Over the past week, while working on administrative duties and creative projects (see below), I have been feeling pretty useless – even peripheral to my DRC Peeps. After touching base with them again this weekend to offer resources and my support - I came to the abrupt and disconcerting conclusion that most of them don’t currently need me. For the most part, they are carrying on quite nicely. Yes, they do miss Deep Root Center, the projects they were working on there, and their social interactions - other than that they are perfectly fine.
Then, last evening, it occurred to me, as I was walking down the stairs - this is what I work so hard to achieve. They have become self-directed learners who are in charge of their education and their lives. Boom! They have heard me say, “yes it counts,” enough times to know that whatever they are pursuing - is exactly what they need to be doing at this moment. They understand that their education is so much larger than what is taught in school. They comprehend that they are free to investigate anything - whenever curiosity strikes because knowledge is available at their fingertips.
They are all using this time to create art, play, groom their dog, explore the world through their computer/phone/tablet screen, make music, engage in cool conversations with their families, hang with their pets, cook, take walks, continue their online classes, and work on projects that mean something to them.
When this is over, we can all go back to the Center, to happily pick up where we left off. Relationships will flourish, projects will once again take over every flat surface, ideas will spark, and our entire community will be able to breathe a sigh of relief that we are back together to share all we have learned while apart.
In all honesty, none of us know when we will be able to go back to the Center. It may be a lot longer than anyone anticipated. In the meantime, in an attempt to feel less useless, I have created a VLOG entitled, “Yes, it Counts.” The concept was born after seeing so many families struggling, in this time of unknowns, to recreate school at home. I want to try to reassure them that whatever their child is doing is valid - there is no right or wrong, and that children are learning all the time, whether it looks educational or not.
What we often forget is that learning is completely natural. We don’t turn off the desire to learn new things, just because we are not in school. And, education is not a “sit down” occupation. It is play and conversation; it is messy and riddled with mistakes, and, above all, it is fun.
I am hoping to post at least two vlogs each week. They can be found on the DRC Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as on the DRC website. The first one entitled, Conversations, is below. Please feel free to write a comment about the conversations (mundane or enlightening) you have had with your child.
I am also encouraging folks to share photos of their time at home. I am posting them on the DRC website with their first name and where they are located. You can send them here, and you can view others on the front page of the website.
Another project I have on the back burner is a compilation of my blog posts. As you can imagine sifting through them to find a few to be included is an overwhelming task. I have written a post every single week for over six years. Please let me know if you have one or more favorites.
Be well -
Last week I mentioned that this pandemic is offering us an opportunity to reset on a cultural level. Today, after sheltering in place for a total of twelve days (with only a 5-minute stop at the grocery store and a couple of trips to DRC to feed Pesce, the goldfish, and pick-up items that I need to work from home), I am coming to realize that this time of separation is also providing us the chance to reflect and adjust on a personal and emotional level.
Beyond lying in bed getting over the flu, I have spent those twelve days trying to re-imagine Deep Root Center’s role for our members, as well as for the folks in the greater community. In between naps, I have been working full-time from my bed, obsessing over this conundrum. Thursday, after sending the last of almost daily messages, I realized that this may be to partly compensate for the guilt I feel about not being at the Center working hands-on with “my Peeps.” But then, after very little response from the DRC community, I found myself thinking, “but what do they want from DRC- right now? And then it occurred to me, maybe they don’t need or desire anything from us - what then? If that is the case, how do I rationalize our existence to myself and all of our members?”
Fair warning - this is the kind of existential thinking that happens when you are fairly isolated while recovering from an illness, and intentionally removing yourself from in-person social interactions for the good of the entire society.
Now I am considering, in response to my questions - what if the point is that folks (everyone, not just DRC families) are realizing that they can opt-out of anything that does not serve them at this moment? In keeping with our non-coercive philosophy, I do respect that Deep Root Center may not be an important part of their lives right now.
