… is an inalienable right, then why do so many of us experience profound guilt when we are feeling contented? Somewhere along the way (probably over the last 150 years), happiness has become a four-letter word --- it seems that if you are enjoying something, too much, then you are designated bad, wicked, willful, and slothful. We are instructed from a young age that drudgery is the norm, and forced to do things we hate, and then told (when we complain) that the key to survival is to do those things that we do not like to do.
I believe that if we were all taught, instead, that happiness is the key to survival --- learning would automatically become a joy and we would be more likely to seek out work that is challenging, interesting, and fulfilling.
With a paradigm shift of this magnitude, we would all be striving to create a better world, simply, because contentment would be the objective instead of prestige, power, or commercial goods. My guess is that we would also be more likely to be accepting of change, open to opportunities that present themselves, and, completely, in tune with our fellow humans.
Yes, it is okay to be happy and have fun! Do what you love; go on a quest for the beautiful, and, absolutely, live life to the fullest. It is your inalienable right!
DRC NEWS Water, Woods, & Wild Wonders The DRC Crew had another fantastic, HOT, Tuesday adventure at Martin’s Farmstand outside of Potsdam off 11B. Thank you to Daniel, Mendy, and their entire family for welcoming DRC with open arms. Our students enjoyed helping out in the fields, picking raspberries, wondering around the farm seeking out wet places, and eating watermelon. After leaving the farm, they stopped at Lehman Park to splash and play in the Raquette River to cool off. This week they will be exploring the Grasse River. DRC is adopting the MOW the Grasse site at Heritage Park through SLU's Nature Up North Program to monitor the health of the Grasse River. Earlier that day they plan on hiking the SUNY Canton trail with plenty of chances to wade in the river, once again, to cool off. An overnight camping trip to Clear Pond in Parishville is planned for the following week. This warm weather has certainly allowed for plenty of opportunities to get wet!
One of the first and most important lessons DRC student members learn is that we (all of us - staff, students, and volunteers) are allowed to call each other on unacceptable, disrespectful, or inappropriate behavior, by clearly stating, “that is not OK.”
Every kid understands that they have explicit permission, using those four little words, to express their feelings, whether discomfort, unease, sadness, or distress because this straightforward phrase gives us all authority to make an observation without blaming or escalating an interaction. Our kids come to acknowledge, after practicing, that the typical demands of “stop it”, “don’t do that”, or, even, “no”, clearly, do not have the same power as, “that is not OK”.
It works, simply, because, it invites authentic discussion and respectful debate, not vitriolic dissension or, even, retaliation.
I am extremely proud when, “that is not OK”, becomes a child’s or teen’s default response to any disrespectful behavior that they witness at DRC, because it means they are equipped to stand up against injustice, in the wider world, by offering compassion, kindness, ideas, and suggestions instead of whining, judging, or responding (reacting) in anger. And – it indicates that they have learned through direct experience that connecting via sincere dialogue creates an inclusive environment where empathy, openness, and critical thinking are utilized to solve problems.
Photo credits: Alicia and Chase
Water, Woods, & Wild Wonders
The first all day excursion to Clear Pond in the White Hill Wild Forest was a smashing success and everything we dreamed this program would be. Twelve kids headed out Tuesday morning with four adult facilitators – Trish, Chris, Glen (our weekly WW&WW volunteer/intern), and Alicia a regular parent volunteer. They hiked, explored, touched moss, climbed over huge rocks and uprooted trees, held toads, and even waded in the pond. Yes, they were completely immersed – dirty, wet, inspired, totally exhausted, and in awe of the wild wonders of the natural world! Most of them (not just the little ones) fell asleep on the drive back to Canton.
Stay tuned for tales from Martin’s Farm Stand, outside of Potsdam, where they will travel next Tuesday to explore a working vegetable farm.
Deep Root Center is available to any student in St. Lawrence County who is interested in taking charge of their education in our open, supportive, dynamic, and safe learning community. Contact Maria today to schedule an appointment.
At this time of year, I spend a copious amount of time explaining Deep Root Center and the concept of self-directed learning to potential students and their families, as well as volunteers. One of the most frequently asked questions, after they listen to the basics, is: so, you have kids from ages 5-18, they all have their own learning plan based on their interests, there is no physically separated space determined by age or grade level, and, they are each in charge of their own education – how exactly does that work?
Very simply, we all work together to create the conditions that foster a welcoming, educational community. When a young person walks into DRC they intuit the difference immediately. It feels like home. It is colorful, bright, and open. The central room (dubbed the chill space) is set up with cozy furniture as well as pillows, beanbags, and blankets, and, there are student designed murals painted directly on the walls in every single room.
It is obvious at first glance that people – student members, staff, and volunteers all enjoy being here. DRC is a positive, comfortable, non-coercive, safe, environment where everyone has explicit permission to be themselves, as long as they do not hurt anyone or anything else. Respect for ourselves, each other, and this space is our only rule.
