It is Totally Up to You
No one at Deep Root Center will force you to do something you don’t want to do. Not only that, we don’t, and, won’t tell you what you should do, either. Which is exactly what we mean when we say DRC is a non-coercive educational environment. We believe that everyone, even the youngest child, is capable of making unique and positive choices that speak to their interests and aspirations.
Deep Root Center provides, every single person who walks through our door: mentors who care deeply, a vibrant, respectful community, the facilities, supplies, and resources to study and/or create anything they can imagine, and talented, local folks who are willing to share their skills and knowledge. DRC also offers the safe space where you can make mistakes and move on with a new and profound understanding of yourself. You can only gain the full advantage of all those things; however, if you are committed to being fully present with a positive attitude about the other people here and the opportunities offered.
Despite the above disclaimer written in very large font (no small print here to intentionally confuse, or deceive you), as well as the explanation presented during the initial meetings, some students don’t quite understand that at DRC we expect them to take charge of, not only, their education, but their life. Even after being with us for a while, they are oftentimes rude and disrespectful, refuse to engage with the community, and respond to, “how can we support you?”, “what do you want to do?” or, “what are you interested in?” with either a blank stare or an, “I don’t know,” accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders. In addition, they either ignore suggestions or respond negatively to every single one, without, attempting a constructive conversation.
This is not an attempt to judge or play the blame game; I do believe this behavior is most likely related to apathy and hopelessness as described in last week’s post. Nevertheless, I have come to realize that, in truth, what some are seeking is an escape from reality and from responsibility – a literal “get out of school free card.” Surprise! Deep Root Center is not that place! It simply is not what we offer here. It is the complete opposite. DRC is the real world – an educational space where everyone, who wants to, can learn and grow. It is where you will be supported to make decisions that affect your life and where we will hold you responsible for all of your choices.
Therefore, as much as I would like to say, “Yes, Deep Root Center is for everyone,” it plainly is not. It isn’t for those who want an easy way out, are chronically apathetic, or are looking for a place to wile away their time until they turn eighteen. This is not the place to sit and wait for something to happen to (or, for) you. And, if you are seeking an environment where you will not be held accountable for your actions (or, in-actions), DRC is not it! To put it quite simply, if you are here (or, checking us out) for any of these reasons, you will be sorely disappointed.
However, if you are seeking a place where you can be creative and curious, explore and make mistakes, get your feet wet, both figuratively and literally, follow your dreams and spread your wings - with a community of folks who will support you, unconditionally, in all of those things --- please get in touch --- we are the perfect place for you.
In the end, as with most endeavors, what you get out of DRC depends fully upon what you put in. It is totally up to you!
Summer isn't that far away! Register your child for Imagination Station, DRC's Summer Program - the last two weeks of August.
I don't know and I do not care ...
… is a pretty solid definition of apathy, on the surface level at least. If we dare (or, take the time) to dig a little deeper, however, we will find that apathy is just one symptom of something much larger and ominous – hopelessness.
What, then, steals hope? When basic survival is your default mode and your choices are limited to the particular life raft that drifts by, you are going to grab it and hold on for dear life, whether it is legal, moral, or even good for you, as long as it keeps you above water, for even little while, it is worth it. While struggling to stay afloat, all those other needs, over and above physiological, on Maslow’s Hierarchy – safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization (dreams) – are so far beyond your restricted reach, not to mention comprehension, they aren’t even on your radar.
And, let’s say you do, miraculously, make your way out of instinctual survival mode and are able to meet higher level needs, odds are, you will, habitually, continue to seek out the next life raft and make decisions based on your previous reality. Adding insult to injury, scientists are now realizing that the trauma you experienced during those tough times is passed on through your DNA to your offspring. This is what the “talking heads” mean when they speak of generational apathetic behaviors.
This, in a nutshell, is hopelessness!
