How (where) to even begin - I am not the first, nor will I be the last to say, I am feeling utterly exhausted, sad, and just plain old angry. But, I think, confounded, dumbfounded, stupefied, and unbearably overwhelmed are the emotions that have consistently brought me close to the breaking point this past week.
Every time the news cycle tells the story of another person of color under attack or killed by a white person, my brain initially short circuits to disbelief. No! Not disbelief that it happened, yet again, but the thought that someone (a human being) is capable of hating another human being, enough to harm them physically, discredit them, destroy their integrity, or, straight-up murder them - simply because of the color of their skin.
The history of racism and white supremacy in the United States is monstrously long and ugly. To be clear, I am neither an expert nor a scholar of either. I am, however, a student of human nature. I am usually eager to learn why people behave in certain ways. Right now, I am merely appalled that right-wing terrorists are vigorously taking advantage of those who are suffering, and, justly protesting the right to be alive, to further their agenda.
Therefore, when it comes to systemic white supremacy, my interest lies in not understanding behavior, but where it comes from. How does one become a white supremacist? In my head, I know that the obvious answer is indoctrination. Nevertheless, there is no particular demographic that bigotry can be attributed to because it is found both in places of extreme poverty and enormous wealth and privilege.
I also recognize that covert racism is often hidden within comparisons between things that can not, and, should never be compared. Such as this argument against a living wage for those in the "unskilled" labor force: "I went to school to become a nurse (or, fill in the blank with another occupation) why should a food service worker (or, fill in the blank with another essential worker) make more than me?" These are folks who try to justify making equivocations, while indignantly denying their bigotry at the same time. The obvious answer lies within an irrevocably broken system - not with the people themselves.
The next question I have to ask is: how can we stop it from continuing in future generations? I know that I (we) can not (will, most likely, never) change someone's deeply held beliefs around race (which, as you probably know, is a human construct in itself - race does not exist except to say we are all part of the human race) through persuasive (or, belligerent) argument (in person or with comments on social media).
I can, however, actively model anti-xenophobia. I can use my immense privilege, as a white woman, to speak up as an advocate. I can normalize kindness, compassion, and empathy through my behaviors and language. I can express my humanity, with humility and respect for every human being, and I will expect those around me to do the same. And, most importantly, I can continue to provide a nurturing and trusting environment where young people are made aware of the injustices in the world and are given the opportunity to use their innate curiosity, creative ideas, and kindness to not only flourish but to help others do the same.
NYS is slowly and methodically re-opening. Phase Two began yesterday. If all goes according to plan, Phase Four (the last phase) will be open by the middle of July.
Other camps, including 4-H Camp Overlook, Cooperative Extension Day Camps, SLU Sports Camps, and Camp Unirondack have been canceled this summer. We have a much smaller capacity than any of those programs and we offer drop-in participation. We would like to provide programming, but only if parents indicate that it is a needed service.
Therefore, before we begin making plans to open our Summer Program - would you (local parents) consider registering your child for our summer programs? If so, beyond, mandatory masks for staff and youth, daily health check-in, fewer participants, sanitized surfaces, and plenty of outdoor activities, what safety measures would you like to see in place? And, lastly, when should we open, mid-July, or the beginning of August? You can get in touch through email or phone (call or text) to answer the above questions.
Oh, the irony! For the past six years, I have actively encouraged families with children in the public schools to opt-out of New York State high-stakes tests - now, under the pressure (guise) of a global pandemic, those very tests have been canceled, including the Regents Exams.
You can view this decision from two very different vantage points: 1) at face value - they don't think it is fair to the students to take tests after having lost preparation time, or 2) with skepticism.
As you can probably guess, I take the latter position. 1) New York State has battled the Opt-Out movement from its inception. They have gone so far as to say that they would penalize those schools (reduce funding) who had an Opt-Out rate over a certain percentage. 2) The powers that be know there will be backlash (lawsuits from the civil liberty folks) because kids didn't have enough in-person instruction. 3) They may even, at the heart of it, understand that standardized tests are garbage, and this is an excuse to remove them without admitting that they are garbage (unlikely, but I am putting it out there).
