For as long as I have been alive (or so it seems), I have never quite fit in - to people's expectations or, to be honest, the cultural norms of our society. Whenever there is a form or questionnaire to fill out, most of my responses are either the "other" box or "N/A." This issue has continued by natural extension to Deep Root Center, the organization I founded and lead, as the Executive Director. And is the main reason I despise "officialdom."
Besides, "Not-for-Profit," DRC doesn't often fit neatly into any of the categories provided. And these forms issued by .gov organizations or financial institutions don't usually have "other" or "N/A" as options. Which means, by design, they don't offer a space where I can explain what, why, & how. And within that, the person on the other side processing the form has no latitude to make decisions on their own - based on what I would consider being common sense.
This rigidity frequently means we (DRC) miss out on opportunities that other businesses have automatic inclusion simply because they can check off all the boxes.
However, I believe that ultimately all the "officialdoms" and society, in general, will lose out because of their inherent inability to be flexible.
Diversity is the key to survival - diversity in not only appearance but thought, as well. Anyone with a basic understanding of biology recognizes this truth. If everyone fits effortlessly into the boxes provided and no one challenges the norms - our culture is doomed.
Cultivating an appreciation for scientific methodology, including an open mind and willingness to experiment, make mistakes, get messy, be wrong, and ultimately prove a replicable hypothesis, is essential to our ultimate endurance on this planet. Flexibility and the ability to "think outside the box," for the good of all, are undervalued and crucial talents.
At this point in my life, I am proud to say, "I refuse to fit inside your box." "I will be flexible, I will be creative, I will seek out new ideas, and I will lead by example." My default mode will always be - "how can I help you and, by extension, our community?"
*Note from Maria - a clarification from last week's Blog -
Last week, I was trying to make a point about our collective inability to seek out help - because, as a society, we judge it as a weakness and we see people as "abled" and disabled instead of viewing all of us as "differently-abled." I used the word "cheat" as the title to mean a "hack" or a way to think about or do something that works for us that may be different from the majority. Thank you to E., a frequent reader, for taking the time to point out that it also means being dishonest.
I want to be very clear that deceit and fraudulence are never OK. I apologize for any confusion and promise to work harder to avoid that type of unintentional error in the future.
Deep Root Center's Exploration Station is open for three weeks of summer programming this August - beginning 8/16 - 9/03. These services extend DRC's unique brand to children in the community who attend public or private schools. We have designed our Exploration Station Programs to offer opportunities for hands-on exploration, creativity, and fun that children crave. Information and registration are available through the Exploration Station button on the website. Register early - space is limited due to COVID safety precautions.
DRC is also once again offering Afternoon Programming at the beginning of the academic year. You can visit the website to learn more or contact us here. Please share this opportunity within your network.
DRC has various programs and services for families who are struggling within the public school system. Bottom line: we are here to help in any way that works for your family. Get in touch today to tell us your story and let us know how we can help.
This past week, a colleague (close friend) and I were having a conversation, in person, something we had not done since Mid-November. She told me about a program that she had discovered, through a friend, that would have been perfect for her. However, she did not pursue it because the application process was all digitized. For many of us, that would not be the deciding factor to apply or not, but for her, it was. She is completely overwhelmed by any form of technology.
I encounter this type of story more than you can imagine. Avoidance of the things we find hard comes into play for everyone. As a society, we tend to separate into two categories: "abled" and disabled. I believe that, even if we are considered "normal," we all have some form of "disability" simply because each of our brains works in unique ways. This means we are all avoiding and missing out on opportunities that would otherwise be perfectly suited to us.
When my friend told me this story, I immediately said, "dang, if you had told me, I would have helped you fill out the application." It breaks my heart that in so many cases, instead of seeking assistance, because we feel stupid or don't want to appear "helpless," "lazy," or like a "cheater," we give up on our dreams.
I blame our reluctance to ask for help on our culture. 1) The very foundation of our educational system rests upon coercion and control, not trust. 2) We are a nation that touts independence, competitiveness, resilience, grit, and determination as positive character traits, despite the first point (more than a bit hypocritical in my thinking). 3) We view disability as something to "reform" to fit into the "normal" world. 4) When people use "hacks" or accomplish something in a way that is different from the "norm," we accuse them of cheating and laziness - which are bad(!) and to be avoided at all costs!
What if, instead, we: 1) trust that everyone will accomplish what they need to do 2) expected people to ask for help when they require it 3) saw all humanity as simply differently-abled and adjusted our reality to accommodate everyone 4) normalized "hacks" and abolished the concept of cheating from our cultural understanding?
I believe our world would be a different place, one filled with engaged, community-minded folks happily discovering and following their purpose. Some would accuse me of aiding and abetting lazy, no-good cheaters or maybe even seeking utopia. I still say, "So what, wouldn't it be worth it to try?"
This past week, it was amazing to see everyone in person for the first time in 5 months! We are grateful for the technology that allowed us to meet virtually - however, nothing beats talking to your friends, goofing around, and generally sharing our lives while we are all in the same physical space.
DRC is accepting members for the 21/22 academic year. We look forward to hearing from you. You can visit the DRC website to learn more about all of our programs.
Those of you who know me reasonably well are likely confused that I would consider writing a piece about statistics and standard deviation. Let me put your mind at ease; I won't try to explain the math. I am, however, going to use the concept to demonstrate a social phenomenon, a task that is much better suited for this self-described anthropology geek.
Below is an image of a Normal Distribution Bell Curve - also used to show Innovation Adoption within a population. A concept that I find utterly fascinating, despite being steeped in abstract thinking - not my strong suit.
I first learned about this theory in the spring of 2013 at a self-directed education (SDE) conference on Long Island (not coincidentally where I also met Ken Danford, co-founder of North Star) when I attended a workshop led by developmental psychologist Dr. Peter Gray, who wrote Free to Learn, my personal bible for SDE. (I have a signed copy!) He and a few colleagues spoke about the process of starting a 501(c)3 organization that would be a combination "think tank," advocacy group, and a depository for all things SDE. That organization exists today as the Alliance for Self-Directed Education (ASDE).
During this workshop, Dr. Gray and his collaborators used this curve to explain something called the tipping point. They used the example of gay culture to explain the phenomenon. In the '60s and '70s, when I was growing up, it was not safe to "come out." Therefore, few of us knew anyone who was out as gay, while we were in school, and the word was used as a slur. Now, and within the past twenty years, LBGTQ+ culture is part of our everyday lives.
In any given population, there will always be about 2.5 percent who are the innovators - the creators, the designers, the revolutionaries, the movers, and shakers; the next, 13.5 percent will enthusiastically adopt those ideas as soon as they hear about them. Once it feels pretty safe, the first 34 percent of peeps in the center will come aboard, and when it is a sure thing, the folks in the other half of the bell will hop on. And, then, when there is no other choice, the last 16 percent will reluctantly join the party.
As per a 2011 study at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the tipping point on this curve is only 10 percent of the population - a number that seems infinitesimal. Most researchers, however, place the tipping point between 10-25 percent depending upon the innovation. This means, on the Curve of Innovation Adoption, that you need between 7 percent of the early adopters and 9 percent of the early majority to accept an idea before it spreads to the entire population. The chasm between the early adopters and the early majority is so critical to the success of any innovation or movement that a whole industry of motivational speakers dedicated to teaching influencers how to bridge that gap has cropped up.
Now you are probably wondering why I find this all so compelling. Beyond the anthropological research indications, the very essence of this speaks to me on an intriguingly human and personal level. If you had known me back in the day (surprisingly not that long ago), you would categorize me as one of the last of the laggards on this curve. The only way I would consider a new idea was if someone pulled me kicking and screaming to it. I was closed, defensive, and shut down.
I now place myself firmly on the cusp of innovator and early adopter (except for super scary shit, like sky diving, bungee jumping, or other things that, because of my klutziness, have the likely potential of killing me - for those, I am most definitely still a lagger).
I understand the concept of Innovation Adoption - in a clinically academic sense. However, as a relatively new innovator/early adopter, I am easily frustrated by hesitation and refusal of any progressive idea - from the proven advantages of SDE, empathetic responses to societal problems, to life-changing scientific developments, when, in my mind (and experience), the benefits are clearly visible.