I am coming to understand that families everywhere are taking care of themselves in a new way – relinquishing guilt over all of the should-s, and are, with great intention, not trying to make sure of anything beyond their family's most fundamental needs. I will argue that now, more than any other time – authenticity, happiness, health, and the opportunity to be creative, as well as the ability to offer empathy and compassion eclipse any other desire.
Therefore, do whatever you need to do to achieve those five goals – if DRC can help in any way, please let us know. We are here anytime you have a question or want to connect. Otherwise, we will see you on the other side, with a greater understanding of ourselves, as well as an obsession for keeping it real.
In the meantime, after a small community meeting on Thursday, a few of our kids, along with Elian, have set up a Discord server as a way to socialize and share ideas among themselves – if you are on Discord you are most welcome to check it out. Additionally, I am working on administrative duties for when we do get back, and I can guarantee that I will continue to share my thoughts, right here, each Sunday.
Take good care!
… and counting my blessings. Between the hourly (sometimes by the minute) updates of the latest closings and event cancellations in an attempt to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 virus, and my intense body aches, and high temperature, accompanied by the requisite fever dreams, this past week has been beyond surreal.
While lying in bed unable to do much else, beyond observing this crisis unfold through the lens of my FaceBook Feed, my mind kept wandering to the amount of privilege, beyond the color of my skin, I have in this world.
I can get sick and take time off from work without repercussions. This bout with the flu is a mere blip on my otherwise healthy immune system, not chronic or life-threatening. I no longer have children at home to care for. Therefore, with schools closed, I don’t have to choose between my kids being home alone and losing my job (or weeks of pay) to be with them. I have healthcare. While I don’t technically have WIFI, I do have an unlimited data plan and use my hotspot to connect with my laptop, which allows me to communicate remotely with anyone, in the world, I would like, or need, too. My kitchen shelves and refrigerator are stocked, and I have no worries about replenishing them (even though my diet this week has been limited to a few sick bed items). I have a comfortable home and a loving family who are all healthy. I am not a small business owner worried about keeping my business alive. And, I am not a healthcare provider on the front lines.
In my mind, this fairly long list precludes me from complaining about any inconveniences that may occur because of the efforts being made to keep this disease at a sustainable level that can be managed by our existing healthcare system.
These are the words Ken Danford, the Co-founder, and Exec. Director of North Star, and my mentor, shared with the North Star community (a message I also shared with DRC parents this morning) – “While young people are thankfully not at high risk from the novel coronavirus, closing is the responsible thing for us to do. This move is not only about the safety of our members, but to join community-wide efforts to protect the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions that make them more vulnerable.”
In reviewing the above long list of privileges, my largest concerns are about finding ways of helping others, through this time of upheaval and uncertainty. At this point, I have been thinking about innovative ways to not only continue to serve and connect DRC families, through online platforms such as video conferencing, but ways Deep Root Center can assist local families, who suddenly have their kids at home for an extended period, to join in on these virtual conversations and activities. I also have thoughts on ways kids can produce content for YouTube, etc. to share with a group. As I mentioned to DRC families earlier today, I imagine the kids will take the lead on this. If they know there is support for their initiatives – they will absolutely run with it and generate amazing ideas.
Over the next few days we will explore the best way to move forward with these ideas. I am imagining it will involve Google Hangouts for groups of up to ten people and Google Duo, Facetime, or FB Video Chat, for one on one conversations. As we develop ideas and strategies, I will share them on the DRC Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as our website. I also welcome your ideas and input on how DRC can help your family and our community, at large.
In the meantime, I am offering some resources, below, that have previously been shared in various places on social media.
I am viewing this as a time for a massive cultural reset - as an opportunity for all of us to take a couple steps back, along with a few deep breaths, to consider resetting priorities, and to decide how to use our privileges to advocate for the people and initiatives, in our communities, that need us most.
Again, copying from my message to the DRC community earlier today --- Be well! Take good care of each other! I’ll see you on the other side!
And, as always please be in touch if we can help you in any way!