The data is clear - standardized tests do not, in any way, measure learning (long term retention of information). I will not address the very long list of reasons here. Nonetheless, both the Federal and State Departments of Education are inextricably tied to high-stakes tests. Firstly, we have folks who know, absolutely, nothing about education running these departments and implementing programs ("No Child Left Behind" and "Common Core") that have little to do with, actual, learning. And secondly, once again, I will invoke the phrase, "follow the money" to explain the testing phenomenon.
It is the textbook (Pearson, McGraw-Hill, etc) and tech companies (Microsoft, Apple, etc.), who are developing the above-mentioned pedagogical programs, as well as the assessment instruments that are mandated by the Feds and the States. In doing so, they are creating demand, and, let's be brutally honest, a guaranteed (coerced) market for the products they sell.
New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo announced last week that he is forming an educational task force, with none other than, Bill Gates, to determine, among other things, if virtual learning is a viable way forward for the future of public education. With unadulterated cynicism, this is where I ask myself, "Is this simply appeasement, for canceling the tests this year, with the idea of expanding them in the future?"
Clearly, as long as the governmental education system, our children, and learning itself, are considered commodities to be bought and sold - we will need alternatives dedicated to serving and supporting our kids and our communities.
Congrats to our four seniors. Friday was the last day of our academic year. Sadly, we were not able to share hugs, high-fives, and stories of our time together, in person. Nevertheless, we send them out into the world with our gratitude and very best wishes.
In Maria's Kitchen - Find the latest virtual cooking class below.
Those of you who have received this Blog for a while, know that I am not a proponent of regulations that are designed, simply, to keep folks contained inside boundaries and expectations. You, most likely, also understand that I am not averse to looking the other way when particular rules that have nothing to do with safety, but everything to do with control and coercion, are not followed to the "T."
However, to be incredibly clear, what we are dealing with, currently, doesn't, or, rather, shouldn't have anything to do with rules. Yes, State Governments have put restrictions in place, but only because the population at large can't seem to grasp the concepts of common-sense, altruism, selflessness, and empathy.
Deep Root Center is closed. I am staying home, grocery shopping less often, wearing a face mask, when I do go out, and making do without some luxuries (including a much-needed haircut), not because I am in panic mode, or afraid of catching COVID-19, but rather out of concern for everyone in my community.
To continue on the riff from last week's post, we are all members of society, and, as such, we should all be held responsible for our behaviors. Stated plainly in bold letters - this is not about each of us individually, or, the ways our lives are being disrupted. We need to look beyond our sense of entitlement, and our unruly, outgrown hair and unkempt fingernails, our desire to be served in a restaurant or to attend a party, and our hankering to browse retail establishments - to consider our responsibility to the people around us.
We all want this to go away. We are all feeling confined and inconvenienced. Those essential workers who are (literally) keeping us all alive, want to feel safe at work, again. Wear a mask (correctly) in public, give people around you plenty of space (at least six feet), and, as businesses and services are phased into the opening plans please, please, please, for the sake of us all, use common sense, and, always, no matter how frustrated you become, be kind. I do it for all of you - please, do it for each other.
We are staying abreast of recommendations for re-opening. If everything goes smoothly, as St. Lawrence County phases in non-essential services, we will open our Summer Programs on July 13th, with a specific safety plan in place.
The Center is clean and ready for action. Click the link below to watch a video tour of the facility.
I don’t know about you - but I have heard more references to the demise of individual freedoms over the past eight weeks than any other time in my adult life. The snarky voice who occasionally lives inside my head (Well, to be honest, I should probably admit, at this point, she has taken up permanent residence.) would like to say (really loudly), "You need to understand that individual liberty coexists alongside personal responsibility. And, as a contributing member of society, you may be called upon, at times, to sacrifice a bit of freedom for the good of us all."
In response to some of the cries and (armed) protests about lost freedom, the following meme was created and circulated through social media: "Freedom, without responsibility, is adolescence." I read that and immediately got angry. I believe the meme should: "If you want freedom, without responsibility, you are a hypocritical jerk (read - asshole)."
Why do we, as a culture, denigrate teens? To be fair, most folks who shared that particular meme probably didn’t consider, or, even recognize, the negative connotations. This attitude is so ingrained that when I looked up the word "responsibility" in the Apple thesaurus, I found this example sentence: "Teenagers may not be showing enough sense of responsibility to be safely granted privileges." Seeing this, pissed me off even more.