As with most things, I can not pinpoint when, exactly, the transformation from laggard to creator/influencer/revolutionary occurred. I do know that for anyone watching with a vested interest, it was a discouragingly slow process in the beginning and then mind-blowing - lightning speed.
The point being, it is possible to change - if you allow your mind to open just a bit. Once there is the slightest crack, the light will infiltrate to illuminate those things that felt scary, unsafe, and impossible in the darkness. I am living proof.
I am so excited to see all of my Peeps this coming week. DRC - Canton will be in person every M & F, and DRC - East every W & Th.
Membership is always open at DRC. Check us out.
This video by Liam Crossem Films explains the DRC culture.
Community is one of those words we often use without considering its true meaning. At its most fundamental level, it is a group of people who support each other to be healthy and happy. And to allow each individual within the collective to be their best, authentic selves. Some may misinterpret this definition to represent socialistic ideology. However, I would argue that it reflects the basic human moral code of compassion, empathy, and kindness - our very humanity.
Paleo-archaeologists are learning that our hominid ancestors understood this concept. They discovered evidence that groups took care of at-risk individuals who had mended broken bones, had no teeth, were "elders," etc.
I firmly believe that the notion of community is written deeply into our DNA. However, "modern" societal values of cut-throat competition and rugged individualism are trying their damnedest to erase it from our ancestral memory.
Clearly, none of us would survive this world without support from others. And sometimes, we make adjustments or compromises to ensure that everyone can be safe and at peace.
Currently, many folks, both on a local and broader level, recognize the truth of that statement. People are adapting their viewpoints, taking responsibility, trusting science, and getting vaccinated. In doing so, they are working together to curb a disease that has run rampant and altered our world. Their personal decision allows us all to move forward safely as a "whole" towards positive growth and transformation.
DRC Peeps are on a well-deserved Spring Break this coming week. Then the week of April 12th, we are so excited to resume in-person at both Centers two days a week. Our virtual schedule will continue for the "off" days and our Distance Learners.
Belated Happy Passover and Happy Easter to all who celebrate!
I would surmise that you didn't just learn one thing - and probably gained knowledge that you didn't even realize you had. This is because there are a few absolute truths about learning that we have negated on a societal level:
1) Learning is natural - every one of us is born with innate curiosity and the desire to explore and discover things about ourselves and the wider world. In the first year of your life, you mastered more than you will during the remainder of your entire life. No one explicitly taught (or forced) you to suckle, track objects, grasp, smile, giggle, make word-like sounds, rollover, scooch and crawl, walk, or talk. The adults in your life were there to support you and provide the resources you needed to survive and thrive. There is no reason your inherent impetus to learn will disappear in your lifetime.
2) Personal interest is the driver behind every bit of knowledge you acquire. Authentic understanding is held deeply within you - not something you memorized long enough to regurgitate the info onto an examination paper and proceed to forget.
This concept came up last evening when I mentioned the ship currently stuck in the Suez Canal. I have a general idea of where it is in the world but couldn't pinpoint it to say what bodies of water it connects. Whereas Mike, my husband, could tell you the coordinates. (Well, maybe not precisely, but you get the idea.)
Mike has always had a keen interest in maps and geography. He, quite literally, asked for an atlas for his 9th birthday. I, on the other hand, worked hard to memorize world maps in ninth-grade social studies. I still remember the pain of writing the names of each country and body of water in the Middle East on the stack of printed maps that I carried around in my notebook. Yes, I retained each one long enough to get the high 90s on each of the map tests, but today struggle to pull up a mental picture of each section of the world. But yet, I took osteology as an elective for my Anthropology degree - and, for the most part, still know the names of all the bones and where they are in the human body.
3) Playing is the best way to learn - anything! On the most basic level, humans seek out pleasure. Neuroscientists will tell you the names of all the chemicals released in our brains when engaged, connected, happy, content, and captivated by something. They can also name the adverse cocktail delivered to our nervous systems that shuts the learning process down when coerced or fearful.
I intentionally use the word "play" when I describe anything I do - partly to normalize the concept of enjoying the learning process. But, I also use it to describe how I feel while I am figuring out something new. Having fun does not take away the difficulty, rigor, or grit. It permits us to make mistakes, get messy, flounder, pause, reassess, and decide whether or not to resume. It allows for exploration and self-discovery.
We are culturally confused to believe that learning is represented by the final product when in actuality, it is all about the process. There may not be something tangible to hold up at the end - it could be the feeling of satisfaction or, even, the realization that it isn't something you want to pursue.
I'll ask again - what did you learn today? Now think of the things you did naturally without thinking about them, explored because you were interested, and the knowledge you acquired as muscle memory because you played, practiced, and had fun.
Deep Root Center has openings at both of our Centers for next year. Please get in touch or visit our website to learn more.
I am still accepting illustrations for my second book - Noah's Experiment. If you would like to submit drawings, paintings, etchings, etc., please send them to me here.
Yesterday I was the unwilling witness, through the closed office window at the Center, to an incident of ethnically inspired bullying. At first, I didn't understand what was going on when I heard the muffled voices. A black college student was walking past toward the village - which is not an unusual sight. I could only see him, so I was confused to hear voices. Then I saw him turn around, facing the house next door, gesture to himself, say something, shrug, shake his head, and proceed to walk backward a bit, still shaking his head, before turning around to continue his trek down the street.
It was only after he was past our property that I realized what I had heard. At the moment that it hit me, I was absolutely rip-roaring, madly furious. Fortunately, I stopped for a moment to consider the fallout before instinctively running out to confront the person on the neighboring porch.
DRC is a haven for children. The building is empty for days on end (especially now, during the pandemic). Those two facts were enough to stop me from standing up against bigotry and hate speech in our neighborhood.
I could not stop thinking about it, though - driving to the grocery store and then home. The same thoughts kept circling my head - these unfortunate SUNY Canton students have to run that gauntlet every damn time they have to walk to the store or work. How many times do they have to listen to that bullshit in a given day? What does that do to their psyche? And, what does that say about our village and the North Country, in general?
I grew up here - So, yes, I know this is nothing new. But, between the confederate flags flying high (the hypocrisy astounds) from the coal-rolling, "big ass" pickup trucks covered with offensive stickers, the racial slur laced epitaphs spray painted and chalked throughout the NoCo, and everything in between (social media comments), this is an entirely different level of hate. I won't even touch the PR coming out of the local law enforcement agencies in response to police reforms. If you would like to read some of the garbage, this is a recent report about the Malone Police from NCPR.
So the question circling my mind last evening is: what can I (we) do, without endangering DRC or our students, to help the BIOPIC, and other people at risk, who have no option but to walk by that one house every time they need to go to town? I understand that in the grand scheme of things - this is infinitesimal. However, is there a way we can make their lives just a little bit better? Is there something we can do to put a smile on their face (and heart) and let them know we appreciate them and they are welcome here? I also want them (and the perpetrators) to understand that we will not tolerate bullying or hate speech in our front yard (or, our community).
Then I had an idea - which is related to another incident from last December. Bear with me through the background story:
Last spring, the front yard became a huge mud hole that trapped two vehicles at different times. One required a tow truck. I decided to install a pallet fence as a barrier to stop people from parking on the lawn. A few St. Lawrence students worked hard during "make a difference day" in October to hammer in the t-posts and slip the pallets over them to create the fence. Before we could hang flower boxes and create a beautiful art installation with them, as intended, we closed the Center for COVID in mid-November. In early December, I got a call from the code-enforcer telling me to take down the pallets because someone had complained that they were not in keeping with the "character of the neighborhood." Instead of arguing or pleading our case, we complied.
When we go back in April, I want to use those pallets to create a different kind of art installation - one that has social justice and anti-racism at its core. The kids can design this beautiful statement to celebrate the diversity and uniqueness of each individual. It will serve as a testament to the fact that we will not tolerate hate speech or bigotry in our front yard.
I can imagine children throughout the NoCo, taking on this project as a community effort. With beautifully hand-painted signs covered in messages of inclusivity, kindness, and hope, you, too, can proclaim, "not in my front yard!"