(Note - Due to my continuing recovery, and the sheer amount of info in this post - please forgive the errors that I most likely missed in the editing process.)
**Resources: (I did not curate this list. I am simply copying and pasting links as they appeared in my social media feed, and in my inbox from other Liberated Learner Centers, over the past couple days. Deep Root Center does not specifically endorse any of these companies.)
One afternoon this past week as often happens, a few of us were sitting in the DRC office talking. These conversations are generally initiated by a fourteen-year-old who spends a large amount of time wandering through the Center in a seemingly aimless fashion until he comes up with a topic that he wants to discuss. Peeking through the office doorway, he checks to see if I am in a mentoring session, and if all is clear, he shuffles in to finally light in the chair on the opposite side of the desk, to begin the conversation with a question. These are usually deeply philosophical questions that center on his personal ruminations. He is profoundly concerned about intelligence, specifically that he behaves and expresses himself intelligently. Over the three years that I have known him, he has independently researched neurodiversity, sleep anomalies, human evolution, religion and spirituality, human connections and communication, psychology, and philosophy to some degree. And, when I say research, I mean to say that he devours information that he finds via internet searches and random you-tube explorations, in a non-linear fashion. He is an artist, who leaves brilliantly intricate pen and ink drawings “littered” throughout the Center. He is also a self-taught musician, who seeks out obscure musical genre and style in much the same manner.
This kid will, straight-up, refuse to participate in anything that resembles a class or group activity. He will not commit to anything that might have an expected outcome. As mentioned earlier, he spends a great deal of time meandering from one room to another, without an obvious destination or plan. To a random stranger, it would appear that he is at loose ends, without a plan or mooring.
On this particular day, I can’t remember the exact question he began the conversation with, but it had something to do with “normalcy,” one of the many things he is deeply concerned about exhibiting. As the conversation progressed, he revealed that he has synesthesia, as does Elian, our new staff person. They were discussing the ability to visualize and mind-map, and I was sitting there, simply trying to keep up and wrap my head around this amazing trait, when I confessed that I don’t usually conjure images in my mind’s eye. They looked at me as if I had two heads while I tried desperately to describe how it works, the closest I could come up with is that it is like almost everything is words, not pictures. I explained that I can’t for the life of me deal with abstracts – which is probably related to my inability to “see” things in my mind. I also have a very mild version of this weird thing called face-blindness. In my case, I, almost exclusively, first recognize people by their mannerisms and the way they move, then I zero in on their face.
At this stage in the conversation, I suggested that despite those notable “weirdnesses,” most people would place me squarely in the “normal” column; because, those particular diverse traits are not easily distinguished or recognized – unless I reveal them. My point being that none of us are totally neurotypical.
I believe that this is an extremely important concept for those who have been labeled and have always felt different and segregated to understand. We all have our own “thing” going on. We are all weird – no one is normal. In accepting, celebrating, and honoring your particular weirdness, you are boldly presenting your real, flawed, and authentic self to the world. And, that genuine person is the one that others will come to know and appreciate as completely and uniquely awesome.
Kid Expo – Deep Root Center will once again be set up at the SLC Chamber’s Kid Expo at SUNY Canton’s Roos House this coming Sat. March 14, with a table full of art and craft items. Stop by to play, create to your heart’s desire, meet our staff, and learn more about all of our programs and services.
Spring Break – Exploration Station. Parents - we have you covered. Your child is welcome to drop-in and join us to explore their interests, create, & play. Register today.
Summer Program - We are in the process of creating a program that is financially accessible to everyone in the community. Stay tuned as we roll out more info.
Barriers are simply the things that keep you from participating or making choices - whether it is a game, activity, project, or most importantly an opportunity for personal growth or advancement.
I think about this constantly, given the people I interact with daily. Consequently, I have come up with some conclusions. I believe that most barriers in our modern society are social constructs, not physically tangible impediments. Inequity, injustice, and discrimination are at the core of all the obstacles people, without the privilege of whiteness, family connections and social hierarchy, or elite education, come up against daily.
