We humans, as I have mentioned before, are wired for story. And frequently, those stories become distorted through several lenses, including - emotion, previously held beliefs, and inaccuracies in previous telling. This is the case for both the author/teller and the reader/listener.
And in that way, culturally speaking, almost everything we believe about the nature of children is based purely on fiction. In other words, untruths - whether from tales imagined by authors (think Lord of the Flies here), inaccurate (false) and mishandled scientific studies, or teachings from religious texts, that have dictated (for the past several centuries) how we treat (and what we believe about) children in our society.
We have this perception that children are lazy - without innate motivation. Therefore, we give them constant instruction and then complain about their inability to self-motivate. But then get upset if they take the initiative to do something on their own that doesn't quite fit with what we think they should be doing.
I spoke with a mother of a 17-year-old this past week. She reached out in pure frustration because her kid was refusing to attend school. Which brings about legal repercussions and hassles that she has had to deal with. She spent fifteen minutes telling me about her frustration with school. She clearly understands that most of the requirements are arbitrary "shit" the system has made up. But in the next breath, she was complaining about how lazy her son is and that he is basically at fault for not wanting to go to school.
She obviously shares this distorted belief about children - continually perpetuated through the individual tales within our own community and broader society. And truthfully (rightly or wrongly), I have little (no) patience with all that.
In most cases - when I have a parent who is verbally vomiting about their child's laziness, lack of motivation, etc., I try to have them put the young person on the phone. I want to circumvent the parent. Because I know it is unlikely that they (the parent) are in a place - to really hear or understand anything I have to say.
If at all possible, I want that child to know - it is not their fault, and I am here to listen to them. Even if it is only for that brief conversation and that family never reaches out again, at least they have heard that someone trusts their instincts, is interested in them as a person, and will take the time to listen.
Sadly, I was not able to do that with this kid. He was in school at the time (and had just sent his mother a message requesting he get picked up). I can only hope this family does reach out again - in response to the email I sent with more information, and I do get to talk to him.
Nevertheless, this interaction reinforced my commitment to destroy these harmful distortions sustained by the fictional tales of innate laziness, ineptitude, heartlessness, and natural sloth. These biases are hurting our children on a level that can only be described as an epidemic.
Our DNA carries the innate ability for story-telling, as well as our creativity, resourcefulness, problem-solving, curiosity, kindness, and compassion. These hard-wired human traits make us intrinsically motivated lifelong learners. I am dedicated to changing our shared culture - one story, one observation, one truth at a time - so there is no reason to believe otherwise.
Weekly Creative Meditation
Not a haiku this week - simply a thought that struck - and, in the moment, seemed ever so slightly poetic.
Both Centers have finished another academic year. It is hard to believe that nine months have passed - yet they have done just that - evaporated into thin air, leaving memories and taller, more mature young people in their wake.
Again sending thanks to everyone - parents and families, donors, community volunteers, board members, mentors, and advisors - who have supported us this past year. We are deeply grateful for your engagement and commitment to our mission.
Three weeks of programming - beginning August 15th. Register here.
DRC has parents covered those last busy weeks of summer vacation.
To Put It Simply - Thank You!
The common adage that no man (person) is an island holds particularly true in an organization such as DRC. Without the support of so many folks who have jumped onto this "crazy train" called Deep Root Center, whether as staff, kids and their families, volunteers, board members, donors, and supporters, it simply would not exist.
To say "thank you" does not seem like enough; nonetheless, that is all I have.
Therefore, undying gratitude to the people who have my back - always, no matter what over the top idea I come up with next. (You know who you are!) Deep appreciation and credit to everyone involved in the planning and implementation of our Party in the Park fundraiser. And thank you to the Peeps of the North Country who came out for an over-the-top day of amazing music and community connection.
I am humbled and deeply grateful.
