“Maria, what should I do now?” This is a question I hear quite often the first day of any DRC Workshop Week. Many kids don't quite believe me when I respond, “I am not going to tell you, at any point, what to do while you are at Deep Root Center. I will offer you suggestions, and provide you with a ton of supplies and materials as well as technical assistance (cutting the holes in boxes with the knife or holding your project while you apply more tape, etc), however, I will not provide you with point-blank detailed direction.”
Most kids, as mentioned, are incredulous when they hear this pronouncement and then they seem disconcerted. Many of these children are accustomed to a very tight schedule and they often don't have the luxury of deciding or choosing what to do --- next.
Some kids decide to test this philosophy out by sitting on the couch or floor staring into space or continually asking the same question in a multitude of ways, thinking I will give in and tell them what to do. To say that it is hard for some to hear that they are in charge, would be an understatement.
Others have an idea in mind but lack the confidence to tackle it on their own. “Can you make my boat, Maria?” “Would you please make the lines on this paper for me?” “Will you build me a _ _ _ _ with these Legos?” My task in these situations is to ask questions about what they really have in mind, listen carefully while they explain, and then offer suggestions on how they may get started. I have found, that as with most things, starting is the hardest part. Once they discover the power of creating something that they invented, it is literally quite addictive. By the second day, they ask for less hand-holding (show signs of disgust if I am not interpreting their vision quite the way they are describing it) and by the end of the week are generally able to take a project from concept to completion without any direct input from me (except for being the keeper of the sharp knives and painting supplies).
I honor and celebrate every step towards independence with each of these kids. The look on their faces every single time they have accomplished something on their very own is so precious and inspiring. The high – five is just the icing on the cake. Their inner sense of accomplishment goes so much farther than my words or gestures of praise.
This is the birth place for intrinsic motivation and the natural desire to be independent. A growing body of research supports my anecdotal evidence that free play and free exploration lead to personal discoveries that allow space for growth, learning, and, yes, maturity.
If a child (young children included) is allowed to have a generous chunk of unstructured, unscheduled, and undirected time every day, they will gain confidence in their abilities and will have a greater sense of who they really are separate from their family, peers, and other adults in their lives.
Trust is the key: the ability to let go and trust in yourself, trust in each other, and trust that kids innately know what they need to thrive. Because granting ourselves and others the awe-inspiring and empowering gift of becoming intimately acquainted with the person deep inside, offers a lifetime of ongoing personal learning opportunities and fulfillment.
A Tale of Woe
After procrastinating (thinking about and planning the next post) for a good portion of this past weekend, I pulled out my laptop Sunday afternoon to start writing the next post. Despite my lack of concrete ideas, I figured, as usual, the action of typing would become the inspiration and motivation.
The universe however had other ideas. I tried to type the password into my laptop and it kept saying "error." It was one of those head scratching moments; I won't replay all the random thoughts that ran through my head bumping into one another as I racked my brain to figure out why my password was not working. Then I realized that as I was typing, each letter pressed resulted in at least three little asterisks in my password. After another thirty minutes of shutting it down, logging into the guest account, cleaning the keyboard, and shutting it down again, I accepted the sad fact that the keyboard on my four year old, split personality, workhorse was fried.
Therefore, you will not have the pleasure of reading an in depth, thought provoking, witty, and oh so informative post this week.
I am ordering an external keyboard, and will hopefully, be back in business this coming weekend. I refuse to give up on this old baby who has witnessed the very beginnings of Deep Root Center, back when it was only a tiny little kernel of an idea inspired by a few self-directed learning conferences and the kids I spent my days with.
We are in the midst of Makers and Shakers, our second week of Summer Workshops. So far, we have used the sewing machine, designed and cut out swords (never underestimate the draw of knights, and their weaponry), and made boats out of random recyclable materials. We hope to bring the boats up to the fountain in the park to test them out today, if the rain holds off.
Young Artist Week is scheduled for August 3-7. We will spend time each day learning about an artist and their particular style and use them as inspiration for our own art. Sign up today.