We live in a place where a large proportion of us, regardless of our European descent, do not, for the most part, have access to the “riches” afforded to the privileged, including natural respect and courtesy, reliable, ethical, and quality (not to mention affordable) healthcare (including mental healthcare), a wide variety of options for jobs, education (free from bullying, intimidation, coercion, and detrimental labels), or decent, reasonably priced housing, grocery stores and fresh, year-round, whole food markets, retail stores (that are not dollar stores), and dependable transportation.
This entire list, of what have become entitlements in our culture, determines whether you have the “luxury” of freedom of choice for yourself and your family, or not. Therein lies the conditions that have created the barriers in our inequitable, unjust, and discriminatory society.
When a large segment of the population is left without the basics of free choice in a “free” society – it says something about that society, not the people who are struggling to survive.
No, this is not a politically charged post. It is, quite simply, a nod to the folks I meet every day. They are the ones who feel like their hands are tied in a system that uses intimidation, outdated (to the point of obsolete) methodologies, and coercion (as a scare tactic) to keep people down - not lift them. These folks are seeking respectful dialogue and viable options, which will allow their kids to succeed, not a hand-out, or a "free lunch.”
This is exactly where DRC can help. We offer kindness, a listening ear, and validation, but most importantly, practical alternatives for a positive future, where there were formerly none (including the choice to opt-out of the existing system entirely).
If supporting people to be their best, in whatever way possible, is considered radical - then as a society, we are in enormous trouble. I refuse to lower my standards of common decency, justice, authenticity, and respect to cater to the lowest common denominator.
Note: I am linking these two articles related to the above graphic. The first is the one that uses this graphic to illustrate their point, the second has a different version. I found both to be helpful resources in thinking about systemic barriers.
I am also linking this article that I came across this morning, as a resource. It clarifies, for me, one way we could change our culture, which is currently steeped in greed, to be more fair and just.
DRC has open enrollment in both of our facilities – Canton and Lawrenceville. If you are seeking an alternative to public school – DRC is here to not only help navigate the legalities of developing an educational plan outside of school, but to provide a welcoming learning community with a personalized and flexible approach. Get in touch today for more information.
Our afternoon program peeps are having a blast. Check out our full suite of extended services, including our Spring Break Programs and register today .
I first met Elian this past summer when a DRC student member introduced us. During that initial lengthy conversation, I intuited that he would somehow fit into the fabric of DRC. He understood the philosophy and knew that if he had the opportunity to self-direct his education, everything would have been completely different for him.
Last summer, Elian was a SUNY Canton student. Over the past several months, as he mentions below, he realized that college, at this time, is not right for him. After reconnecting at the beginning of February, when he requested to join us as a volunteer, I asked him to be our Exploration Station, afternoon and school break, back-up person. He covered a few Exploration Station afternoons, and expressed, several times, his desire to work with us on a full-time basis. My response was always, “I know, and I really would like to hire you; however, our budget does not allow that right now.
Elian saw that as a challenge that he could take on, and showed up randomly, the day before mid-winter break, with a piece of paper. He had been working with a job counselor at the St. Lawrence County One-Stop Career Center and discovered a program that hires young people to work at local companies and organizations. A federal grant covers their salary and all payroll costs for 12-26 weeks, to provide workplace training so these folks can enter the workforce on their own. The ultimate goal is that they would be hired by the business or Not-for-Profit, that they received their training from.
I am so very grateful and pleased that Elian will be a part our community, as a staff member, for the remainder of this academic year. He will work closely with all of our Peeps to explore math and science concepts, through classes and hands-on projects. He will be available to facilitate a myriad of other activities that they are interested in exploring, and he will also be an active participant in the amazing conversations that swirl throughout the Center on any given day. Elian will also continue to cover Exploration Station programming, whenever Erin is not available. Our aspirations include being able to hire him to be with us for as long as he would like to stay. To that end, the last item on his job description is to research viable funding streams for DRC.
