Gracias, Merci, Danka, Gracias, Gracias, Gracias ... because sometimes Thank You is simply not adequate.
I want to express the abundance of gratitude and appreciation I feel for you, my faithful readers. I am thankful for Ken Danford's vision, the opportunity to offer this model of education to the community, and for all of the people and organizations who are willing and excited to collaborate, who have contributed financially, who have joyfully shared their time and talents.
I am intensely grateful for the opportunity to practice patience and my writing skills, for my family who have supported me unconditionally, and for the families who have been willing to go against the stream, try something completely new, and embrace self-directed learning as a way of life.
May this season offer you the opportunity to express gratitude for all the gifts you have received throughout the year.
Best wishes for a Happy Chanukah, Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, and a blessed New Year.
I am pretty excited to see my babies this late Wednesday evening. To be fair and a bit more accurate, however, they are no longer infants or children, and they are certainly no longer “mine.”
The little boy with that adorably chubby, peach fuzz face who happily played with Legos for hours on end and devoured books like they were candy, is now a junior in college studying propaganda, ancient European history, satire and media, and a fun loving summer camp counselor who sports a full beard and tops out at six feet exactly (although he looks taller every time he comes home and, no, I am not shrinking, yet).
That little girl with the equally chubby cheeks who created fairy houses in the woods, watched the chickens scratch in their yard for hours, and begged for riding lessons (until we gave in), is an independent young woman who just completed a cooking internship in Massachusetts, is a fiery advocate for social justice for all beings, is an amazing artist and poet, and is headed to Portland, Oregon to live and work for six months.
In the last few months, since they left home, many people have asked us about the empty nest. My response has been immediate and swift every single time; “it feels as natural as breathing.” This is what was supposed to happen: we did our job as parents (the best we knew how), and then they flew free. At times I miss having them around, but they are out forging their own lives with all the joys, mistakes, and disappointments that go along with being alive. And that thought makes me very happy.
Another friend asked recently: “why are your children motivated and self-directed?” My first answer was: “I don't really know.” Then I started thinking about it (as I am often wont to do).
Our children have always been very strong-willed, and some would say extremely stubborn. And they have always been deep thinkers. (Hmmm, wonder where that came from?) Are they genetically programmed to be independent and self-directed or was it part of their upbringing? Which leads us to that age-old anthropological question of nature vs. nurture.
When exploring this idea with some high-school students a few years ago, we collectively decided it is a combination (and after prolonged and sometimes heated discussion, we arbitrarily placed it at 50/50). We agreed that our genes play a huge role in who we are in terms of both looks and personality; however, they don't tell the whole story of each individual. The defining ingredient is often how we are treated as children. If you are supported with unconditional love, respect, and discipline as a child, you will most likely become an empathetic adult. If you are exposed to challenges as a child and expected to explore ideas to overcome them, you will be come a problem-solver. If you are trusted to make judgments and accept that mistakes may go along with them, you will understand decision-making and disappointment. If you are allowed to be bored or left to your own devices for periods of time, you will know how to productively entertain yourself. These life skills are gifts given to you through your family's nurturing discipline and expectations.
Helicopter parenting, however, is a growing phenomenon that has experts concerned about a generation of kids who are not ready to join the ranks of adulthood because they are smothered with love and protected from the very life they are supposed to be living and the world they are supposed to be learning about.
This has created a crisis of gigantic proportion in the world of higher education and in the work force. We have many young adults who are self-centered, immature, and unable to interpret or decipher moral code. They literally don't know how to deal with real life.
When I think back to my own childhood, besides hating school and playing outside in all weather, my memories center around the silent, positive expectations my parents had for my three siblings and me. These were not specific or detailed; Mom and Dad did not expect any of us to become doctors, high-powered lawyers, or corporate tycoons who make tons of money. These were for the most part moral standards, and as time went on, I translated those into different expectations for myself. I expected to go to college and do well. I expected to be independent and support myself. I expected to stay on the “right” side of the law and be a kind person. I expected to be smart, creative, and a problem-solver.
Have those series of expectations propelled me to the place I am today? Are my children independent, motivated, self-directed learners because that is what we expected of them? Are they empathetic, mature young adults because they have learned how to create expectations for themselves?
If the answer is yes, how can we help those young people who have not acquired that particular skill? Is this something that can be taught in a classroom, or does it have to come through hands-on experience? These are questions that professionals on college campuses around the country are addressing now as they continue their ongoing work to design First Year Programs and intense orientation processes to guide students through the college experience and into adulthood.
I certainly don't have all of the answers, but I would argue that one way to turn this crisis around is to make sure our kids understand we have positive expectations for them. Let them know we trust them to make decisions about what directly affects their lives. Offer them a chance to develop problem-solving skills. Encourage them to get creative (messy) and to think outside the box. Give them the opportunity to work cooperatively with people from all walks of life. Provide time and space for personal contemplation. And, of course, love them unconditionally.
If there is one thing that I am sure of, it is that the world will be completely different in 5-10-15 years. We won't need people with specific skills to fill the jobs available today, because most of those careers will be extinct. We will, however, need people who can think for themselves, who can offer an empathetic response to any problem and be comfortable in their own skin. We will depend on the people who expect to create a better world for themselves and for future generations.