These are some examples of what I have in mind. You can be sure DRC members will come up with ideas much more creative and beautiful.
As mentioned last Sunday, we will be back in-person at both centers for two days each week, beginning the week of April 12th.
If you would like to help with the above plan or other outdoor gardening and carpentry projects, please get in touch.
No, not that one. I am talking about the myth of "lost learning." The one formally named the "summer slide." There are several reasons for the perpetuation of this falsehood - the largest, in my estimation, is to preserve the notion that schools (and all they represent) are essential for society to progress.
Therein lies the crux of the matter. For the most part, the folks concerned about lost learning stand on the left side of the political spectrum. They use similar manipulative and intimidating tools to propel this false notion, as the folks on the Right do to promote the other Big Lie. The most effective being fear.
"Oh my God, my child has lost an entire year of learning." "They are going to fall behind." "My kid will never catch up; they won't get into college, get a good job, or (fill in the blank)."
Whoa, hold up! Before you head down that bottomless rabbit hole, let me explain a few things about authentic learning:
a) Falling behind, what? Their peers or grade level? These are both artificial measurements. The State has determined grade levels and standards, along with curriculum for convenience. There is no real connection to what children are "capable" of at particular ages. More importantly, every single child develops differently. One may naturally learn to read at the age of four, and their friend may not grasp the concept until they are eight. They can both read anything they want to by the age of twelve or thirteen, and you can not tell who read earlier.
b) Anything that was really learned and understood can not be lost. Yes, it can lay dormant, but it isn't gone. Think about those things that you have learned but don't use every day. For example, starting the generator and switching the inverter to "charging" is a process that I have to think about for a minute before doing it the first time each Fall. For you, it may be long division, converting a fraction into a percentage, or doing your taxes. Once you go back to it, with a bit of prompting, you remember the steps.
c) The most powerful way to learn something is through play and self-led exploration (this is a concept I have touched on before and will again, soon). When you are genuinely interested in something, and it is relevant to your goals and aspirations, even if it is difficult, acquiring the knowledge is fun and enjoyable. Yesterday, I played (was utterly captivated for the entire morning) with Doodly, a software program that creates short animated videos. I wanted to learn how to use this program because it is another incredible tool in my marketing tool belt. (PS - you can watch my first attempt below.)
d) Tangentially related, it takes multiple times longer to learn something through rote memorization or coercive methods, especially when it also meaningless to you at that moment. Yup, this is a tough one for most folks to wrap their heads around. But, but, but - how will kids learn what they need to if we don't compel them to do it? We are all natural learners. Kids will figure out how to access necessary knowledge when they need it to do something that is important to them - full stop.
I ask you to stop and consider that our entire educational design is based upon a conservative ideology - the trickle-down theory. (Yes, even so-called progressive education.) Magnanimous folks, at the top, with all the knowledge, guide their students through that predetermined, finite, and compulsory curriculum by releasing their scholarship in bite-size increments. And then, they assess their understanding by asking them to regurgitate it on standardized examinations. Does this seem like something we should be afraid of losing?
Cultural progress comes from open, curious minds and a willingness to change - not in the preservation of a static, antiquated, coercive system.
Big News! Our physical doors in both Canton and Lawrenceville will open again, April 12th, with our full COVID safety plan in place. To begin, each Center will be in session two days a week. We will retain our remote schedule for the days we are not in person and for all of our Distance Learners. If all goes well, we will return to our full schedule for the month of May. This plan, of course, will be dependent upon COVID numbers remaining low in St. Lawrence County.
One year ago, on March 10th, which also happened to be my youngest child's 23rd birthday, I left DRC at 5:30 pm with a raging fever, uncontrollable shaking, and body aches (that came on like a steam train), as I have never experienced before (and never want to). No, I didn't have COVID, just a "death may be less painful" case of the flu. Little did I know that closing the Center for the last three days of that week for my illness would coincide with a pandemic and extend through the remainder of our academic year.
In the beginning, I was laid flat by the aches, fever, and utter exhaustion of this particular flu virus. I had no thought of (or desire to think about) DRC or "my" kids. My main concerns revolved around getting down the stairs to use the bathroom and refresh my glass of lemon water and cup of ginger tea - my only sustenance for days on end.
That second week, we did try to set up a Discord server for the DRC members to connect, do art, play games, etc. But besides a couple of kids and our staff person who set it up, it had little engagement, and I did not have the physical capacity to do anything but witness its failure from the sidelines. Consequently, beyond occasional check-ins, the DRC kiddos were happy to be totally on their own for the remainder of our academic year.
Those months gave me time to work on an idea (that never got any traction) to provide services to public school kids who were stuck at home doing remote learning. I also took on creative endeavors and sorted through hundreds of blog posts (with the idea of compiling them into a book). As you may have noticed, most of those projects fell by the wayside as the pandemic raged through the summer.
The reason being - I couldn't focus on anything - even reading. For someone who often devours a book a day, I have not been able to concentrate or settle long enough to read even a paragraph this entire year, except the one book I managed to get through in December.
The disconcerting inability to concentrate (on anything - even creative ideas) and the budding feelings of uselessness were beginning to wear on me. I needed a purpose! Therefore, in July, I went back to the Center a few days each week to prepare to bring the kids back in September. In August, I was in full gear. And by Labor Day, both of the Centers were physically ready. We had one staff person and two apprentices through the One-Stop Career Center in Canton and a part-time staff person in Lawrenceville. We had a complete COVID safety plan, including an outdoor shelter in Canton built by one of our families, SLU Community Based Learning (CBL) volunteers joining us remotely, and a Distance Learning Program in the works.
Little did I know that those last two pieces were the linchpins that propelled us to where we are today. Those original seven CBL students facilitated fifteen virtual sessions on Google Meet each week. They provided the impetus needed to offer additional classes by DRC staff through the remote platform for our distance learners.
COVID numbers in St. Lawrence County began climbing again in late October. It was clear, by mid-November, that we needed to once again go fully remote for the safety of our entire crew. We were able to continue our schedule only because we had established the routine of virtual sessions. The kids happily engaged and chose sessions that interested them. Currently, our calendar has expanded, with a total of twelve CBL students facilitating at least two sessions each, plus DRC staff filling in with other requested classes, all offered through the DRC Discord server.
Even now, once again, teetering on the edge of angst and frustration, I can look back at this timeline and feel immense gratitude for the gifts this past year has brought forth.
If it weren't for this pandemic, our kiddos would not have figured out, those first couple of months last Spring, that they were perfectly capable of making independent choices about their education and life. We would not have a distance learning program with very cool kiddos adding to our already inspiring community. We would not have a formal schedule - remote or otherwise. And I would not have had the opportunity to reflect on and appreciate everything we have accomplished over these past seven years - as an organization.
Thank you to everyone who has stuck with us this year. I look forward to unwrapping the surprises the next 365 days have in store, with the knowledge that every one of them (even the painful and unsettling moments) will provide an opportunity for learning and growth.
As part of Women's History Month, we honor Alice Malsenior Tallulah-Kate Walker, an American novelist, short story writer, poet, and social activist. In 1982, she published the novel The Color Purple, for which she won the National Book Award for hardcover fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
We have begun to roll out the social media video clips that Liam Crossen Films captured those last few days we were together at the Centers in November. Stay tuned to our Social Media platforms to see our kiddos talk about their experiences at DRC.
As seen above, we are also honoring some inspiring women for Women's History Month on our social media.
If you don't already, please like and follow our FaceBook and Instagram pages.
Conspiracies are simply the stories we tell ourselves (or latch onto) when the factual narrative doesn't fit our world-view or feels too uncomfortable. We all have things that we believe about ourselves or that fit into our ethical code - and, most importantly, we are all willing to fight to hold onto them.
There is a difference between those personal stories, which may be detrimental to our individual well-being but are not connected to others and are not widely recognized conspiracy theories.