Weekly Creative Meditation
Party in the Park - Fundraiser
We made a very good start towards the down payment on the DRC-East permanent home. However - the work is no where near done. Please consider a donation to the DRC-East Fund and please spread the word. Stay tuned for further opportunities to help us toward our goal.
This coming week is the last in our academic year. Our rosters are filling up for September. Please get in touch if you are interested in enrolling your child at either of our Centers.
Summer Programs for ages 5+
Evolving (Dissolving) Normal
Normal is one of those words that drives me a little bit crazy. I am sure we have all heard the expression - "define normal," but I think my aversion to the word goes even farther than the inability to define it. When we use it to describe something, we automatically imply that there are things that are acceptable (good and desirable) and others that are clearly not.
Current educational standards, including standardized and diagnostic tests, are based on this elusive thing we call normal. I know they use actual data to determine it; nonetheless, it is cherry-picked and tells us (absolutely) nothing. We are testing individuals with complex and unique brains - not programmable robots.
Teachers identify children as potentially learning disabled because they are not reading by a certain age, have poor memory and comprehension skills, are not behaving appropriately in the classroom, etc. And frequently, after a child takes one of these tests (or multiple tests) and falls below the standard scoring rubric, they are designated Learning Disabled (LD), with an accompanying diagnosis - verbal processing disorder, ADHD, ASD, Dyslexia, and all the other Dys-s, etc.
All of which brings me to the most problematic piece. Who says that folks with said LDs should be classified as abnormal or challenged? When you look a little closer, what are these assessments actually scrutinizing - the child's ability to sit still in a classroom and blindly obey an authority figure and the capacity to think and behave like "everyone else?" I am willing to bet that we all understand that those "conventional skills" don't actually indicate intelligence and an ability to learn.
Why then do we, as a culture, automatically look at these differences and see disability? What if that person labeled with ASD, ADHD, or... has unique abilities that are more beneficial to themselves and the wider world than commonplace normality?
Imagine a world where, instead of looking at these labels as deficits and shortfalls that hinder that person and society in general, we evolve (dissolve) our definition of "normal" and then create a new meaning for LD - Learning Differences.
In that way, we don't designate bad or good traits and labels and, in the process, disregard a broad section of society. Instead, we can provide all the opportunities to (every) simply uniquely beautiful individual who all play a vital role in our complex world.
Weekly Creative Meditation
Six Days and counting to our Party in the Park!
Plan on joining us on Saturday, May 21st from 10-4 to meet our awesome DRC-East crew in person. (You will find their spotlights, here.) Dance and sing along to a full day of LIVE music with DJ Sal Sarmiento, a drum circle Jam with Sal and Catey Dominy, and three local bands: River Mohawk Band, Downtown, & Playback. Check out all the very cool vendors (including art and craft items created by the East Crew), bid on silent auction items, get your face painted, participate in the 50/50 raffle, and have tons of fun while supporting them to purchase their forever home and create a Cultural Resource Center for the entire community.
In case you missed it, all seven times it was aired, these amazing kids were featured in a piece on WWNY-News 7.
Progress is simply defined as forward motion. Not to say that the old axiom - two steps forward and one step back is not (absolutely) a thing. But, even when that is true, you are still making headway. It may feel like you are moving at a snail's pace, and at that moment, looking down at your feet, you can't really see how far you have come - however if you take a moment to gaze back at everything, you have achieved, it becomes apparent.
I feel like we are at that point at DRC, as well as the country at large. To think I started the process of creating DRC just nine years ago is insane. Two facilities later, with 46 kids actively participating (right now), more than 20 that are homeschooling on their own with our help, and over 200 young people served at one point or another, we have definitely made some progress. Yet, I always feel like we are constantly brainstorming creative solutions to get around, over, under, or through the obstacles placed strategically in our path.
And as a country, we have made great strides in so many areas. Although, right now, it feels like we are not just taking one step backward, but an entire century worth of teeny, tiny steps are being pulled out from beneath us like the table cloth trick - leaving major human rights sitting bare and unprotected on the table.