As a society, we have tried all of the negative options, without success – blaming, judging, shaming, and cutting off resources. Which, thereby, leads us to the million-dollar question --- how can we help: those of us who recognize apathy, and its big brother, hopelessness, as systemic problems, not simply, bad attitudes or pure laziness? We can’t tell people what to do. We can’t, and, don’t want to, rush in to “fix” stuff. And, we certainly cannot legislate an answer. I think it is safe to say that many well intentioned folks have tried all of the above and on some level failed.
I believe that kindness, empathy, and positive expectations lay at the very foundation of any long-term solution. Let’s go back to Maslow’s Hierarchy. When someone feels safe and loved for a sustained period, while being held accountable for negative behavior, they are able to see that next step up, to esteem or self-respect, pretty clearly, and from there, aspirations and dreams are only a small hop away.
Therefore, I propose that we can solve this (societal) problem from within a circle of supportive community --- one person, one life-changing moment at a time.
This is a reminder to myself (particularly) - to live authentically, with generosity, patience, and respect, as well as a willingness to be awestruck by incremental transformation, as my default mode; especially, when I feel my frustration levels climbing through the roof.
Because, in actuality, none of us really knows which endeavor, which moment of compassion, will be the one that breaks through all the, “I don’t know-s and I don’t care-s,” to makes the difference - to be that ah-ha moment.
We are still seeking a few items as we jump into Spring mode (despite the fresh snow this past Friday) and spend more time outside. If you have any of these items and would be willing to donate them, please get in touch.
I am also including this graphic to put our financial realities in perspective as we begin the process of building the 19/20 budget:
Conversely, not knowing that predetermined, narrow band of “stuff” on the test, doesn’t equal stupid. In reality, creativity is at the very core of intelligence. The incomparable power to look beyond the tangible to seemingly conjure solutions from thin air (and available resources) is, indeed, the very essence of brilliance.
Our culture would have us believe the opposite by rewarding obedience, memorization skills, and conformity, all the while secretly admiring (and exclaiming over) the talented folks who are bravely moving society forward with pure imagination and guts.
Innate curiosity, as well as necessity, are the mother of invention. This is the reason all young children (and kittens) love cardboard boxes. In their minds, those cartons can become anything they want them to be. Which is why, beyond time in nature (with a variety of vegetation, rocks, animals, weather, water, and, yes, mud puddles) and access to a stash of books, the only resources kids (and teens) require to create anything, is an unending supply of paper and cardboard, crayons, pencils, or markers, scissors, glue and tape, an open invitation to plunder the recycling bin, as well as the support and permission from their adults to have fun and get messy.
If you have had the pleasure of spending any time with them, you know that children learn to question their world and solve problems through play, which, in turn, at its heart, is the basis for all experimentation. Sadly, those natural inclinations are denigrated and ultimately not recognized by established, mainstream, pedagogical experts as valid methods of inquiry or for gaining essential skills in the modern world. They would have us believe that children will only learn if they (the experts) create the “lesson” or curriculum. All those extremely popular STEM and STEAM activities are nothing more than pre-designed pablum with set rules and results, with no room for originality. Let’s be totally honest here, they don’t (won’t) provide space for imagination or individuality, because then there will be messes, surprises, chaos, as well as a few disasters that cannot be corralled, controlled, or easily cleaned up.
As a result of their personal experiences, in this stifling environment, kids either develop a fear of trying new things because they are afraid of messing up, they earn the “lazy” label because they have learned exactly what is needed to satisfy the authority figures and do nothing beyond, or they are branded as oppositional when they refuse to do something they feel is not beneficial or pertinent for them. Which is, tragically, why, I end up with many apathetic, bored kids at DRC who have lost that natural desire and ability to play, create, and explore.
I want to be very clear, a talent for following instructions, coloring inside the metaphorical lines (and, staying confined within a predetermined box), as well as having a bank of memorized and stored knowledge that helps win trivia contests and score high on standardized tests is absolutely useless in the real world, without the desire and ability to imagine, invent, experiment, and manifest new ideas.