The adolescents I know have a better sense of dependability, wisdom, and trustworthiness than some adults. They spend time thinking about how they can benefit their community. They are empathetic and kind. And, they worry about the future - not only their own - but the fate of society at large. Believe me, these teens recognize that they are looked upon as immature, inconsiderate, and lazy louts who prefer video games and virtual experiences rather than reality. And, then, they agonize over every decision they make, even though, on a fundamental level, they understand that no matter what they do, they won't be able to change our perception of them.
Beyond the negative overtone of the above-mentioned meme, it is, plainly, false. Most adolescents do not experience freedom, simply because adults do not trust them. Teens are, inextricably, tied to all of the (disproportionate, unrealistic, and inhibiting) expectations adults have for them.
For this very reason, those of us who work in the SDE (Self-Directed Education) field, see many kids struggle with the freedom and trust that we, automatically, offer them. First, they are, visibly, confused, then, the questions begin to flow: "What should I do now?" "But, does this count?" "How will I prove I learned something if I don't take a test?" "This is cheating the system - isn't it?" "How will I ever figure out what I am interested in?"
For some, the feelings of unease are so overwhelming that they return to the comforting confines of the known. Others, eventually, come to understand that the initial awkwardness of taking personal responsibility is the price of admission for authentic freedom of choice. These are the kids who have discovered that they are in charge of their lives, as well as their happiness.
You will find two new virtual cooking classes - easy mac & cheese and a three-part bread baking tutorial below and on the DRC Vlog page.
All those feelings I spoke about last week, continue to roll through. After another rough week, I had an additional epiphany Friday night. Not only have our lives have been, rudely, interrupted, without permission, we have also been relegated to the sidelines and forced to watch this particular game take shape, with no means of participating in any of the decisions being made that are directly affecting our lives.
Yes, we understand, acknowledge, and support the multitude of good reasons, on a cerebral level, but that doesn't make it any easier. After all, as humans, we like to be in control, or at least have the illusion of being an active participant in the game.
You and I are isolated in our little bubbles trying to make sense of all the external noise and confusion, while attempting, with some semblance of intelligence, and our hands effectively tied behind our backs, to, not only, plan for the future but to think completely outside the box.
The Governor announced on Friday that New York State schools are closed for the remainder of the academic year. I don't know about you, but I knew it was coming. That fact doesn't make it any easier for anyone. Even though DRC is technically not a school, and we always finish on the Friday before Memorial Day, and, that we would have only had one week to be together again, it still hit hard.
We won't have an in-person celebration for our four seniors, who are moving on to new and exciting adventures, or a party for everyone with a birthday during the summer months. We won't have a first swim (wade) of the season in the Grasse River or a week filled with hikes on the SLU or SUNY Canton trails. We won't dig up the front yard to plant a flower garden, and the backyard art installation will have to wait another year. All of the projects planned and spontaneous, big, and small are on hold. We won't have the face to face conversations about how much each of us has grown, emotionally, and intellectually, this past year. We won't experience our traditional last day hug. We won't have closure. Additionally, we are all left wondering, "what's next?"
This year had already felt like a roller coaster ride from the moment we all walked through the door on September 5th. From a capacity crowd and scrabbling to provide resources and support for those fifteen kids on the waiting list, to opening DRC-East, in Lawrenceville, inventing and initiating the ever-expanding Exploration Station Suite of services, losing a staff member and several student members in January, then gaining a staff person in March, and now our current reality - this year has offered an abundance of drama, and opportunities for learning and growth.
My job, right now, is to take all of those lessons and use them to forge a new path, within our current reality, a task that is eminently easier to write about than to implement while fighting off the indulgence in anger, frustration, anxiety, and deep sadness.
With that being said, I do have glimpses of positive outcomes, hanging out on the periphery. I am confident that, with patience, they will come into sharp focus over the next few weeks, and I will be back in the game, working, within, and through all the externally imposed handicaps.
One project that has moved forward is the DRC Virtual Cooking Class. I recorded the one below and then posted it. The next one will be live because the uploading process using a hotspot takes forever - literally hours and hours.
We are still looking for a name for this series of classes - so far there have been two suggestions: Edible Education: Cooking with Maria and Making Munchies with Maria. If you would like to add a name to the mix, or vote on one of the above, do it here.
During this series, I am focusing on the basics with the underlying message that when you bring a sense of play and experimentation to the kitchen, it is a ton of fun.
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