It really is unfair to compare the two, I know. In the case of DRC, we, the stakeholders, are in charge of making changes that will move us - and our student members positively into the future.
Our country, it seems, is not so fortunate. A few (feel free to insert expletives here, if you are so inclined) are making really bad (horrible, no good) decisions for the majority that will have a detrimental effect on us all - but most especially the kids (I am honored to spend my days with) - for years to come.
No, this is not a politically motivated post - it is an expression of my deep fury and frustration that the word progress has become a four-letter word, and somehow, hypocrisy is not. Since when has empathy, compassion, basic kindness, vision, creativity, and ingenuity become the enemy? Let me guess... was it when we attached the word Progressive to them? (Yes, I am not unaware that this is the moment where the word irony comes into play.)
Progress is not just about making obscene amounts of money. (Which, in case you were not cognizant, is the real reason for our heedless slide back into the early Twentieth Century.) It is about making supportive changes and challenging the status quo for the health and general well-being - of everyone in society - building up and protecting human rights - not tearing them down.
To be clear, progress is not the enemy. Full stop. Let's think about who and what we should be united with, not against.
Photo #1: A is greasing the mini cupcake tins. #2: S is collecting dust as a contaminant to replicate the mold growing bio experiment for the 3rd time after we had more questions we wanted to answer. #3: C brought in her painted turtle and gave a presentation. #4: E helped to bring bottles and cans to the Redemption Center twice this past week. We have collected a total of over $100 for the DRC-East Fund. #5: L&E played on the Seedlings floor creating imaginary worlds.
Weekly Creative Meditation
We will be partying in the park in two weeks! Have you missed live music events? Join us for the day and get your groove back!
Enormous gratitude to Sal Sarmiento for helping to plan our day of music, for DJ-ing for the first hour and playing didgeridoo for the Drum Circle Jam session. A Huge thank you to Catie Dominy for providing percussion for the drum circle. And shouts of thanks out to the members of the three bands (River Mohawk Band, Playback, and Downtown) who will be playing all afternoon.
Come and dance, sing along, and soak up all those live music vibes to help our East Peeps purchase their new home.
We are also still accepting registration forms from vendors.
As a run up to the fundraiser we are spotlighting all of our DRC kids and posting them on social media. If you missed them, find the reflections, here. (Check back frequently over the next weeks as Angie and I write them.)
Humans are hard-wired for narrative - our ancient ancestors, the first hominids to wander the earth, most likely used story maps, and now we have multitudes of mediums to tell our tales. However, one-on-one may still be the most ideal - it is written in our DNA.
We know intuitively that conversation is the conduit for shared observations, questions, ideas, and feelings. Which ultimately provides a flow for deeper understanding, less judgment, and closer connections. The following examples from recent encounters clarify this point.
Since I began working with children in an educational setting in 2003, I have been very vocal in my belief that we humans learn best through active, engaged discussion - not lectures or an adult disseminating information from the front of a classroom. Young people are not empty vessels passively waiting for finite, random facts from a predetermined tired curriculum.
That is why - I am not afraid to make it abundantly clear to every parent (grandparent) and child that school is optional. Some would even say it is provocative to place those exact words front and center on our shirts and other promotional items. And, it is; however, I find it is a great way to create an easily accessible entrance into conversation.
Case in point, last weekend at the Green Living Fair, an older gentleman stood looking at the DRC shirts on display and challenged us by asking, "why is school optional?" We explained that our philosophy centers around non-coercive, self-directed learning, but that was not enough. He was looking for more - and kept asking the same question. Finally, I stepped in and said, "because learning is natural," and then began to relate a few stories from recent weeks. He was hooked.