The dangerous piece about the latter is that outside (wealthy or powerful) "influencers" build stories around a microscopic grain of truth (without truly believing) as a means to control a group of people who are already receptive to endorsing them, even if they seem from the outside to be against their best interest. You might also recognize it as the same M.O. of cults. They target the (emotionally or economically) vulnerable folks who have already bought the narrative of fringe groups or are looking for "easy" solutions and someone to blame, as well as acceptance, connections, and a community that will welcome them.
These "authorities" frequently provide plausible explanations for why the facts or actual science behind something is a hoax. One of the most common tools is to say that scientists are "always changing their minds." Or that "the science is always changing" because they understand that "change" is a scary, triggering word.
I am here to point out that the basic definition of science includes the understanding that what we know as truth, right now, is susceptible to change as we experiment and learn more.
I don't need to tell you that conspiracy theories are dangerous. Not only are they devised to control and manipulate the way people think about particular phenomena or events, but they also provide the impetus for this group to become violent because they fully believe that their way of life is threatened. And that is, exactly, where we are now.
Thus far, I seem to have outlined this significant problem without offering any viable solutions.
When I think of those folks who embrace conspiracy theories, hook, line, and sinker - first I consider why they are susceptible to being reeled in. In most cases, it is not, as often claimed, a lack of education or science curriculum. As I comprehend the situation, it comes down to the lack of meaningful connection to a caring community.
As educators, it is our obligation to take the time to listen to and understand each person in our care. If we don't, we are partially responsible for fostering another closed mind - a person who generates (or accepts) negative stories and becomes afraid of change.
When folks can't see beyond that personal narrative that each of us lives within, it directly influences their ability to take on new challenges and invite change. They will continuously look at the world from a narrow space of defeatism or victim-hood and see everything new as a menace to their very existence.
In direct contrast, people with positive view-points are wide open to fresh ideas and are more willing to research the validity of proposed conspiracies. They also sincerely welcome adaptation to their internal stories.
This, right here, is why mentor-ship is proven to be one of the most effective tools in transforming lives and communities.
While only tangentially related to DRC, my second middle-reader book, Noah's Experiment, written over a decade ago, is edited and ready to be self-published. Except, it is missing illustrations. I was fortunate to have a "willing" artist (Ian) still living at home when I published the first book, Hawk's Surprise.
This is a call for or drawings or photographs of animals (sheep, cows, chickens, Border Collies, and cats), farm buildings (inside or outside - including barns, haylofts, equipment sheds, etc.), and hilly, forested, and farmland winter landscapes. Ideally, I need at least 14 illustrations. One will be chosen as cover art.
I will acknowledge all of those artists, with work chosen for the book, as contributors. Their names will appear on the cover of the book, as well as the title page. They will also receive a copy of the published book.
There are no age limits or other requirements. All media (drawing, painting, charcoal, colored pencil, photographs, etc.) will be considered.
Please share this opportunity within your network. Send questions and submissions (as high res .jpg) to me here. Thank you!
What are you good at? Not surprisingly, your answers to that question are likely the same as the things that interest you - the things you like to do.
We often quibble that we aren't good at certain things because we don't have a natural gift; however, researchers have proven that innate talent is, mostly, a myth. We become skilled because we practice. Additionally, not coincidentally, those things that we practice are the ones that bring us the most joy.
Sadly, for the most part, our children don't have the freedom to discover their interests; therefore, they don't have the luxury to develop their talents. From an early age, adults guide their every activity - even play, through coercion, reward, and punishment. Whether it is an attempt to "keep up" with other kids of the same age, fear of judgment for failing as a "good," attentive, and involved parent, or of injury, children are losing out through their over-protectiveness.
Consequently, many of the kids who sit across from me during our initial meeting can not answer the title question. The responses vary from verbal stumbling, blank stares, or an embarrassed side-eye. But, sometimes, they go into detail about something they are utterly passionate about, with glowing eyes, expressive hands, and enormous grins of enthusiasm. Suddenly they stop short, place a hand over their mouth, and apologize because they realize they had been expressing their love for something that is not considered "academic." At that moment, before I can rush in to reassure them that everything "counts" - I am the unwilling witness to the draining of pure joy.
Why is our culture so very determined to shut that beautiful energy down? I have asked these questions many times before: why do we let external forces determine validity? Why is our children's worth measured by what they can "learn" in school and not by those things they love and excel at? And, why are they told they can pursue their passions after they sit through 13, 17, or 19 years of "education" - when we know that practice of a craft increases the likelihood of success and overall happiness?
Among other things, I am a writer because I love to write. I am a cook because I love to cook. I am a mentor because I take pure delight in providing the resources, standing back, and watching while kids explore all their possibilities and discover what they want to practice.
I ask again - what are you good at? What brings you joy?
DRC has increased the number of SLU students, from the Community Based Learning Program, who are facilitating remote sessions, from nine to twelve over the past week. Thanks to these new folks, we have added some very cool sessions to our already full calendar - including another Animal Geek Club for all of our animal obsessed peeps, a character and setting development session, as a companion to our drama class, and we are re-working our make-up tutorial class to include body painting techniques to create a double header with the new cosplay class where participants are able to fully develop their characters image.
Everything in our schedule represents the direct requests of our student members. If you are seeking a way to take control of your own education - get in touch. Deep Root Center accepts new members throughout the academic year.
Yesterday, my brother Pete, the grower and producer of Rel Hemp products, put out a request for comments on his social media posts asking the question, "what is your purpose?" I wanted to respond to his question but couldn't. Let me explain. On any given day, everything I write, whether it is a response on a post, a letter or email, or this blog, needs to run itself through the filters in the depths of my subconscious before it comes out. I can try to write in the moment, but whatever spews forth is utter crap. And truth be told, the exercise is mentally excruciating.
However, in this particular case, it was more than my typical process at work. I realized last evening when I tried to write this piece (and came up with total shit) that I felt like a Play-Doh fun factory had squeezed me into a useless, limp pile of emotionally charged mush.
Take your pick: anger, rage, fury, irritation, agitation, bitterness, contempt, disgust, frustration, grief, horror, embarrassment, resentment, shock, hurt, dread, loathing, and vengefulness. These are just a few of the emotions that have cycled through this brain in the past twenty-four hours, and those stacked onto the already long list, which included: uninspired, anxious, disengaged, listless, discouraged, and overwhelmed.
Beyond the obvious - a national shit-show that proved that someone is, quite literally, capable of getting away with murder, as long as they produce an alternative story, filled with lies, that millions can and will adopt as truth. I also learned of another peripheral tragedy that was, in hindsight, most likely caused by incredibly stupid, holier than thou, and irresponsible (possibly criminal) leadership. And to top it all off, this pandemic has rendered me (us) into a place of ambiguity, stagnation, and restlessness.
I understand what my purpose is in "normal" times. I know why I used to fly out of bed at 5 am ready to take on the world. But for someone who thrives on inventing new ideas and who flourishes when things are in flux and the process of morphing, this is soul-sucking. I am that person who, absolutely, needs the stimulus and upheaval of change.
And as a direct contradiction, yes, I am also an introvert who appreciates orchestrating all of that from my quietly remote "nest."
The unknowing and uncertainty feeds my restlessness and inability to focus. How can I drive the next thing for DRC when none of us knows what to expect in the next week, month, or year?
And more importantly, what can I do to generate enough personal excitement through this lassitude and all of the other "feels" to construct something concrete, worthwhile, and doable, which may only be tangentially related to Deep Root Center?
Oh, I know, as "they" say, "this too shall pass." And, I will figure out how to get myself motivated and kicked into "high-gear" eventually.
Come to think of it - I can almost feel the creative juices begin to simmer and bubble. Maybe, this is what I needed - to acknowledge and be honest (to you and myself) about my feelings of intense anger, impotence, inadequacy, and defeat.
In the next week or so, we will be rolling out short social media video clips taken from interviews of our kiddos, parents, and me when Liam Crossen Films was here gathering footage in November. I will share them here, and on our website, as well.
Happy Valentines Day (for those who celebrate)!
A question for the ages. Most likely asked by the parents of these artists. When at age five, they littered the house with minuscule pieces of paper cut from colorful magazine pages to glue onto a poster board.
Or, when now-famous authors read everything they could get their hands on, including the cereal box while eating said cereal at the breakfast table.