The following is Elian’s introduction, in his own words –
A shriek pierces me awake; I roll over and groan. My mammalian alarm clock can sense my hastened breathing and whistles again. My feet hit the floor, and trance-like, I walk over to her cage. She knows she is the head of the household.
“Emmie, you’re not even out of hay!” I sigh at my fat fur baby.
She chirps back at my happily as if to say, “Pick me up!”
Armed with the guinea pig, I go to my peach pink mini-fridge. The noise of the door triggers a scream, as I pull out lettuce and almond milk.
She sits in my lap as I pour Malt-O-Meal Tootie Fruities. I review Fruit Loops on Facebook as a hobby. I swear that my second tattoo will be a bowl of fruit loops on my bicep; the first: a stegosaurus, a triceratops, and a heart on my wrist.
Emmie sneaks a fruit loop from my bowl before I finish my cereal.
Originally, I’m from Iowa and I went to school in Delaware. I came up to Canton to go to college. School hasn’t turned out to be for me so while I was pursuing my degree in Early Childhood Education, I decided to leave and finish my teaching assistant certificate on my own.
In my free time, I like to embroider, paint, and write creative non-fiction. I also have been playing guitar since I was 8. I volunteer sometimes at various places around Potsdam. My guinea pig, Emmie, is my world and I have another human roommate named Scott who is also very cool.
Like Steve Miller’s “The Joker,” I have a lot of jobs. I review off-brand Fruit Loops on Facebook, I’m a pet dad, I’m a volunteer, I’m a writer, I’m an artist, I’m a guitarist, I’m an embroiderer, and I bake mean gluten-free, sugar-free cookies. I work at Deep Root now, which I can add to my long list of things that excite me.
DRC will offer programming during Spring Break, the week of April 13th. Families who are signed up and use our Afternoon Programs at least three days each week will receive a 5% discount for Spring Break Programming. Learn more about Exploration Station Programs here.
DRC has a rolling admissions policy. Young people can join us anytime throughout the academic year. If school is not working out for your child - contact us today to learn how we can help you. We have openings in both the Canton and Lawrenceville Centers.
Most visitors, who are just learning about Deep Root Center and our philosophy, are understandably skeptical when I tell them, that on any given day, you cannot tell the difference between the kids who joined DRC a week ago from the ones who have been with us for a couple of years. In addition, parents don’t quite understand this concept until they see their own child completely enveloped within our amazing community the day after they join us.
I spend a lot of time thinking about and marveling at this particular phenomenon. Is it the environment or is it this grouping of random kids? Perhaps it is our philosophy along with the absence of a list of finite rules. If you asked me at this moment, based on the cohesiveness of this particular group of kids, my response would be all of the above.
We work hard to create a cozy, comfortable, and non-institutional feeling space – filled with all those things you would find in your own home. The front door opens into our “chill space,” which is set up like any living room, including the cubbies and lockers often filled to overflowing with boots, coats, and backpacks, along with stray socks, and other minutiae of everyday life. Our kitchen, with the exception of the labels on the cupboards, is like any other, a gathering space, with open access to anyone who is hungry or wants to cook for the group. The art room and all of the creative supplies, the music room filled with instruments, the Seedlings Room and the toys, the classroom with all its books, and the front porch and huge backyard are all free and open to anyone who wants to use them. There are no barriers here (except for the stairs, unfortunately) or secret codes. Everyone is welcome anywhere at this facility.
The combination of kids is always changing – new kids arrive, some leave, others show up infrequently – the common denominator will always be their desire to be here. They come from all walks of life, with unique perspectives and ideologies, and they are each dealing with various difficult circumstances. Nevertheless, even within all those differences, they recognize kindred spirits here and allow their defense mechanisms to relax. We all get to know each other on a deep level because we have the time, space, and freedom to do that. We all feel safe to open up and share our fears, dreams, aspirations, and our past experiences.