The exchange continued for another 10-15 minutes. He shared that his 7-year-old grandchild in Denver, CO is in the process of being diagnosed with dyslexia and how worried he was - because it was turning into a traumatic affair for the kid and their entire family. The methods used and the handling of this child's needs by professionals seemed needlessly cruel. This man left our table with a new understanding of how people learn and the knowledge that someone really cares enough to listen to him talk about his grandchild's (and their entire family's) experiences.
Friday, a 16-year-old joined us for the first time. As I usually do with new kiddos, I asked if they would like to check in with me partway through the day. This kid looked at me with a horrified expression and said no, "I'm good, and I am playing a game now." I then had to explain that it was all fine. They were not in trouble or being called out for anything. I just wanted to see how the day was going and refresh my memory about what they are interested in doing at the Center each week. Several kids assured him it was all good.
Once he (this kid identifies as nonbinary, and more specifically agender - and prefers he, him, and it pronouns) finished his game, we settled into the new office space and began to talk. Midway into our 1/2 hour chat, he looked up and noticed the "Gender Closet" sign, giggled a bit, and asked about it. (Side note, after explaining the gender closet, he relayed that he needed a binder - he said while looking down at his chest, "seeing this every day makes me have more body dysphoria." You will find more about this specific request below.) That is the exact point where the conversation took a hard left turn into some serious topics.
After disclosing some of the things he has gone through over the past couple of years, he said something akin to - it makes me angry that there are people who hurt and bully people who have a mental illness or are LGBTQ+. We talked about why these folks are so bound up in hate and want to destroy the things they dislike. After talking about it a bit, we decided it is often because they just do not understand (whatever it is, they are hating on), and the easiest way to deal is through anger or violence.
I then told him about our Social Justice class and our goals of highlighting injustices within various groups of people in the community. We agreed that bringing things into the open with a willingness to talk about them may help people more fully understand the things they judge as bad, inconceivable, or inappropriate. He is thinking about joining that class - I believe he has a lot to offer to the group in terms of experience, creative ideas, and passion.
At the end of the day, life and the act of learning will always be about making those interlaced connections with other people - which sometimes feels frightening, overwhelming, or simply impossible.
Therefore, if you have questions - ask. When something feels icky or uncomfortable - ask. The best way to learn something new, understand things better, or even find the joy within - is to share your observations, curiosities, and stories and then talk about them.
Photo 1: Thank you Anna Campbell for the cool new electronic keyboard and music mat. Photo 2: We grew mold! Our second attempt of the science experiment worked. Photo 3: Shark and Ocean Critters was the second session held in the new classroom space.
Weekly Creative Meditation
As mentioned above, the DRC Canton Center has a Gender Closet, where anyone can take any clothing that meets their gender identity. It is currently open to the community on Mon. and Thurs. from 2:30 -3:15.
Later in the day, after speaking with the above student about his need for a binder, my own kiddo, Kenzie, happened to call. I told them about the request for a binder, and they offered to donate money for us to buy one specifically for him.
Which then gave me the idea to create a Binder Fund - to purchase them for kids who desperately need them. Body dysphoria is debilitating for so many kids. If we can take one layer of trauma off their shoulders and provide a means for them to appear the way they identify, we absolutely will. Each binder costs between $35 - $50 which does not include shipping fees.
To begin, we will offer this to DRC kids, but as the fund grows, we will provide this to any young person in the community as long as we are able.
If you would like to donate to the Binder Fund at DRC, you can do so through the DRC Venmo account - @Whole-Learners Please specify that it is for the Binder Fund in the comments. You can also donate through our Stripe donation box here. (Please keep in mind that Venmo transactions are free, but we have to pay an additional fee for donations made through Stripe.)
DRC- East Fundraising Party
We are less than four weeks out, and things seem to be pulling together! Spread the word - we are still looking for vendors, and then plan on joining us with friends and family on May 21st for loads of fun.
The bottle drive continues as well. Thank you to everyone who has dropped some off so far. E and I have at least a carload to bring to the redemption center this coming week!
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