Or the engineers, builders, and trades people who spent hours every day building with Legos, magnetic rods, or craft sticks, various cardboard boxes, and hot glue. (We won't mention the number of vacuums and other electronic devices they tore apart to discover how they work.)
Or the medical professionals, fascinated with the Grey's Anatomy textbook and incurable diseases from a very early age.
Or the working musicians, who memorized every lick and lyric from their favorite rock band while beating the life out of their first cheap guitar.
And now parents are asking this very question of their kids while they engage in multi-player virtual games. Can we even begin to guess what skills they are attaining or where it will take them?
None of us know what this world will look like or what jobs will be out there when our kids are old enough to enter the workforce.
However, understanding that statement as undeniable truth doesn't stop us from judging how our kids spend their time.
The blatant hypocrisy is dumbfounding. We want our kids to develop self-motivation but punish them for focusing on (practicing) the things we don't deem valuable. And, as adults, we would never accept someone telling us how to spend our time.
The universal argument about balance, the one that I have used more than I would like to admit, is not valid when you understand that balance means something different for each one of us.
As I articulated earlier this week, what if equilibrium is simpler - a fleeting sensation that comes and goes seemingly without logical explanation? What if it has nothing to do with the work, play, rest cycle? But, instead is the moments in between where we find our bliss - our reason for being.
You and I can not determine those moments for anyone besides ourselves, even if they are our children (or students).
*This post was inspired by this article, which I can only imagine was written by a once frustrated parent who asked the title question.
Our "Why" video inspired some lovely comments this past week. Here it is again, in case you have not had a chance to view it, yet. This is encapsulates our Mission Statement in a way that I will never be able to explain through the written word, here.
We lose so many brilliantly creative, wonderfully inventive, and beautifully unique kids - within the system. Their genius is wasted - all for the sake of a compulsory, ancient, static, finite, and rigid curriculum that, without question, from the majority, is accepted as the norm.
Why does this antiquated system (and the people who run it) have the authority to decide what is valid within the context of education and what isn't? How does algebra count, but the enormous number of hours spent independently writing, producing, and recording original music doesn't? Why is "seat time" a thing? Why were the seven, twelve, and seventeen-year-old set up to fail their entire school career because they are not a typically classic student and could care less about the classes offered? How can we collectively stand by, shaking our heads, and wagging our fingers at the "laziness" and failing grades without investigating why they are flunking out? When will we stop judging young people by the archaic rules designed for a different age? And when will we stop coercing kids to learn stuff that has no consequence in their lives? At what point do we recognize how many kids are struggling, not because they are "slow," learning disabled, or troublemakers (or whatever label forced upon them), but because they are brilliant in a way that is not recognized or supported by the system?
And when will we realize that all those lost kids are not broken because of their differences, but have something incredibly valuable to contribute to society and their community?
We lose out every single time a young person is not trusted to follow their inherent brilliance but instead faces punishment, ridicule, and failure for simply being themselves.
This short video explains why Deep Root Center exists.
A huge shout of thanks to Liam Crossen Films for producing this video.
Fear of the unknown. Fear of failure. Fear of making mistakes. Fear of appearing foolish. Fear of change.
To which one do you claim ownership? Or, is it a separate one depending on the moment?
Embracing and holding on tightly to those fears inhibits your ability to grab on to all the possibilities as they present themselves.
Every day is chock-full of opportunities - taking the time to pause and recognize them and then assess what stops you from grasping them as they drift by is a skill any of us can learn.
Jump in! Seize the moment - not knowing is okay! You will never possess the feeling of success if you have never felt failure. Mistakes are, simply, the path to mastery. Appearing silly is all in the eye of the beholder, and some would say a way to remain authentic and humble. Lastly, change can only lead to progress - a journey overflowing with life-altering and astonishing moments of beauty and possibility.
The new DRC schedule begins tomorrow. We are excited to host nine St. Lawrence University students from their Community-Based Learning Program, who are facilitating twenty-one of our thirty-five weekly remote sessions on our Discord Server.
You can join the fun - DRC accepts new members throughout the year.
Authors Note: In November, we had a filmmaker spend three days with us to interview staff, parents, and kids, as well as capture our everyday moments. He recently sent me rough drafts of four short videos that he had created with some of the footage. One is entitled "Why". That one hit me hard - right in the tear-jerking place, and that is where this particular blog post came from.
You know that satisfying emotion - the one you feel when you realize that someone "gets" you? Is there a better feeling in this world - when you know that you can be yourself with that person - no filters, no actor's masks, or mental gymnastics required?
Asking someone to adapt themselves to conform - is asking them to change their inherent being because we can't manage them the way they are. Kids know when they don't "fit" in. And their takeaway is that they are broken in some fundamental way.
It is my contention that every child should experience affirmation every single day. Every kid deserves to be surrounded by people who accept them on every level and where no one will try to change them to fit into the environment (or society).
Rather than reforming the essence of any child, I believe that we should alter the environment, along with our own biases.
This includes everything, from medical diagnoses to identity. For example, children with ADHD need an environment that supports their momentum and staggering creativity fueled by wild curiosity. It is no different than adapting the room for a wheelchair, walker, or other physical handicap support. And, when a child tells you their personal pronouns and the name they prefer - use them! No snide remarks, eye rolls, or arguments are required (or even permitted).
Wait! I am not telling you to stop supporting children to improve their skill levels and learn new tasks. However, I am saying that we can not take it on, as a task, with the intention of changing them to suit our (or society's) needs or expectations.
All children deserve to be celebrated. Not for what they can or can not do, but for who they are - deep inside. When kids feel like they are OK, as they are, self-assurance becomes their default mode. And when people feel content, they are more likely to take on new challenges and look at the world as a place to explore all the possibilities.
This, in a nutshell, is why Deep Root Center exists.
We are happy to say that eight St. Lawrence University students will be volunteering again this semester through the Community Based Learning Program. They will offer classes and activities through our virtual learning portal on the Discord App. You can find our schedule here. Keep in mind that it will be updated regularly over the next week as we create sessions for the students that fit within their preferences and weekly calendars.
DRC accepts new student members throughout the year. If you are interested in joining our community, please get in touch.
This is our "Did You Know" series, on Social Media, from this past week.
Who is your tribe? To be clear, who are the people you align yourself with ideologically, not ethnically?
Some of us can admit (I can only hope), our answer to that question five, or ten years ago (or possibly even six months ago) was different than our response today.
Despite the common understanding, based on a system that trains us from an early age to do the exact opposite (how many times have you heard "make up your mind and stick with it?"), our personal belief systems should transmute and change as we grow and become aware of ideas and information that were not previously part of our understanding. No, it doesn't make you "wishy-washy," contradictory, or weak. It, in its purest essence, defines a receptive and flexible open mind (and science).
And on the other side of the coin, the inability and unwillingness to explore new concepts and change your opinion do not imply a strength of will or character. They are the precise descriptions of narrow-mindedness and intolerance (and pseudo-science).
I have a theory that some people are more susceptible to believing conspiracy theories spouted by charlatans because they feel disconnected and disengaged. I am basing my premise on existing research around addiction. There have been many studies, with humans and other animals, that have proven that a lack of meaningful relationships drives the habitual seeking of something else to take the place of it.
Within that theory, I find it utterly fascinating that people with an insular perspective actively try to convince themselves and others (gas-lighting) that they are, in actuality, not closed to new ideas by doing "research" and "seeking" out data. Because of the proliferation of biased media sources and straight-up fake news outlets, it is easier to find and latch onto these con-men and become addicted to cherry-picking and spinning information that "proves" their original rigid stance.
And this is where we are right now. When one tribe is engaged in the fantasy of strength and moral rectitude and incited by inaccuracy and delusional behavior, it becomes the meeting place of conflict - the conflagration of ideologies.
With that understanding, I remain committed to providing a community where engagement and connection are the foundation. And a place (even though it is virtual right now) where everyone is encouraged to explore the possibilities, make mistakes, and, yes, change their minds whenever they discover a new way of thinking.
This past week , in honor of our 7th Birthday, on our social media, we revisited the Liberated Learner Seven Guiding Principles articulated by Ken Danford, the co-founder of North Star in Sunderland, MA. Find the descriptions here.
