It is amazing what you find when you pack for a move. Last week, I was emptying the huge, four drawer, 1950s era file cabinet that has held my (decidedly not) secret stash of office supplies (tape) and random info for over four years. Among the hanging files, I found the journal that I kept during my trip with several students to an International Democratic Education Conference (IDEC) in Caguas, Puerto Rico in March of 2012, randomly slipped in with a bunch of 3rd and 4th grade reading comprehension exercises.
This loosely tied bundle of 4”x 6” paper with my nearly illegible scrawl instantly reminded me of the pure pain, confusion, conflict, exhaustion, inner turmoil, grief, and unending tears, as well as transformational discoveries and decisions from those 18 months after that trip.
That neglected and forgotten documentation of my innermost feelings and observations is the very reason that DRC exists. For several days, while shivering in the overly air-conditioned conference center (silly me packed summer clothing – to go to a tropical island), I sat and listened to the vanguard of an educational revolution. These were the folks, from all over the world, who worked tirelessly to bring the concept of Democratic Education to the awareness of educators, as well as the general population.
That IDEC was, beyond a doubt, where I discovered that I had always, without realizing it, subscribed to the philosophy, and practiced the methods of fully Self-Directed Education. I comprehended, at the same time, that I was working in a place where the administrator’s methodology, despite superficially, using the language, did not come close to matching the true definition.
Many people are, understandably, confused by the differences between progressive and Self-Directed Education. The language is quite similar; however, the approach and philosophy are in opposition. I recently found an article in Psychology Today, by the preeminent developmental psychologist, Dr. Peter Gray, the author of Free to Learn (who I have had the incredible privilege of meeting twice). The following (lengthy) excerpt from his article defines the differences brilliantly.
… The difference between progressive education and Self-Directed Education lies in the understanding of how such whole-person education occurs. To the progressive educator it emerges from a collaboration between the child and a benevolent, extraordinarily competent teacher, who gently guides the child’s energy and shapes the child’s raw ideas in ways that serve the child’s and society’s long-term good. To the advocate of Self-Directed Education, it emerges out of children’s natural drives to understand themselves and the world around them and to use whatever resources are available in their environment, including knowledgeable and skilled others, to achieve that end.
Those aforementioned 18 months of anguish were essential catharsis before I could even begin to think about creating a fresh, innovative, rich, and inviting environment - not only for the kids in our community who desire a different educational experience, but for myself and other adults who have come to recognize the utter power of Self-Directed Education. DRC is a safe place filled with resources, materials, and kind, caring people who are excited about learning, answering questions, and sharing their knowledge, and where free play is viewed as one of the main methods of acquiring information.
At DRC, we are a community of children, teens, and adults - each taking responsibility for our individual learning and growth - together.
* Read Peter Gray's full article here.
Yay, we did it! 48 Riverside Drive is the official property of Deep Root Center!
Thank you to the Friday crew (Shannon, Taegan, and Piper LaBrake, Cora Hobbs, and Kennedy Daniels) who moved mattresses out of the house and put a large dent into cleaning the kitchen.
Yesterday a small group of us spent the day on some essential cleaning and repairs. An immense thank you to the talented Larry McGory for installing hand-rails for the main staircase, as well as the cellar stairs and fixing a broken step. He also took the idea of using our very long bookcase to create a railing at the top of the stairs and implemented it brilliantly. Thanks to Mike Corse for handling the abundant small details – like making sure the smoke alarms work, getting said large bookcase upstairs (through the hall window), fixing lamps and desks, moving washer and dryer, and trimming branches from trees. An additional thank you to Juliet Bellinger, Diane Exoo, and Trish Pielnik for washing down the walls and floors throughout the house. You are all amazing!
Now that it is clean, the transition will continue over the next week, as we move all of our “stuff” up the street. Stay tuned for the call to action.
I usually have no (freaking) idea what I am doing. Shocking (?) – quite possibly; however, (I think) no one actually realizes that I am frequently flying by the seat of my pants, and that I, quite literally, am making stuff (sh*t) up as I go along. (This phrasing is a nod to Chris Mercogliano’s book about the Albany Free School entitled, Making It Up as We Go Along.)
