Humans are hard-wired for narrative - our ancient ancestors, the first hominids to wander the earth, most likely used story maps, and now we have multitudes of mediums to tell our tales. However, one-on-one may still be the most ideal - it is written in our DNA.
We know intuitively that conversation is the conduit for shared observations, questions, ideas, and feelings. Which ultimately provides a flow for deeper understanding, less judgment, and closer connections. The following examples from recent encounters clarify this point.
Since I began working with children in an educational setting in 2003, I have been very vocal in my belief that we humans learn best through active, engaged discussion - not lectures or an adult disseminating information from the front of a classroom. Young people are not empty vessels passively waiting for finite, random facts from a predetermined tired curriculum.
That is why - I am not afraid to make it abundantly clear to every parent (grandparent) and child that school is optional. Some would even say it is provocative to place those exact words front and center on our shirts and other promotional items. And, it is; however, I find it is a great way to create an easily accessible entrance into conversation.
Case in point, last weekend at the Green Living Fair, an older gentleman stood looking at the DRC shirts on display and challenged us by asking, "why is school optional?" We explained that our philosophy centers around non-coercive, self-directed learning, but that was not enough. He was looking for more - and kept asking the same question. Finally, I stepped in and said, "because learning is natural," and then began to relate a few stories from recent weeks. He was hooked.
The exchange continued for another 10-15 minutes. He shared that his 7-year-old grandchild in Denver, CO is in the process of being diagnosed with dyslexia and how worried he was - because it was turning into a traumatic affair for the kid and their entire family. The methods used and the handling of this child's needs by professionals seemed needlessly cruel. This man left our table with a new understanding of how people learn and the knowledge that someone really cares enough to listen to him talk about his grandchild's (and their entire family's) experiences.
Friday, a 16-year-old joined us for the first time. As I usually do with new kiddos, I asked if they would like to check in with me partway through the day. This kid looked at me with a horrified expression and said no, "I'm good, and I am playing a game now." I then had to explain that it was all fine. They were not in trouble or being called out for anything. I just wanted to see how the day was going and refresh my memory about what they are interested in doing at the Center each week. Several kids assured him it was all good.
Once he (this kid identifies as nonbinary, and more specifically agender - and prefers he, him, and it pronouns) finished his game, we settled into the new office space and began to talk. Midway into our 1/2 hour chat, he looked up and noticed the "Gender Closet" sign, giggled a bit, and asked about it. (Side note, after explaining the gender closet, he relayed that he needed a binder - he said while looking down at his chest, "seeing this every day makes me have more body dysphoria." You will find more about this specific request below.) That is the exact point where the conversation took a hard left turn into some serious topics.
After disclosing some of the things he has gone through over the past couple of years, he said something akin to - it makes me angry that there are people who hurt and bully people who have a mental illness or are LGBTQ+. We talked about why these folks are so bound up in hate and want to destroy the things they dislike. After talking about it a bit, we decided it is often because they just do not understand (whatever it is, they are hating on), and the easiest way to deal is through anger or violence.
I then told him about our Social Justice class and our goals of highlighting injustices within various groups of people in the community. We agreed that bringing things into the open with a willingness to talk about them may help people more fully understand the things they judge as bad, inconceivable, or inappropriate. He is thinking about joining that class - I believe he has a lot to offer to the group in terms of experience, creative ideas, and passion.
At the end of the day, life and the act of learning will always be about making those interlaced connections with other people - which sometimes feels frightening, overwhelming, or simply impossible.
Therefore, if you have questions - ask. When something feels icky or uncomfortable - ask. The best way to learn something new, understand things better, or even find the joy within - is to share your observations, curiosities, and stories and then talk about them.
Photo 1: Thank you Anna Campbell for the cool new electronic keyboard and music mat. Photo 2: We grew mold! Our second attempt of the science experiment worked. Photo 3: Shark and Ocean Critters was the second session held in the new classroom space.
Weekly Creative Meditation
As mentioned above, the DRC Canton Center has a Gender Closet, where anyone can take any clothing that meets their gender identity. It is currently open to the community on Mon. and Thurs. from 2:30 -3:15.
Later in the day, after speaking with the above student about his need for a binder, my own kiddo, Kenzie, happened to call. I told them about the request for a binder, and they offered to donate money for us to buy one specifically for him.
Which then gave me the idea to create a Binder Fund - to purchase them for kids who desperately need them. Body dysphoria is debilitating for so many kids. If we can take one layer of trauma off their shoulders and provide a means for them to appear the way they identify, we absolutely will. Each binder costs between $35 - $50 which does not include shipping fees.
To begin, we will offer this to DRC kids, but as the fund grows, we will provide this to any young person in the community as long as we are able.
If you would like to donate to the Binder Fund at DRC, you can do so through the DRC Venmo account - @Whole-Learners Please specify that it is for the Binder Fund in the comments. You can also donate through our Stripe donation box here. (Please keep in mind that Venmo transactions are free, but we have to pay an additional fee for donations made through Stripe.)
DRC- East Fundraising Party
We are less than four weeks out, and things seem to be pulling together! Spread the word - we are still looking for vendors, and then plan on joining us with friends and family on May 21st for loads of fun.
The bottle drive continues as well. Thank you to everyone who has dropped some off so far. E and I have at least a carload to bring to the redemption center this coming week!