Membership is Open
Our staff and student members are still connecting remotely through our virtual schedule. If you are interested in joining the DRC community, please get in touch.
As is customary, we all tend to take stock at the end of one year and the beginning of the next. This time around, it seems like there is even more at stake. We are putting an awful lot of pressure on 2021.
However, I would point out that the dumpster fire, shit show that was 2020, was not about the year - it never is. It was a perfect storm, a culmination of nearly 250 years of bad decisions and horrendous policies developed by people (oligarchs) who have no concern for anyone but themselves (egos) and their wallets.
It isn't up to 2021 to solve these problems - it can't. January 20th, while a hugely positive step, will not, alone, usher in our saving graces. The fundamental issues of an inequitable and unjust society will be festering just below the glossy patina of this new administration, in the same way, it has for our entire history.
It is up to us, the people who have the most at stake, to get creative and disrupt the status quo. Begin by supporting your neighbors. Stop thinking of charity as handouts and start considering it an act of resistance. The best way to make progress and to change the culture is to build it up from the bottom - the very roots. Eventually, these acts of rebellion, hidden within gestures of caring and kindness, will forge community, which will, over time, go on to generate a new way of thinking about the essential construct of our entire culture and society.
Absolutely, spend some time to reflect. Get a firm grasp on your personal takeaways - then use that knowledge to interrupt, disrupt, and make a difference. 2021 will not be any different than 2020 unless you and I commit to a cultural revolution fueled by compassion, consideration, understanding, and respect.
These are the final quotes posted last week on our social media to honor those voices we lost in 2020.
In January 2014, DRC Canton opened our doors with one very cool ten-year-old, me, a couple of computers, no heat, no internet, a few pieces of furniture, and a whole lot of dreams. Now, seven years later, we have a total of thirty-eight amazing students, divided between two Centers and the Distance Learning Program. We own one of those facilities, have an awesome staff and volunteers, there are heat and internet, as well as tons of resources and materials, and we still have some really big aspirations.
Thank you to everyone who has been part of this amazing journey. I am beyond grateful to all of you for the love, support, and hard work that has gone into making this vision come true. Onward!
And, if you would like to join DRC, as we move full steam ahead into 2021 please get in touch.
While I searched for appropriate quotes to highlight some of the influential voices that we lost in 2020, I noticed that most of them had lived their lives, unapologetically, on their terms. They knew what interested them, the thing they loved, what made them truly happy, and did it.
Then I started wondering how these folks discovered their purpose in the first place. What motivated them? What allowed them to succeed?
We could easily chalk their achievements up to their birthright (whiteness, supportive families, good schools, etc.), or even luck. In some cases, yes, it may have been the privilege they were born into, others not so much. When you look closely at their biographies, some folks had humble origins.
For instance, Georgia Rep. John Lewis was born the son of sharecroppers in Alabama and attended segregated schools. His parents actively discouraged him from challenging the inequities of the Jim Crow laws in the south. However, he was profoundly influenced by Rosa Parks and MLK Jr, who inspired him to follow in their footsteps.
Joanna Cole, the author of the Magic School Bus series of children's books, grew up in New Jersey, the daughter of a house painter and homemaker. She was fascinated with science as a young girl, and her teacher allowed her to borrow science books each week. She stated, "I thought that reading science books for pleasure was an ordinary thing." Her favorite book as a child was titled Bugs, Insects, and Such, which was a gift from her aunt.
Chadwick Boseman was born in South Carolina. He was the son of a nurse, and a textile factory worker, who also managed an upholstery business. Chadwick wrote and staged a play at his high school after a classmate was shot and killed. He then went to Howard University, where he met his mentor, Phylicia Rashad. She helped raise funds, most notably from Denzel Washington, which allowed him to attend the Oxford Summer Program of the British American Drama Academy in Oxford, England.
Katherine Johnson, the brilliant mind behind the calculations, which were essential for manned space exploration, was born Creola Katherine Coleman in 1918, the youngest of four children in West Virginia. Her mother was a teacher, and her father was a lumberman, farmer, and handyman, and worked in a hotel. Her hometown did not offer high school to black children. Because they understood that their daughter had extraordinary potential, her parents enrolled all of their children in a high school on the West Virginia State College campus.
Every single person that I researched had one thing in common - they took risks and followed their curiosity to find their passion, despite what may have seemed like insurmountable odds, at times. Some were actively discouraged, but others had unconditional support - at least one mentor who had their backs, who offered them resources and encouraged them to continue to explore their interests.
All young people deserve this kind of unqualified support. Instead of questioning and judging the number of hours they have spent on what appears to be frivolous activities and redirecting their attention to what may be considered "worthwhile" pursuits, just stop. Then take a moment to contemplate what their interest and focus are potentially worth to them or even the world.
If every young person had the opportunity to pursue their curiosities and passion, to focus on what is important to them at the moment, not only would we raise more artists, scientists, writers, social activists, and problem-solvers, I firmly believe there would be happier and more compassionate beings in our midst.
Social media posts from this past week, honoring a few of the voices we lost in 2020.
Best wishes for a bright, curiosity filled New Year from the entire DRC Crew! Take some risks! Get messy! And, have fun!
"Pay forward all the goodness in life to everyone you meet. Be kind, be loving, share music and joy, take care of each other, and Mother Earth." This a direct quote and final message from Noel, who, among numerous and diverse accomplishments, was one of the first female percussionists at Crane, a teacher, a librarian, a self-described word-smith, and someone who adored life. She is just one of the many extraordinary voices that we lost in 2020. The distinguishing feature of this particular wise being is that I had the great privilege of calling her a friend for over a decade. And, because she was one month older than my mother (another WWII baby), at times, I referred to her as my second mother.
Noel was diagnosed with dementia several years ago and was on the downhill side of that diagnosis. However, it was COVID that stole her from the cruelty of that particular fate amid her 77th year, in May. She lived life with an "attitude of gratitude," and those are the specific words she gifted to me. Whenever I feel like the world is holding a grudge against me, I think of my dear friend Noel and scrounge in the depths of my funk for at least one thing of which to be grateful.
The list of people we lost this past year is long - folks like Noel, whose life directly impacted the beings with whom she spent her days. And others who lived on a much larger stage, influencing the lives of many.
For the remainder of this year, we will pay homage on the Deep Root Center social media pages by sharing individual quotes from just a few of the unique, insightful, and fiercely passionate voices whom we miss, without measure. Goodbye, and thank you for your work, your words, and your spirit.
*Follow and stay tuned to the DRC Facebook and Instagram pages for the daily remembrances. Below are the posts from this past Friday and Saturday.
Happy Solstice, Blessed Yule, and Merry Christmas from the Entire DRC Crew. May you meet others with kindness and share the gifts of insight and gratitude throughout the year.
What can DRC offer our student members during a global pandemic? Back in March, I struggled with this question mightily. We have always provided a physical space filled with resources and materials, where spontaneity and creativity ruled our daily itinerary, as well as an open environment free of coercion and compulsory activities. We never had a formal schedule of classes that everyone adhered to, let alone shared on a video chat.
And, to be honest, in the middle of March, when we shut down the first time, despite trying to offer an alternative way to "do DRC" on Discord or Google Meet, our kids straight-up refused. They were happy to check in every few weeks to report on what they were working on, so we could write their homeschool progress reports together, but they honestly didn't need DRC.
Fast forward through the Summer when I spent my days preparing to be, in-person, at both Centers, with as many safety precautions in place as humanly possible, in September. One of those built-in safety features came directly from the St. Lawrence University Community Based Learning Program who sends us student volunteers each semester. They had decided to have their students participate in the program following a completely remote model. This fall, they assigned us, seven students, for two hours a week, each.
That was the impetus we needed to create a weekly slate of virtual sessions based entirely on what our student members requested, as well as the talents and knowledge that the SLU students wanted to share with our kids. We supplemented what they were offering with sessions filled with hands-on activities facilitated by the DRC staff.
The other driving force behind this first-ever formal schedule was our newly designed distance learning program. Without a daily itinerary, the distance learning peeps would not know when to connect with us virtually.