Absolutely, yes, it is these amazing, open, and inspirational kids; however, it is also the foundational philosophy that allows for those things to happen. They understand clearly that no one will judge them, and that our one rule – respect yourself, each other and this place - will always stand. They know they will never be forced to do something they do not want to do. They also understand that we appreciate each of them for who they are, and for the gifts, they bring to the community.
Therefore, when the inevitable question pops up during intake meetings or phone calls - asking how many days their child would have to attend the Center each week - my answer will always be, “we are building a community here, and if your child is not here often enough, they will eventually feel like they are not part of that community; however, with that consideration, they are free to come as often as they would like or can.”
The DRC community is welcoming, organic, and flexible, and will always reflect the people who are here on any given day, including visitors and volunteers. This is why I can always look forward to the awesomeness of tomorrow – knowing that it will never be the same as today.
The DRC staff has experienced some changes. Christopher Raymo, after a brief leave of absence, has resigned for personal reasons. We miss him greatly and wish him well in his endeavors.
I am excited to announce that Elian Erickson, has joined the DRC staff. He will be with us every day and is looking forward to being a member of the DRC community and specifically facilitating math and science classes and one-on-one sessions. Stay tuned for an in-depth profile of Elian in the next couple of weeks. This was made possible through the St Lawrence County One-Stop Career Center and their program to place young adults in work-sites around the County to gain valuable skills for future employment. I am beyond grateful that Elian brought this amazing program to my attention.
Exploration Station Suite of Extended Services
February Break - Register your child today!
Afternoon Programs – drop in options are available – register here.
Snow day coverage – DRC facilities and staff will be available for local school snow days – per day fees apply. Learn more here.
Sap Run (walk) 5 & 10K
Deep Root Center and The Yoga Loft are teaming up to co-sponsor this 5 & 10K run (walk) to be held on March 28th at the Remington Trail in Canton. Play on joining us and register online. Your registration fee benefits both The Yoga Loft and Deep Root Center.
Do you first notice the effort, or errors?
Do you recognize the growth, or only see the immaturity?
Is their pain visible to you, or do you only note, and then emphasize their behaviors?
Do you focus on the potential, or do you obsess over the problems?
Can you gratefully accept a challenge, or will you throw up your hands in defeat?
Do you detect the beauty within imperfection, or will you discard it like trash?
Do you question why a five-year-old needs a special room at school to de-stress, or do you accept that pressure is an essential part of life for even the youngest among us?
Do you wonder why coercion is an immense component of our culture, or do you accept it as inevitable?
Your perspective is a powerful tool. Those initial interpretations will automatically determine your response, as well as the impact you will have on someone’s life.
Will you be an agent of affirmation, possibilities, empathy, and change, or will you be a curator of the status quo?
Have you checked out the DRC Exploration Station Suite of extended services? If your family needs programming in the afternoon, during school breaks, or on snow days we are here for you.
You and I, each, have opinions formed from our experiences and personal understanding, or perceptions of the world around us. Those convictions, however, give neither of us permission, nor an obligation to place judgment on each other, or anyone else for their life choices and beliefs and ideologies.
This may seem like a pretty straightforward concept; nevertheless, our culture is over-run with criticism, and overwrought, moral outrage in response to other people who are simply living their everyday lives. We seem to think that it is okay to judge, and yes, shame, someone for the clothes they wear, the way they style their hair, their body type or size, the color of their skin, the type of foods they eat (or don’t eat), how they spend their money (whether they are poor or not), how they earn their money, the house they live in, the type of pets they own, the number of children they have, including their reproductive choices, their gender identity and sexual preferences, the God, or Gods they worship, along with their spiritual beliefs, all the way to their method and approach to learning, as well as the choices they make to educate themselves and their family.
This serves as a reminder; as long as no part of someone’s physicality, lifestyle, or personal life choices are actively or potentially going to harm another, we have absolutely no responsibility, duty, or reason to place judgement on that person’s life. It is quite simply none of our business. The end!