Our students have unencumbered access to all of our facilities, resources, and materials where they are free to play, imagine, explore, experiment, build, create, and ask questions. This encourages an open, receptive, and objective mind-set that generates curiosity about new ideas and concepts, which then inspires them to ask additional questions and make future decisions based on those discoveries.
Quite predictably the second question is, “but, what does all that look like on any given day?” My answer, without a moment’s hesitation is, “to be quite honest, absolute chaos. When you take a few moments to really observe what is going on, however, you appreciate the deeply, fundamental, and natural learning that is happening on so many awesome levels.”
If you had been a fly on the wall this past Thursday and Friday, you would have witnessed these snapshots, just a few of the scenes that also included a visiting chicken in her cage in one corner, as well as DRC’s endlessly patient, resident pet, Warren the Bunny, who was the inspiration for the vignette below.
Five kids of various ages, knee-deep in a pile of cardboard boxes, designing a bunny mansion and maze – the 16-year-old wielding the box cutter and hot glue gun, while the 5-year-old spins like a top, off to one side, and the three tweens discuss appropriate habitat while directing the placement of the walls.
Three girls, ages 10 -15, repainting the entrance wall, blue, for the background of a new mural inspired by the movie “Finding Dory”, finding images on-line, and tracing them onto plastic sheets to be projected onto the wall, after they figure out how to operate the overhead projector.
Three teens playing Scrabble and then Battleship on the coffee table, with the “assistance” of a rotating group of “cheerleaders” on the couch and recliners, a Seedling filling in a green Lego platform with individual Lego pieces, and, two other teens watching a video on a phone. Four Seedlings, ages 5-9, sitting at the classroom table collaboratively building a space ship with Legos scooped by the hand full from the big bucket of Legos. One of them decides to grab the postage scale from the science shelf to begin weighing the large container along with individual components of the space ship and then the entire thing – adding and removing pieces to generate changes on the scale. Three students, ages 10-16, working together with brushes and rollers to paint a large wall in the maker room one solid color, so a new mural could be designed to replace the mishmash of abandoned pieces. Six kids, ages 7-16, jamming on keyboards, guitars, drum machine, and mics in the music room. Five Seedlings sitting in a circle on the floor listening to a story and then discussing it with an adult. A five-year-old placing and removing different items in the balance scale. Eight students, ages 12-17, and a facilitator at the classroom table investigating on-line pre-algebra and algebra classes considering how to work together and help each other, even though they are each learning different skills at various levels. And, the 16-year-old lounging on the beanbag with earbuds firmly inserted, quietly playing a game on his iPad, while designing the panoramic timeline, in his head, that will depict all of the world’s history from Big Bang to now, which he intends to paint along the ceiling of the classroom. As you can see, at DRC, we are continually inspired by each other, because, we celebrate independence, eccentricity, collaboration, creative ingenuity, and kindness. We expect that every student will take charge of their education, as well as participate positively in our community. Within that, they each understand explicitly that we will support them in any, and, all of their endeavors, and, that we trust them to follow their instincts to do what makes their hearts sing.
As the new academic year begins, many parents are besieged with the agonizingly familiar refrain that reverberates across the country, as well as from generations past – “I hate school”.
This emphatic statement is incredibly tragic. I think we can all agree that the acquisition of knowledge should absolutely not induce so much misery, distress, or anxiety, or, for that matter, incite such venomous, revulsion. Learning is a process that is eminently natural and should be enjoyable, fun, challenging, and inspiring.
School does work for some; the regimen is exactly what they need to feel secure. For those others, it is a drudgery that simply has to be endured. School feels constricting, contrived, unnatural, and unsafe, and, no amount of cajoling, convincing, or rationalizing will convince them to like it.
There is a viable and exciting educational alternative for those kids: self-directed learning empowers young people to discover their interests and passions. It gives them permission to take the time and space to explore the world and ask important questions. It allows them the opportunity to take on responsibility and work on solving important challenges. Yes, self-directed learning can be hard, because it places each individual in charge of their own education. Each student has access to an abundance of support and guidance; however, they are the ones who ultimately make the decisions, and, if something does not feel right, (instead of complaining) they have the power to fix it.
Learning can be fun, exciting, dynamic, and a lifelong pursuit. It is never too late, or, too early, to choose a different educational path. Deep Root Center for Self-Directed Learning is another option, right here in the NoCo, and we accept new student members throughout the year (yes, even on the first day of school).
DRC NEWS Our first day of the academic year is Tuesday, September 5th. We are thrilled to welcome 18 student members – 12 of whom are brand new! Assembly Woman Visit Addie Jenne will be visiting DRC on Thursday September 7th, at 11 am. She will spend time touring our facilities and talking to our students. We will also be discussing two pieces of legislation moving through the NYS Senate and Assembly that are related to Home School law. Summer- Thank You Thank you to all of the participants in our three weeks of summer programming. We had a ton of fun and look forward to providing this service, again, next year. A huge shout of gratitude to Karen Wells for producing a fabulous theater week and to Christopher Raymo for facilitating the music and art weeks while I “hid” in the office to write IHIPs and work on behind the scenes “stuff”.