I am happy to say that, in Canton, it worked! Well, with a few technical glitches that are part of learning a new system, as well as hourly reminders that classes were starting. It worked so well that we began offering the hands-on sessions that the staff was facilitating as virtual options, too. And, when kids stayed at home because of illness or anxiety about COVID, they continued to connect to their sessions remotely.
I should mention that during the fall, the Lawrenceville (DRC- East) Peeps didn't participate in the virtual schedule. They were happily engaged with their hands-on, completely spontaneous immersion in whatever "lit their fire" on any particular day.
Fast forward, again, to mid-November, when COVID numbers began rising in St. Lawrence County, and a good number of our families were keeping their children home. Our daily numbers at the Canton Center dropped to three to five kids. We decided, once again, to close. At that point, the SLU students had one more week of their sessions before they finished the semester. After our experience during the Spring, I was nervous. Would our kids want to, or even remember to, sign in to their virtual classes? For the most part, they did!
That confirmation was all we needed to set-up a new schedule of remote sessions facilitated by the staff and DRC kids following Thanksgiving week. Again, these are classes and activities that our student members specifically requested. Many are carry-overs from the previous schedule with a new facilitator, and a few are new.
We are now two weeks into this new itinerary, and I am thrilled to report that most of our kids signed up for a good number of sessions (including the Lawrenceville Peeps), and they are showing up. Not only that, but we are noticing that they hang out after their sessions are technically over, sometimes for hours.
What have we learned through all this? Firstly, we have proven, again, that, as an organization, we are unbelievably flexible. We are adept at providing for all the needs of our student members within the confines of any given situation, even if we have to create something, quite literally, on the fly.
Secondly, we have confirmed (once again) that our non-coercive methods work. These kids are actively engaged and are making connections to their community, the people they have grown to trust, and, yes, love - even when there are additional hoops to jump through. (No one is sitting next to them, telling them to turn on their computers and sign-in.)
And lastly, as we already know, human beings, are naturally designed to grow and learn, which means we will intrinsically adapt and, yes, even thrive when given the opportunity.
* P.S. - Gratitude to Elian, who is facilitating the majority of these virtual sessions, as well as Chase and Ryan for showing up for our kids every day.
DRC is open to any child who is struggling and unhappy with their virtual or hybrid school experience. Contact us today to learn more about our Distance Learning Programs.
We are sending out a shout of gratitude to the Canton Community Fund Board of directors. They approved our grant asking for five Chromebooks. Thanks to them, our Canton students have, all-important, access to their community.
We are still seeking contributions to our Fall Funding Appeal. You can donate here, or you can send a check directly to DRC at 48 Riverside Dr., Canton, NY 13617. Thank you!
Define normal. In the past, when presented with this challenge, I proclaimed, proudly (and loudly) - "there is no normal." This morning I came to the abrupt (and stupefying) realization that normal, most definitely, does exist. The definition is, quite simply, that to which we become accustomed.
The past few years hold substantial evidence directing us to that fact. Bat shit crazy and felonious behavior are now everyday occurrences that we can expect, if not predict.
Back in March, when the first stay-at-home orders came down, despite understanding and supporting them, I chafed at the restrictions (well after I recovered from the flu). Now, after only a couple of months of in-person programming, we are back home following a virtual schedule, and it feels ordinary to set up schedules, facilitate remote classes, and meet for mentoring sessions through a screen.
When masking rules went into effect, I loathed the feeling of confinement and foggy glasses (those with claustrophobia understand). Now, it is second nature to wear my mask on a lanyard that I can pull up over my face (mouth and nose) whenever I am around other people. Sometimes, I even have moments of anxiety if I am not sure whether I have an extra mask attached to my backpack, for, just in case.
Families have begrudgingly settled into their "new normal" of hybrid and virtual school - the adjusted and interrupted work schedules and the resulting dullness and boredom (busywork) of virtual classes. Despite the many stresses, frustrations, and their kid's unhappiness, they remain steadfast to the societal norm of school.
Within all this, I am deeply puzzled by why we, as a society, can accept uncomfortable, frustrating, and irritating stuff (not to mention downright immoral and illegal behaviors) - fairly quickly. But we cannot seem to normalize (on a large scale) those concepts (universal healthcare, fair wages, immigration policies, social justice, funding community and social services, non-coercive education, etc.) that could have hugely positive consequences for everyone.
Do we find the adopted inconveniences easier to digest because we consider them temporary or stopgap measures? And we believe those that could have affirmative significance would constitute real and forever change? I truly want to know. As an anthropologist and student of human behavior, I find the concepts held within those questions, in alternating measures, fascinating and utterly frustrating.
In any case, Deep Root Center is here when families feel ready to embrace a new, new normal. We are a place where kids can explore their interests, follow their innate curiosity, gain back their confidence and intrinsic motivation, and delight in diving deeply into whatever makes their heart sing. Happy kids are a seriously underrated commodity.
The Deep Root Center Distance Learning Program has open enrollment. Any child who wants to join us - can. Learn more here.
2020 Funding Appeal - the digital version of our newsletter went out his past week. We are awaiting delivery of the paper copies, which will go out as soon as we receive them.
If you are able, please consider a contribution. Thank you!
Those of you who know me, either in person or through these weekly musings, have heard me rail against the constraints of societal norms. Within that, you have probably noticed that I regularly express my contempt for tradition, ritual, and routine.
This morning while I was lying on the bedroom floor, talking myself through daily yoga poses and stretches, I realized, with some clarity, that I willingly participate in some routine activities every single day without chafing against them. And, in most cases, those rituals make my life measurably better.
What then is the difference? Why do some push all my buttons, while others are appreciated habits? This thought process, of course, sent me down another rabbit hole, a place I visit quite often while on the yoga mat in various, adapted poses. Today, while laying in the final backstretch, waiting to hear the popping sound that indicates that my hips have achieved (semi) alignment, the words "expectation" and "obligation" dropped into my head simultaneously. That one collective concept is, of course, the key.
When I feel pushed and coerced into doing something, simply because it is tradition, I will automatically rebel. In my mind, there doesn't need to be any other logical reason. For some, my rebellion over seemingly inconsequential stuff has the appearance of pure obstinacy or ridiculous lines drawn in the sand.
However, it makes utter sense when you consider that inconsistency, along with contradiction and hypocrisy, is the combination of traits that rests second on my list of pet peeves.
Why would I blindly accept (and celebrate) the ritualistic traditions that are part of my culture when my daily reality runs counter to societal norms, including the mission of providing a non-coercive educational environment and programming for any child who needs us? Not only that, but I also (some would say foolishly) trust that those kids are intrinsically motivated to seek out everything they need to grow and learn.
This internal conversation all leads, quite handily, to the reason this particular warren of thoughts was grappling for release from my subconscious this morning.
It is once again the time of year that we reach out to you for financial assistance. Yes, asking for your contribution has become an annual tradition. However, the last thing I want is for you to feel obligated to donate. Just as I am confident in our student's abilities to take on whatever challenges they encounter, I trust that the folks with whom our message resonates, and are able, will support us financially.
That, indeed, was the case for an incredibly generous donor who recently sent an unsolicited check for $5000.00. There are no words for the emotions that swirled when I opened that envelope. Nor for the short message I received a few days later in response to my note of thanks, stating that he wanted to acknowledge his appreciation of our work, especially during these challenging times.
I am deeply grateful for every dollar and for every kind word of support that recognizes our commitment to honoring our promise to our community. Thank you!
* Contribute an online donation here, or send a check to Deep Root Center, 48 Riverside Dr., Canton, NY 13617.
It has been brought to the DRC staff's attention that there is a shortage of afternoon options for families in Canton. We are committed to opening this program, (with a full Covid-19-19 Safety Plan in place) when there are enough interested families to make it viable.
Deep Root Center's Exploration Station Services extend our unique brand to children in the community who attend public or private schools.
DRC provides a physically and emotionally safe space for children, filled with resources and materials, where they are encouraged to explore their interests freely, without coercion. The DRC Afternoon Program is designed to offer opportunities for hands-on exploration, creativity, and fun that children crave.