This is why all of my mentoring sessions consistently contain multiple versions of this message: Go - Play! We expect you to make mistakes, get messy, investigate, build, demolish and construct again, hack your education and life, make choices that are good for you, as long as you remember to be kind and compassionate to others, and, please, please, please clean-up after yourself. We will always have your back, while you re-discover your authentic, imaginative, creative, over the top, brilliant self.
Thank you to all the peeps who came out to the Kid Expo and made some cool stuff at our art table. It was a pleasure to meet you all.
We are still in the process of settling into out new home. (Moving in November, in the NoCo, is not conducive to completing outside projects!) We are discovering that we need a few things for our new home. If you have any of the following you would be willing to
donate, please get in touch:
_ a dehumidifier for the cellar
- a shop vac that will vacuum up water
- outdoor furniture for the porch and for the backyard
- shovels for digging dirt
- trowels and other gardening tools
- handsaws for cutting small limbs
We are also looking for folks with carpentry and gardening skills to volunteer their time to facilitate some of the projects our kids are interested in taking on.
We also need someone with a truck who would be willing to take a load of trash (old carpet, etc) to the transfer station. (We will pay the dumping fee.)
Intro: This is a guest post written by my daughter (my baby girl), MacKenzie, who turns 22 today. Kenzie is and has always been an independent spirit and the ultimate hands-on learner. She enjoys nothing more than a good squishy mud puddle, as long as she can take the time to let it ooze through her fingers and stomp in it while wearing her colorful rain boots. She has always understood, as she mentions in this piece, that diving in, hands first, and making awesomely over the top, messes is absolutely essential to learning.
Kenzie is also a dreamer and a person who acts with intention to make those dreams come true. What she has not said in this post is that back in August, she told us that she was going to contact all of the “kick ass” female chefs in Portland, Oregon (where she lives), because she wanted to work in a kitchen where good (real) food is honored and where the people who make that food are appreciated and respected as individuals, within a caring family-like community.
Long story short – Kenzie will soon be starting her new job at a restaurant called Yonder that will be opening in Portland, with a “kick-ass” female chef at the helm, and a group of people who are dedicated to working together to create awesome food.
Of course, she has had to suffer through a few, not so ideal, positions before arriving at this goal. Fortunately, she used those lessons learned to make informed decisions that brought her to this positive place.
Kenzie Doodle, I am so proud of all you are, all the growing you have done and will continue to do, your persistence, and, most especially, all you do to make the world a better place. Happy 22nd Birthday, Baby Girl!
You Do You
I felt pressured to go to college.
This burden was not necessarily derived from my parents, my extended family, or my friends - it was more so bred from the social expectations and stigmas that my local community subconsciously roused. Nearing the end of my high school career, I found myself searching frantically for that one thing that stood out from my list of thousands of interests, which only increased tenfold on a daily basis. How could I choose what to study when I housed a brain that lacked the ability to hone into details unless I actually cared deeply about the topic?
As a teen I found solace in escape tactics. The latter part of my years in my parental stronghold were spent trying on different personalities, creating art, experimenting, writing poems on my walls, thinking deeply, yelling loudly, testing my limits, and (unfortunately) testing my family’s limits in the process. Like all human children, I learned by asking millions of questions, making mistakes, and creating small catastrophes. I’m undoubtedly thankful for the messes I made, the people who tore me down, and the ones who built me up when I felt undeserving of positive reinforcement. I’m grateful for the life lessons that I endured in order to put my best foot forward. Experience is what makes you grow; not only upward and outward, but also inside the part of you that gives a sharp, pinching warning before you make a royal mistake.
Still, college was a beast that I was convinced that I had to tackle. After taking a full year off, I began my freshman year at Hampshire College. I was excited for the new experience, and frightened by the potential outcome. How was I going to pay the thousands of dollars in loans and interest as soon as I left school? After having grown up in a family who were free of debt and whose income was never treated frivolously, this seemed like a terrible idea that required a lot of faith in a “system” I was raised to question.
