Day – This Saturday – 11-2!
Everyone is welcome to join our staff, board, student members, and their families for games, as well as art and craft activities. You will also have the opportunity to talk to our Executive Director and other parents about our programs.
Mid Winter Break Workshops – February 15 -19 - 8:30- 3:30
Don't worry parents, DRC has you covered with a full week of fun activities for your children. Register now.
DRC is partnering with the Tri-Delta Sorority. They are developing some awesome ideas that will involve the whole community. Stay Tuned!
GET REAL ....
When this phrase is directed at you it frequently has very little to do with getting real as an individual; it is often uttered when you are, in fact, acting in an authentic manner, but society (authority figures, friends, and family) are exhorting you to conform to behaviors that are accepted as “normal”.
Most of those “square pegs” trying to fit into “round holes” receive this message often enough to acquire the belief, at a very young age, that they are, in some way, broken. Consequently, instead of embracing and celebrating the quirks that make them brilliantly unique, they spend most of their time working really hard to adapt their personality traits to blend in. And when that doesn’t work out, they begin searching for a “fix” for their “problem”.
The pharmaceutical and medical industries are beyond ecstatic with this scenario, because the pot of gold is, quite literally, found at the end of the spectrum of all those diagnosed “disorders”.
This post, counter to first appearances, is actually an attempt to proffer an opposing view of what it means to get real, not a personal commentary on what I believe to be an insidious dilemma within our culture.
The approach to authenticity can only begin when you are completely true to yourself: your beliefs and morals, your personality, as well as your talents and skills, and then acting on all those things that make you completely happy to be alive. It also incorporates growth, a willingness to learn, and personal permission to change your mind.
Speaking your truth is about honoring yourself and others. It is not ugly and nasty or disparaging of others who may have a different belief system, temperament, or gifts.
Getting real becomes an innate and natural process when others allow you the space and time to explore the person behind your façade.
Deep Root Center offers an emotionally safe, nurturing, and accepting environment that encourages and invites everyone to drop their masks of superficiality, small talk, and pettiness upon entering, to interact with others on a deeply sincere level inspired by the genuine trust, creativity, and kindness that permeates the space.
The physical supplies, materials, and resources, mentioned in previous posts, are additional tools our student members use to investigate their interests and passions that will often feed their emotional health as well.
When we say, “get real” at Deep Root Center, we mean, without question, you are free to examine and discover your true and authentic self, which may be concealed beneath multiple layers of misguided beliefs and untruths. Because, we are thrilled to know the genuine you with all your marvelous idiosyncrasies, challenges, and artistry!
*This post is inspired by all of “my” kids who are working really hard every day to dispel the myths and explore the things that make them happy.
Info Session for Home School Support with Deep Root Center at the Ogdensburg Library - February 4th at 5:30pm
DRC is taking their info session on the road. Come on out to meet the staff and listen to some of our student members tell their own personal stories.
DRC Canton Winterfest Open House and Fun Day … February 13 - 11-3
Everyone is welcome to join DRC staff, board, members, and families for fun crafts and games. This is also an opportunity to learn more about all of our programs.
Mid -Winter Break Workshops … February 15-19 - 8:30 -3:30
Register your child today for fun explorations into the worlds of Art, Rube Goldberg Inventions, Animals, Storytelling, and Engineering. ages 5 -12. $37/day or $185/week
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