Competition is a Four Letter Word
The insidious, odious, and consumptive practices of competition have infiltrated every nook and cranny of our culture and is spreading its diseased and degenerate fingers into non-western (read: third world) culture very quickly. This statement alone should give you a hint about how strongly I feel about competitive traditions throughout society, however, as you probably guessed, I have plenty more to say about it.
From the moment we are born and rated on the APGAR Scale, we are in a race to be the most popular, most beautiful, richest, fastest, strongest, sportiest, smartest, blondest, thinest, most creative, or most --- fill in the blank. We are trained from our earliest moments to be all that at the expense of everyone around us. First we learn to step on our siblings, then our classmates and peers, then anyone out there who happens to get in the way of our potential accomplishments.
Life has become a blame game and a constant battle to attain attention and gratification through artificial measures.
Education has become a rote exercise to gain inconsequential knowledge to pass exams instead of a joyful experience that fulfills curiosity and feeds the natural delight and desire to learn. A self-directed learner understands that the act of knowing the correct answer to a question on a quiz, trivia game, or crossword puzzle is not the end game --- it is simply the beginning of an exciting journey toward further knowledge.
Earning a living has become an unending struggle between personal moral standards and self-serving, winner takes all societal messages.
How then can we engage this overbearing, aggressive bully that has infiltrated our lives and culture?
Many would say we should not even try. After all, our economy is based on good old capitalistic competition. I will not hesitate, however, to point out (tongue in cheek, of course) how well that whole system is working for 99% of the population ....
To take on this ingrained practice, I believe we first have to acknowledge its presence and recognize its harmful impact. Understanding that competition detrimentally influences every relationship can bring awareness and cognition to our interactions with others. Positive communication is a powerful tool.
A conscious effort to eliminate rivalry to produce inviting, welcoming, and cooperative environments, where sharing of ideas and resources is common place, is essential to generating this new culture of collaboration.
As I write this, I realize that I have once again circled back to the all important concept of free-will and choice. We all get to choose how we interact with others. And when we are aware of outside, unconscious influences such as competition, we are better able to make decisions that will have a positive impact on our own lives as well as others.
If you choose to compete, make it a competition to improve your own skills, instead of deliberately trouncing someone else. In the end, you will feel better about yourself knowing that you have not intentionally destroyed another person's sense of self-worth and dignity. We are all bettered by your efforts.
Celebrate each other, your individual and group accomplishments. Find joy in interdependence and connectedness while reveling in your unique, personal contributions to the whole.
In this way, one relationship, one business deal, one interaction, one conversation, one project, one program at a time, the learned behavior of competition loses to the new cultural tradition of community.
Creating Community Connections
We are building this amazing thing for you, with you, and because of you, our community!
This is the sentence that ended the Solstice Attitude of Gratitude post two weeks ago, with the addition of the two simple yet profound words, with you. I chose to begin this piece with the amended sentence because building and creating a thriving community within our North Country home is our overarching goal; it is indeed the essence of everything we are working toward at Deep Root Center.
Community is one of those words that seems to get bandied about with little thought or sentiment. I sometimes wonder if we can fully understand the meaning or implication of the term.
Webster's New Encyclopedic Dictionary gives several definitions including: a group of people living in an area or the area itself, a group of people living in an area with common interests, an interacting population with various interests, joint ownership or participation, shared activity, and a social state or condition.
I think that community is a combination of all those things Mr. Webster offers. Yes, it is a group of people, interacting and participating with some commonality and some differences and it is a social state. I believe, however, his definition can be expanded to include the human condition, personal choice, and individualism.
The living, breathing, loving, learning, mistake making, giving, and taking, soul of a flourishing community is about each person who chooses to be part of it. Everyone participates with respect and provides something to the group that is undeniably unique and beautiful. The whole group labors together to creatively solve problems and celebrates together when the work is done. Everyone in the group does not need to be dogmatically attached to the same beliefs; a common agreement to disagree with esteem and honor is all that is required. And, when feedback is offered it is given and received with grace and humility.