Surprise, surprise, one month of school had passed and I had returned to my old habits. Doing my very best to convince everyone that I was happy and I was loving my higher education experience, I was truthfully withering away, and trying to escape. The campus and all that lay within its confines became my tank, and like a goldfish I found myself unable to grow, shift, or adjust. As my depressive symptoms increased, and my will to live diminished with alarming speed, I realized I was only enjoying what I had control over. I was leaving classes without storing any of the information or content that I had been taught. I despised group projects - or working collaboratively with anyone - because I did not always have the upper-hand. I loathed meeting with my professors, partially due to social anxiety, but mostly because I did not care to listen to advice that I was not planning to take.
Most people may think that I took this opportunity for granted, but the reality is that college was just not for me. I was increasingly aware of the inner workings of higher education, and how the out-pour of information that I was receiving was derived from a compounded system of racist, sexist, classist, homophobic, and transphobic history. My privilege of attending college was literally founded on the backs of those who could not. This form of education is established on ‘practicality’ and a certain ‘bottom line-ism” that focuses on turning students into products of a world which only serves to break our spirits down. Being a forever social skeptic, I began to struggle against everything I was being taught. Not unlike my own biological system I began to deal with this by creating my own social antibodies, using the arts, language, and expression as personal tools to contradict all that I absorbed.
Sophisticated as we may think we are, western knowledge and perspective expects us to take a huge leap of faith in order to believe that human consciousness is somehow evolving in an orderly fashion. I soon discovered that my research was expected to be linear. I learned that in class there is a descriptor and predetermined formula for everything that ‘works’. For some reason, no one was open to me questioning those set ideas - when I only wished to flush my findings with deeper inquiry of what lays outside of an appropriate reference. I found myself stuck on one overarching topic: everything is constantly evolving. Humans and their systems, channels, and energies are changing rapidly. Human technology is escalating with alarming speed. If you do choose to go to college, wouldn’t it at least make sense for the school to use their student’s natural innate curiosity, excitement, and instincts to explore the vast world of knowledge that exists outside of the finite collection of information that the collegiate experience offers? Humans are more wise than we usually perceive.
I write this because I left college and since doing so I have matured, and regained a copious amount of faith in myself. Over the past two years of being free from an institution’s expectations, I have experienced a shift of attitude and focus within myself. I have grown into a mental space that I know I would have never reached if I were tightly secured to a campus. I have given myself the ultimate gift: a significant head start on the things that I really want to be doing in my life. I have peers outside of college who are becoming the creators who they want to be without attending college. Musicians, chefs, trade workers, writers, restaurateurs, actors, policy makers, activists, film makers, and entrepreneurs - I see these people challenging the world that we were born into and rising up to their full potential as individuals, and team members, all the while withstanding the pressures from their own families and peers to go back to school. It takes some serious guts to stand up to people that you care about and tell them “no, that is not what I want”.
Listening to your own needs and acting on them does not mean that you shouldn’t constantly question your motives and the space that you take up; it means the complete opposite - you should always be aware of the ways in which you embody your beliefs, and how it could be damaging to another demographic, or to yourself. Living and working with all kinds of people has pushed me to create and collaborate, and most importantly to step back and be quiet. I have watched myself grow into a person who seeks to step back and use other’s input. I have witnessed myself sprint miles past the girl who only wanted to prove her strength, wit, courage, and control, and to become a human who knows how to question, challenge, and love herself fiercely. The beast can be tamed - my interests are still in the thousands, but I have learned a few new concepts: 1. focus, hard work, and preservation can actually get you to where you never thought you could be, and 2. You do not need to gain anything from your hobbies other than the sheer pleasure of taking time to do something for yourself.