Two Ways You Can Change a Life
This post is inspired by Ken Danford's TedX talk. Are you the parent or family friend of a child who hates school because they are bullied, anxious about testing, have different learning styles, have been labeled, or who just doesn't want to sit in a classroom learning stuff that is not pertinent to their lives? What if you had the chance to change that kid's daily reality and yours when they explain for the millionth time why they have to be pushed out the door every day? What if they had another viable educational choice?
That time has come. You can now inform them of an exciting option here in the North Country that celebrates the individual and provides a non-coercive educational environment that empowers kids to take control of their own education, which could also include becoming directly involved in their community through internships, volunteering, or shadowing opportunities.
The legal mechanism to leave school right now is through home schooling. This concept is often misunderstood by families and outright discouraged by the school systems. If a child mentions home schooling, it is many times not taken as a serious option by their parents because of the multiple misconceptions that surround it. If parents embrace the idea, they are many times told by the school district it is too hard and they are not capable of teaching their child at home.
Most of the preconceived ideas about home schooling are in fact myths. The biggest one is about socialization, which has become one of the biggest jokes among home school families. A self-directed learner is not going to be satisfied to sit passively at the dining room (kitchen) table, with a parent, doing the same thing at home that they were doing in school. The whole point is to get out of the situation that was uncomfortable, and detrimental to their learning. An independent learner is going to be an active participant in their education. They want to be engaged and learn new and exciting things. Home schooling empowers them to have time to decompress, assess what their interests really are, and gain some self-confidence.
The legal requirements for home schooling consist of three basic documents: your letter of intent to home school to the school district (most often the superintendent), the IHIP (the individualized home instruction plan), and a quarterly report sent four times (about every ten weeks) during the academic year.
The staff at Deep Root Center explains the essential components for each and helps families file all of these documents. This process is very accessible to all families who wish to pursue home schooling as an option.
Every kid who wants to begin exploring their passions now instead of after they graduate from high school has that opportunity today. For some that chance seems very tangible, because their families have the financial ability to pay the associated member fees.
For others, here, in St Lawrence County it is far more likely their families are not able to afford our modest fees and are hesitant to even explore this option. Deep Root Center's Board of Directors has made a vow to accept any youth despite their family’s financial situation. This is a profound and brave pledge, because the Center has monthly operating costs and obligations that don't lessen because members are not able to pay the full fee; however, we are dedicated to providing this option to the youth who are desperate for change and are ready to own their education. It is our mission to make sure every child who chooses independent learning has the opportunity and support to do so.
As mentioned in the title, you have two opportunities to profoundly change a kid's life: if you know of a child who is abjectly miserable in their learning environment, tell them about Deep Root Center, and, if you are able, support the Center with your financial gift. Your dollars build our fee reduction program and allow us to offer an option to all of those youth who need us so very desperately.
That Ten Letter Word. . .
While reviewing the bulk of posts on this blog, I realized that it sounds like I hold adults (teachers, parents, and family friends) responsible for kids’ happiness. Today, I would like to take a step back and look at how we can support kids to discover their own fulfillment and satisfaction. This support involves—dare I utter—discipline (a yup, that ten letter word).
Yes, kids need to feel the unconditional love, respect, and emotional bonding that surrounds them, as mentioned in a recent post about respect. In today’s world of non-stop busyness, however, it is often easier to give in to a child's demands instead of spending the time to discuss a particular issue. We often compensate for our lack of attention or time they want from us by offering them instead the object of their desire. A child figures out which “buttons” to push from a very early age because he/she has deciphered which strategy generally works for each person in his/her life. This makes kids sound so calculating and devious. In contrast, they are actually learning, growing, intuitive little beings soaking up knowledge like thirsty little sponges.
Even the best parents with the most delightful, polite children occasionally fall into these traps. Most of us have been grocery shopping with a toddler only to have them melt down at the check-out line because they want that shiny, glossy, colorful gizmo hanging directly at their eye level. And before the screaming becomes fever-pitched and you melt through the floor in mortification, you give the almost imperceptible nod with a corresponding “okay, but stop crying, please,” in surrender. Yup, most of us have been there.
Consistently bowing out and relinquishing your fundamental morals and ethics, to stop the inevitable fit, however, will not serve to empower them in the long run. They will only learn that manipulating a situation to get their way is what works. They will continue to rely on those maladaptive skills to maneuver through society as teen-agers and adults.
Every once in a while, when discussion and reasoning don't work, it is okay to let them scream bloody murder and profess to the world that you are a rotten, no good, really bad parent. Offer them a hug or just let them stew in their own misery for a while, because it won't hurt them to express their anger and realize as the Rolling Stones so eloquently pointed out, “you can't always get what you want-but if you try sometimes you might find you get what you need.” Ultimately, they will know that your love and discipline provide them with exactly what they need to become the awesome individuals they are meant to be.
Honorary giving is an important part of my family's holiday gift giving tradition. Most members of my family are very fortunate to have our basic needs met and don't require additional “stuff” that gift exchange frequently entails. In that spirit, we often give each other homemade gifts as well as a donation to a charitable organization that has meaning to both the giver and recipient. These honorary gifts often signify more than the action of giving because of the many benefits to the wider community beyond our own personal wants and desires.
Please consider an honorary donation to Deep Root Center (DRC). Your gift will insure that any youth in the North Country who desperately needs and wants our services will be able to attend DRC as often as they would like. Instead of being limited by financial circumstances, they will have the opportunity to fly free, explore their interests and passions, and become life-long self-directed learners. Thank You!
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