This approach applies to the big things like (oh, you know) founding and running Deep Root Center, seeking big donations, and purchasing a facility, as well as the less significant stuff. I know by now that I cannot plan or outline anything; if I do - it doesn’t matter what it is – from a speech or a lesson plan for a class to something as mundane as presenting an idea at our community meeting, it bombs, spectacularly. If I can’t extemporize and be totally authentic and spontaneous, I honestly don’t want to be involved. Some people may refer to me as a “bullsh*t artist” or even featherbrained; I, however, prefer to think of myself as decisive and confident.
My innate can-do attitude simply means that I believe in my ideas and my ability to get things done. It doesn’t matter if it is something that I have never encountered, I will, without question, jump in and figure it out (unless it involves dealing with mice – that is beyond even my scope of nerve).
I often wonder where this level of assertiveness comes from. Is it the fact that I am the eldest of four children, or, maybe, because I embrace my inner Scorpio? Or, it could even be that I absolutely despise following any kind of rules; I am persistent, strong-willed, and, for nearly 54 years, I have created my own way of being – I genuinely like being different.
Whatever the reason, I am grateful. And, even though many would attempt to hinder those very same attributes in a child or teen, I will always encourage and stand up for my students when they exhibit them by taking on the world in their own ingenious way, fighting for what is right for them, following their dreams, embracing their strengths, and enthusiastically diving into any challenge that presents itself.
* This week you are fortunate enough to get two blog posts in one. I was inspired to write the following short piece this past Thursday evening.
“I am Proud of You …”
… is, I believe, the most important statement, besides, “I love you,” that you can say to another human being (or yourself). In saying, “I am proud of you,” you are acknowledging and validating that person’s existence, as well as their positive impact on your life. And, most significantly, you are setting the stage for future reasons to be proud.
Try it – “I am proud of you!” And, then, stand back and watch the awesomeness unfold.
In case you have not seen the round of Social Media Posts – we are excited to announce that we are closing on our new home this Wednesday!
Before we can have the kids there, we need to install: (1) Handrails on the stairway and the cellar stairs, (2) A railing at the top of the stairs, (3) and, a fence behind the garage roof, so the kids cannot access it from the backyard.
We also need some (strong) bodies to help us move all of our furniture, equipment, and very full boxes up the street. We are going to manage this a bit at a time. If you have a few spare moments in the next couple weeks, please consider helping us with a load or two.
If you can assist with any of these essentials (and, want to get a peek at our awesome new space before everyone else) please get I touch.
Coercion is force. Coercion is making someone do something they do not want to do. Coercion does not provide real choices. Coercion is restrictive, confining, and limiting. Coercion fosters unhealthy competition. Coercion, in short, is the legal and socially accepted form of bullying, browbeating, intimidation, and oppression.
Defiance and rebellion are the direct results of coercion. When you remove a child from the compulsory, controlling, and constraining environment, the oppositional behavior (usually) disappears, as well.
Labels, quite simply, are a manifestation of the system.
I am still so incredibly angry, discouraged, and profoundly sad after listening to such excruciatingly, disturbing, and heartbreaking stories this past week, from families with perfectly "normal" children, who have gone through hell, that I am curbing myself to this explicit, bare-bones response, instead of recounting them all here.
To put it as succinctly as possible - we are obligated to do better! All of our brilliantly, beautiful, unique children deserve a safe educational environment, where they will be heard, trusted, and celebrated before they become another diagnosed casualty of societal tradition.
Until that happens, please know, Deep Root Center is here for any family (child) who needs us.
Water, Woods, & Wild Wonders
We spent our first full Water, Woods adventure at our home-base on Bonno Rd this past Tuesday exploring the woods, building a stick house, and deciding what resources we need to make this old cabin comfortable and functional. Remember - this program is now open to homeschool families. You can learn more here.