Despite the seeming finality of that last exclamation, the above was just the beginning of my thought processes around judgment. All those assessments that we hand out, heedlessly, are based purely on our personal biases. Our thoughtless evaluations are the foundation for the indiscriminate assignations we place on people. What we can’t seem to grasp is that those insidious labels do irreparable harm.
Once a label is designated within your mind - not only will you begin to treat that person by their assigned tag – but others will too. Fairly quickly, everyone will recognize that person by their label, including the individual themselves. You know on a profound level that this happens all the time – you hear about the bad kid, the violent kid, the troubled teen, or the LD kid. “He is 5 and can’t read!” “He can’t focus or sit still in the classroom!” “They can’t seem to follow the instructions.” “She is provocative - she wears leggings and camisoles.” Or, “They must be troubled - they refuse to go to school – are gender non-conforming - have tattoos, piercings, and weird hair - listen to rap and Hip-Hop - play computer games – are on their phones all day - and … you do know who their older brother is – right ...”
The labels follow them wherever they go. It is especially hard to outrun your designated status, here in the NoCo, with our minuscule population, where everyone either knows (is related to), or has heard of you and your family.
Eventually, the child (teen) adopts the persona that has been, so handily, imposed upon them. In their minds, they really are the “bad,” “dumb,” or “worthless” kid, which in addition to becoming anxious, depressed, and completely overwhelmed, gives them the excuse to behave accordingly. And, then, we scratch our heads and try to “solve” the “problem,” that we in essence have created for them, by reinforcing their personally held convictions, with coercive and controlling methodologies and programs.
We are all guilty of this! Which is the main reason I tell families that I don’t want to see school records. I don’t want to hear about the labels that have been assigned to their child. In my estimation, they are nothing more than a rap sheet that, I know, will unconsciously affect my perceptions and the way I work with that child.
Through my daily interactions and conversations, and weekly mentoring sessions, I spend an enormous amount of time trying to erase the closely held, damaging beliefs kids have about themselves, and replace those with positive affirmations. “You are awesome.” “The way your brain works is genius.” “You have great ideas.” “Your artwork is brilliant.” “I am so proud of the way you handled that situation.” “I really like how you stuck with it, and worked that out for yourself.” “I couldn’t figure that out, but you did.” “I am glad that you were willing to help X with that project.” “That hack was amazing. I am glad you showed me.” “You can do anything that you put your mind too.” “You were incredibly kind, and thoughtful just now.” Or, simply, “thank you for being you - I appreciate you.”
My greatest hope is that my encouraging messages and observations will take hold, before they harm themselves, someone else, or do something illegal, because of those internalized convictions, and face extreme consequences within our society. My dominant fear is that my efforts will be too late.
Don’t miss out! DRC is extending our Exploration Station afternoon programming to the February School Break – 2/17-21. Drop-in options are available, as well as extended afternoon programming. Check it out here, and register today!
The one definitive thing I have learned over the past six years of providing a non-coercive, non-compulsory learning environment is that when people have the opportunity to make their own choices, the decisions they make are not necessarily the ones I would have suggested, or even anticipated, based on the information I was working with. In gifting free choice, I have relinquished all control over other people’s life. I can, and will, make observations and suggestions, but in the end, I understand clearly, that each person is in charge of their own life.
This comes with the knowledge that another person’s decisions may, very well, directly affect my reality. This means I will get disappointed, discouraged, and generally bummed on occasion (a few in the last couple of weeks). Nevertheless, I recognize (after the initial reflexive response to the punch in the gut) that fighting the outcomes and responding with frustration and anger will only make it harder to deal with in the end.
Ultimately, I have decided to trust in the power, and bequests, of Mother Universe. I know without a doubt that she is looking out for all of us. When I can step back, accept, and go with the flow – I can anticipate the amazing opportunities, hidden within all those disappointments and hurts, that Serendipity, in all her wisdom, is working on behind the scenes, just waiting for the perfect circumstances to bestow on each of us.