Please get in touch if you are looking for an afternoon program for your family.
Yes, "this" sucks in so many ways. Folks are sick and dying, are forced to work in unsafe conditions, or have lost their jobs. Many can't pay their rent (or mortgage), buy food and other necessities, and can't find childcare - which only highlights the fact that those without privilege are (and will be) the hardest hit. Some would argue the very definition of entitlement is freedom (h/t Kenzie Corse). That, however, is a critical conversation I will save for another day.
The point I would like to make today is that each of us with privilege, who can shelter at home without repercussions, has the opportunity to embrace all the possibilities (without whining about our lack of freedoms). Foremost, it is a chance to generate ideas - new ways of being and doing. The tired argument, "this is the way we have always done it," does not work, and to be honest, it never has.
Additionally, if you are waiting for our world to go back to normal - please understand that normalcy never existed. And even if it had, why would we want to go back?
Yes, I completely understand the feelings of utter exhaustion that accompanies all of "this." The bone-deep weariness that invades and impedes our desire to be creative, as well as all the good intentions buried beneath our body and mind's demand to hibernate. (Note that collection of blog posts I promised that never got written and my second children's book that was never illustrated or self-published.)
Nevertheless, I am continuously inspired and motivated by the innovations and forward motion that has come, despite the mental and physical fatigue, as a direct response to the challenges presented by this pandemic and societal unrest.
Deep Root Center, for example, developed a new distance learning program, which we were able to devise only because our St. Lawrence University Community Based Learning (CBL) students had to volunteer virtually. We generated a schedule of Google Meet sessions, based on what our in-person and distance learning kids were interested in, then paired DRC members with the CBL facilitators and mentors.
This experiment was so successful we began adding the projects and activities the staff was facilitating in-person at the Center to the virtual schedule. Up till now, with a couple of exceptions, only our Canton kids and the Distance Learning peeps have taken advantage of the virtual opportunities. Happily, now that we are fully remote, with a schedule of Google Meet and Discord sessions facilitated by DRC staff, our Lawrenceville kids are hopping on board.
This level of engagement would not have been possible without the innovations that came out of necessity. Despite not being together in a physical space, we are all enriched.
History has taught us that forward motion will always be uncomfortable, initially. The path to progress will always be open to those who can think outside the box and embrace (and endure) the growing pains.
DRC has open enrollment throughout the year. Get in touch if you would like to join our "virtual" world. This schedule is flexible; we will add Sessions as they are requested.
We wish you a Happy Thanksgiving from everyone at DRC. Stay safe!
Playing has become a four-letter word in our culture. Uttering the three words, "I am playing," conjures up frivolity, excess, diversionary tactics, plastic toys, and the needless waste of time. Which explains why most 9-18-year-olds I meet can look me straight in the eye and say, either, "I used to play when I was young, but I don't anymore, or I don't know how to play."
Somewhere along the way, we have lost the true definition of play. It, in its purest form, is exploration based on curiosity, imagination, and creativity. And not coincidentally, is also the driving force behind all authentic learning.
Therefore, I am on a mission to normalize and legitimize not only the word but the act of playing.
Yes, among many other things, I play with written words, graphic design, food, tech skills, and even verbal communication. I use the word "play" explicitly (and sometimes provocatively) to describe any task. I want to express very clearly that I enjoy my work and that I anticipate having fun.
Most of us will only take anything on voluntarily (even if it may seem challenging or hard) if there is the promise of pleasure, happiness, and the feeling of satisfaction from a job well done at the end. Hence, the very concept of enjoyment drives self-motivation, which, not surprisingly, along with rigor, is the number one concern for most parents (and teens) who contact me.
As human beings, we will not do (or learn) something simply because someone tells us that we "have to" or that it is necessary for our future.
Our evolution, as humans, required all authentic learning to be driven by imagination, creativity, experimentation, and the exploration of all the things that we are each profoundly interested in. These are the notions that make us ask questions, spend hours contemplating, seeking out the answers, challenging the status quo, and creating solutions, change, and, most importantly, art.
We are all playing here. Make it worth your while, and have fun!
This past week we were very fortunate to have a film-maker, Liam Crossen, at the Center interviewing our student members, staff, and families to create short vignettes, as well as action footage of the Centers for our social media accounts and website. We are excited that you will have the chance to hear about Deep Root Center from the perspective of those who spend their days here. These will begin rolling out as soon as he has them edited. Stay-tuned!
This amazing opportunity was perfectly timed - we decided to go fully remote beginning Monday, Nov. 16th, as the number of COVID cases rose exponentially over the last week.
Our student members will still have the opportunity to connect remotely through the DRC daily schedule of classes and mentoring sessions, as well as on a broader scale with other young people around the world through the Liberated Learners Network schedule of classes. If your virtual education is leaving you feeling bored and uninspired, check us out. DRC is accepting distance learning members throughout the pandemic.
And, a special thank you to Ian Corse for taking the new DRC Logo and "cleaning it up" for us.
Four years ago, I wrote a post that I ultimately determined was too personal, too raw for the DRC page. As a solution, I created Rooting for Change, a place to publish essays dedicated to my thoughts, which I believed at the time, were too much for the Deep Root Center Blog. As is sometimes the case for me, the excitement of imagining something new carried me as long as it took to write three additional posts after that initial essay (which coincidentally never ended up on that page). Looking back on it now, I see that it was a good idea that quickly got lost to the overwhelming weight of lies, deceit, and blatantly cruel retaliation. And, yes, the ridiculous feelings of - why bother?
After hearing the election news yesterday afternoon, I realized that I felt like I could breathe again. Without fully realizing it, for four long years, I had been subconsciously holding my breath - clenching and bracing my body in constant anticipation for the next direct hit.
My main job as a mentor to the young people who choose DRC is to not only support them, trust them completely, and help them seek out resources to meet their interests and aspirations but to model compassion, kindness, and moral character.
I had not realized until this moment how hard that work was, over these four years, given that skepticism was running a convincing race as my defining trait, and snarkiness had found a comfy home at the tippy top of my list of skill-sets.
With the above fully recognized, I would like to clearly state that what brought us the levels of pain and resentment is not gone, simply because we have ousted a demagogue. The underlying issues of inequities and injustice are living on the shoulders of those whom we, as a white privileged, society consider the "other" (BIPOC, LGBTQA+, refugees, immigrants, etc.). Those weights of disparity, racism, and xenophobia have not magically disappeared. We have (as I mentioned in a personal note yesterday) a SHIT TON of work to do.
How do we even begin that work when we are up against folks who are so afraid of change (progress) that they are driven so far into denial that they consider alternative facts an acceptable version of the truth?
Upon reflecting on my responsibility, beyond being a positive role model to all "my" kids, I would like to resurrect the Rooting for Change Blog. Despite the partially humorous self-imposed snarky label, I consider myself, foremost, a writer. And, without grandiose or self-congratulatory intent, I would like to seed the changes needed to welcome everyone into the conversation - through affirmative messages, honesty, compassion, and kindness.
Given my time constraints, the only way to keep the Rooting for Change blog alive is to make it a collaborative effort and push forward the works of folks whose voices need to be heard. If you would like to contribute an essay, letter, poem, or creative piece, following the guidelines below, please submit it here for consideration. And, please feel free to share this opportunity within your network.
The following is the first essay posted to Rooting for Change on November 14th, 2016:
Expanding My Voice -
I write to process and then express my emotions, hopes, fears, anger, and observations, broadcast to the world via the Deep Root Center Blog. This past week, I came to realize that many of those things I have to say as an individual are not necessarily appropriate to articulate as the voice of an organization. In this case, a not-for-profit, educational entity that welcomes and respects a variety of perspectives from our student members, their families, our staff, volunteers, community collaborators, and supporters.
Stay tuned as this forum takes shape as a place where we can share our deepest feelings and fondest wishes for this community and beyond. I request that comments remain kind, constructive, and without judgment. This forum will remain a safe place where everyone can feel welcome to express their concerns and desires.
The one rule at Deep Root Center is also applied here: Respect yourself, each other, and this space.
I look forward to future conversations that will bring us closer to understanding each other.