We had to hold off on closing on our new facility at 48 Riverside Dr. for circumstances outside our control. We are hoping to get the “green-light” within the next week. Once we close, we will be seeking help with a few repairs that need to be completed before the kids can be there full time. And, we will be asking for assistance to move everything in. We are planning to host an Open House/ Halloween/Thank You Party at the end of October to celebrate this major accomplishment.
Every single one of us is a unique individual – with interests, talents, and goals, as well as feelings, philosophies, ideas, and a general way of being in the world that are constantly shifting, transmuting, and evolving. As long as you are breathing, stagnation is, simply, not possible.
At Deep Root Center, we understand that on a visceral level. We welcome every single being here as a whole person – not their label. We want to get to know each student without any preconceived notions that will prejudice our assessment, or, most importantly, our relationship. As a non-coercive, multi-age, self-directed learning facility, we (all of us – staff, volunteers, as well as the other young people) have an abundance of time to learn who they really are – their brilliance and deficits, what they dislike, as well as what lights their fire. We have the space to celebrate and highlight their strengths, while working through their challenges, without restrictive time-lines or dictates.
Each DRC student has a distinct plan, which is totally based on their interests and goals. We don’t have a set curriculum filled with finite information based on age or grade. We do have a full schedule of classes, one-on-ones, and activities, which, for the most part, are designed collaboratively by the kids and the facilitators to explore a kaleidoscope of subjects, philosophies, and theorems (personal and scientific) that are totally relevant to what they want to investigate. Within the loose structure of each class, every student will learn something completely different; because, they are able to personalize it to their specifications. Additionally, they can make observations and conclusions based on their unique perspective, and personal life experiences. All of our classes are open to any of our students, regardless of age, unless there is inappropriate content for younger children.
A mentoring relationship with me, is at the core of everything we do at DRC. I meet with every student, over the age of ten, each week to listen, ask questions, make suggestions, and develop their plan, which all of us fully expect to grow and change as time goes on. After all - it represents them, in this moment, and as soon as they are ready to move forward on their personal educational and life path it will transform, as well.
At DRC, we fully understand that in this ever-changing world, our children will be required to know themselves - their strengths and challenges - adapt quickly, think on their feet, work together collaboratively, and be inventive. The young people who learn these skills now, while embracing diversity of thought and philosophy, will be miles (and years) ahead of those who are mired in a tradition of inertia.
We are incredibly excited to announce that Deep Root Center has received a $10,000.00 grant from a donor who prefers to remain anonymous. This person is thrilled to support our work here in the NoCo. This gift will be used to offset some of the $65,000.00 scholarship aid that DRC offers to families who need it every year.
DRC has open enrollment throughout the year. If you feel DRC is the best place for your child, please get in touch.
The innate human fight or flight reflex, for the most part, has outlived its original biological intent. Most of us (I can only hope) are really in no danger of being attacked and carried off by a large predator; nor, will we likely have the opportunity to lift a very large object, that happened to fall onto one of our clan members, in our entire lifetime.
Yet, our bodies react to stressors with an infusion of the exact same hormonal cocktail that was once required by our hominid ancestors for those aforementioned scenarios. We obviously don’t need that particular shot of strength and power to deal with the pressures of modern living.
Research has proven time and again that fear and stress actively work against us to literally shut our brains down. They effectively make us dumber, clumsier, unresourceful, more forgetful, and less intuitive, not to mention the negative ramifications for both our immediate and long-term health. In actuality, we desperately need to be smart, agile, perceptive, creative, and robust, the exact opposite, to survive, and, yes, thrive in this world.
Nevertheless, we continue to use coercion, fear of failure, threats, intimidation, reward and punishment, and timed exams or tasks in our compulsory, standardized educational system, as well as our traditional work environment to achieve desired results. Hmmm –
Thank you to everyone who participated in our summer programming. We had a blast. Stay tuned for next year’s opportunities.
DRC opens this coming Tuesday, Sept. 4th. We are excited to see everyone and to jump into our academic year.
It is not too late to join DRC – in fact we accept students throughout the school year. If you think our safe, comfortable, dynamic environment is the best place for your child, check us out here.
Water, Woods, & Wild Wonders
If you have not heard, we have opened this program to any homeschool family who would like to participate.
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