Our entire philosophy can be defined with the following three little words: learning is natural, which just happens to be the first half of the DRC tagline. Humans, beginning in utero, perpetually absorb information and process it. This never-ending cycle of data collection and dumping continues even while we are sleeping.
Our innate curiosity, quite simply, compels us to ask questions, which, in turn, instigates our desire to seek out the answers through exploration and discovery. Within that inquisitiveness, human imagination and creativity is, literally, ignited to generate ideas, and, theories, along with possible solutions.
The invention of compulsory, coercive education, over the last three centuries, has taken that hardwired trait and manipulated it into something that is not, even close to, natural. Acquired knowledge, within that system, therefore, is not based on inquiry, inventiveness, or creativity, but, on rote memorization of prescribed, finite, and static information passed from teacher to student to be regurgitated on a test.
As a result, I often meet young people who have, unhappily, out of necessity, accepted the regimented structure. Their inherent confidence and curiosity is diminished; they, simply, don’t know how to ask effective questions. The most distressing consequence, however, is their perceived lack of imagination and vision. They don’t know how to play and they are afraid of making mistakes! All of which is truly heartbreaking to witness.
You are probably asking yourself, if these kids have already conformed to stultified, inflexible institutionalized learning, how can DRC change that?
Extensive research tells us that authentic learning comes from asking the big questions and spending the time to seek out and imagine the answers. This is the process we call self-directed learning and what we encourage our student members to embrace on a daily basis.
Besides giving every student the task of designing, with unconditional support, their own learning plan, we ask them to consider their interests and talents and how they can use those to change the world. This is often accomplished, very subtly, by offering suggestions and opportunities and then standing back to watch. Many times, these kids do not comprehend the larger scope of our seemingly innocent hints. Eventually (sometimes months later), they come to realize that they are completely in charge of their education with the full freedom of making choices, including the ability to say, “no” to anything that does not “feel” right.
We also write a daily “big question” on the chalkboard in the maker room, for everyone (including staff and volunteers) to read and ponder, with absolutely no explicit instructions or expectations. This past Thursday, the board read: What makes you happy? I was surprised, and, yes, a bit delighted, to find, later in the day: this place, written beneath, with a smiley face drawn under the words, with no indication of authorship. This was only one reply made visible for all. How many responses does this and every question ultimately generate? We never know until --- boom --- on any given day, another kid suddenly comprehends her innate genius and starts asking “big questions” of her own.
Yes, indeed, changing lives and perceptions is, typically, as straightforward as providing opportunities for deep thought, extending caring guidance and resources, and, then, getting to hell out of the way to observe and wait patiently for the resulting awesomeness.
* The tagline - Learning is natural. School is optional. – is used with permission of North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens in Sunderland, MA.
Addie Jenne will be visiting DRC, Tuesday, April 11th at 2pm to tour the facility, meet the kids, and learn more about our programs. Some of the students will be talking to her about the New York State law that forbids homeschool students from playing sports with their local school teams. Their objective is to ask her to introduce a bill that repeals that law.
This is an open invitation to the community. Everyone is welcome to come to the Center to meet Ms. Jenne and learn more about the student’s proposal.