The key, then, is that sense of belonging, whether a large or small community--- you understand that your ideas are important, valid, and matter to the whole collective.
This, as mentioned at the outset, is what we are determined to create at Deep Root Center.
What do you have to offer? Your input counts, and is absolutely essential to this growing membership. The Deep Root Center community is here for you, with you, and because of you!
I get it, really! Deep Root Center, along with the other Liberated Learners (LL) Centers in the US and Canada, is completely different from any other educational environment out there. We are all listening to kids stories and linking them directly to their interests in open environments that encourage and support mutual respect and trust, self-direction, intrinsic motivation, and learning through living, in ways that schools can not. It is, therefore, fairly common to hear these five questions when I am out in the community: “What is Deep Root Center?” “How does Deep Root Center Work?” “Why do kids choose Deep Root Center?” “When will they learn the stuff they need to learn?” And the ever popular, “Where can kids go after they finish (can they go to college)?”
What – Deep Root Center is the only innovative, dynamic, and forward looking learning center in Northern New York. DRC provides a completely unique and individualized academic program for each student member based on their interests and passions through classes and one-on-one tutorials, and DRC serves as a direct bridge to the community to help students locate internships, apprenticeships, and volunteer opportunities. Youth have access to resources, materials, tools, equipment, and staff support to delve into personal academic research and to create hands-on, art, science, carpentry, and other real world projects. DRC is proud to offer a safe social space where kids are invited and comfortable to be their true selves.
How – The legal mechanism for a young person to become a member of DRC (and the other LL Centers) is to file homeschool documentation with their local school district. The staff at Deep Root Center offers direct assistance in writing the Letter of Intent, Individualized Home Instruction Plan (IHIP), and the Quarterly Progress Reports. After becoming a member, each youth uses the DRC facility in accordance with their personal learning plan which they map out with their mentor during weekly advising meetings.
Why – Despite legions of dedicated, caring teachers, many young people choose DRC because they are lost, bored, or alienated. Some, for a variety of reasons, are struggling and feel anxious. These kids are looking for something different and they feel ready to take charge of their education.
When – This is probably the hardest concept for people in our society to understand, because most of us have been through the compulsory, coercive, and standardized system. Despite what we have been told over and over again, few students in a class are going to understand or retain information (after the exam), just because a teacher introduces an idea and spends 30 - 60 minutes, or even 100 hours explaining it.
The self-directed learning philosophy is based on research that indicates most people gain knowledge when they are interested, attracted to, and excited about a subject. We believe that fundamental academic skills are developed when youth have the opportunity to discover connections in the real world through a multidisciplinary fashion. That means we directly engage students through the subjects they are most interested in such as: architecture, astronomy, cultural anthropology, clothing design, communications, computer programming, movies, black-smithing, story-telling, sculpture, comics, music and song writing, mechanics, etc … Through this method we are, in essence, teaching kids how to learn, not what to learn. Once they understand how to find information on their own, they are able to go out and investigate anything that intrigues them. The act of learning becomes addicting and they become life long learners.
Where – Teens who are engaged in self-directed learning have developed skills that employers and colleges are looking for. These kids, to put it quite bluntly, have been out living life, following their passions, and are often far more interesting than those students who have followed the traditional cookie-cutter path. These youth are able to interact with adults and other kids to discuss real-world issues in an intelligent and informed way. As Ken Danford has said, “there is nothing you can do with a high-school diploma that can't do without one.” Youth who have utilized Liberated Learners Resource Centers have gone onto college and university to earn four year, Masters, and even Doctorate degrees. Some have started their own businesses, and others have gone into technical and service careers. They all have the same opportunities that are available to any student who has graduated from a traditional high-school.
Yes, we get it, Deep Root Center is not for everyone. We are here for people who understand there is more than one educational path and are ready to expand their vision of what education can be. If you are one of those people, please let us know how we can serve you. We invite you to tell us your story.
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