This is not a declaration. I am not telling you or your kids to not go to college, I am not saying that you are at all wrong for going to school. This is a call to action: for anyone who feels pressured to go to college, to the parents who control their children with directives, rewards, or punishments, and to those who are worrying about what the future holds once they graduate. Instead of expecting yourself, your offspring, or your peers to go to school, try adopting a willingness to be thoughtful, empathetic, curious, and clumsy. By believing that you or someone else is making a terrible decision by skipping out on college, you are sending a direct message to those who did not have the opportunity to go in the first place. If the person making a decision about their educational future is not you, then choose instead to sit down and listen. When given the time and environment, all humans - no matter their age - have the capacity to decide what is ultimately best for their future. And if they fail at first, let that be their lesson to learn and grow from.
Most people surmise that self-motivation is something I don’t struggle with. As much as I hate to refute those assumptions, I have to honestly say that, like most folks, I do grapple with personal initiative every single day. We all have that list of things that we know need to get done (or even started). And for most of us, the tasks we find mundane, boring, monotonous, and frustration inducing are the ones we try avoid at all costs. I mean, who willingly puts themselves through excruciatingly dull, uncomfortable, or painful experiences without a bit (or, days) of internal dialogue first. (In my case, this process has to happen every time I have to do housework, make a dental appointment, do the taxes, clean-up the DRC art room, start writing a grant, or, the really big one, dealing with, despised and preposterous, “officialdom.”)
No matter who you are, anything that does not immediately elicit that feeling of joy or pride is going to be automatically met with distaste, skepticism, distrust, discomfort, or outright rejection.
On the other hand, there are those chores that we take on with relish (no talking to required) - the ones we find the most interesting, exciting, and pleasurable. These are the endeavors that provide that sense of satisfaction and instigate that desire to do more. Yes! This is what self-motivation looks and feels like.
Ah! Therein lies the conundrum. How do we as mentors, help young people find the things that light their fire, when their internal reference point for personal fulfillment has been obliterated by all they have previously experienced in a system that uses coercion, as well as reward and punishment to make them do those things they find stultifying, irksome, and without meaning? They have never had the opportunity to explore the world. Therefore, they don’t know what brings them joy except for the empty diet of instant gratification provided by video games or social media. Which, by the way, I am not condemning as evil, or “the problem with society (kids) these days.” What I am saying is that as with anything, moderation is key.
Once they leave that system, they have no idea how to negotiate the world of free choice. They are afraid of anything that seems like “work” and will avoid the things they associate with their previous experiences. The “white” or “blank" page syndrome is very real, not only for those of us who write, but for anyone who is faced with the seemingly empty imaginative and creative space inside their heads.
Fear is a motivator unto itself – through avoidance, it gives us the false illusion of “safety.” It is that thing that allows inertia and ambivalence to become the strangling forces on our creativity, and it also makes it harder and harder to reckon with, the longer we allow it to rule our emotions.
When I say, “imagine the possibilities.” Or, “you are in charge of your education and life,” between the fear of the unknown, making mistakes, looking foolish, and the false impression that once they make a decision they are “stuck” with it for eternity, they, quite simply, have no idea where to begin.
Oftentimes, they need a gentle nudge – a jump start – something to break the bond of static energy. But, what does that look like within our non-coercive, safe, and supportive environment? As with anything, it is different for every single person. Some require explicit permission to be their authentic selves and a “look in the mirror” to recognize the masks they present to the world. For others, it includes surrounding them with tons of action, resources, and opportunity – people (other kids) modeling creativity and engagement for them to easily (with no initial commitment) get involved with. There are few who need to screw up royally and be faced with either learning how to make positive and productive decisions or be asked to leave. And, then there are those kids, for whom, absolutely, nothing works, except for a brief explanation of inertia, an open invitation to discuss anything (ideas or concerns) at any time, a reminder of the old axiom, beginning is half finished, and (lots and lots of) time and space.
We are excited to announce that Deep Root Center is officially a partner with the Central New York Food Bank. What does that mean? We are able to access provisions from the Food Bank and it's other partners, at little or no cost, for our kids to use to make their own lunches or breakfasts, as well as for cooking and baking classes. Stay tuned as those initiatives take off.
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