For most of us, the piece that requires us to adjust our perspective before we can recognize the advantages of the path to which we have been redirected - is the element behind our resistance.
Sometimes, we need the reminder that the ability to adapt and move on with new information, is the evolutionary advantage that makes us human.
We are curating a wish list of items and materials needed for various projects and activities. We are also looking for volunteers to help with some of those projects, as well as facilitate classes. Please get in touch if you can help with any of these things. Thank you!
Just for fun, type “productivity quotes” into Google and see what pops up. In case you were not already aware, this provides one more piece of evidence that our culture is completely obsessed with “productivity.” We are all constantly under pressure to produce stuff, anything, to prove something to the world. What we forget it is that the process is just as, if not more, valuable than a precisely finished product.
A perfect example of this is taken from my observations when I table at events and Farmer’s Market. I always have an abundance of various art and craft materials for kids to use while I engage their parents in conversation. I used to bring examples of projects – craft stick puppets, etc., but always told the kids they are free to use any of the items to experiment and play. Oftentimes, the kids were happy to examine the resources and start randomly creating whatever struck their fancy. However, in most cases, their adult immediately latched onto the example and stepped in to “help” the child produce a reasonable facsimile of the craft. They wanted the child to have something to show for their efforts while the kid was happy to let the process be the product.
What we don’t quite understand is that being productive does not necessarily mean anything, besides the appearance it provides of being occupied or competent. Busywork looks productive. Homework looks productive. Sitting silently and staring into space does not, nor does play.
You see, we are actually confusing productivity with progress. Just because you look busy does not necessarily mean you are doing anything beyond spinning your wheels.
Progress, on the other hand, sometimes, at first glance, appears to be stagnate - like a whole lot of nothing, or even extremely messy. One step forward and two steps back. What we forget is that the process of making mistakes, examining the outcomes of those errors, and adjusting our approach are all essential parts of learning – or making progress.
Progress can be quiet and contemplative, or it can be playful and fun. It can be infinitesimal to the point of not being noticeable, except by those who are paying close attention. Or, it can be giant leaps that seem impossible until you conceive how much invisible effort and time it took to get there.
As human beings, we are all making progress in our own unique way. To judge someone’s productivity based solely on what you see and what you believe to be necessary for advancement or success, only means you are missing the amazing progress that is happening on the levels that are not clearly visible.
Do you obsess about the things that you are challenging for you, or do you focus on those that you excel at? Most of us can immediately name all the stuff we suck at – and for the most part, we know this because our deficits have been pointed out by someone else --- over, and over, and over again.
Eventually, at a fairly early age, we begin to define ourselves by our negatives. I am bad at math, I have a really bad memory, I do not comprehend anything I read, I don’t understand spatial relationships, I have a hard time relating my ideas to others, the rules of grammar are really difficult to grasp, I am clumsy and really bad at sports, I am not musically inclined, or learning another language is impossible for me.
The above list could go on forever, because, I’m going to let you in on a secret here, no one, I mean absolutely none of us, will ever be good at everything – although I understand, there are some people who might appear to be.
Our educational system is built on the opposite premise – everyone should be brilliant in all things – especially those subjects on school report cards. And, by bringing a hyper-focus to the things a student has difficulty with, they will (should) understand that they can only work on getting better at those things. This entire concept is highlighted beautifully in this article that I just happened to stumble upon this morning.
What the system has lost sight of, completely, in that equation, is each unique individual and their psyche – their feelings, confidence levels, and essential selves. This is the central reason I meet confused kids who don’t know what they like, what they are good at, or are interested in, whose self-esteem is shattered and are experiencing bouts of overwhelming anxiety, kids who have lost all sense of curiosity and have no idea how to play. It is also the main explanation for why most of us are afraid to be authentic and true to ourselves.
What if instead, we focused on and celebrated those things people (kids) are good at? What if we encouraged them and provided the resources they needed to work really hard at those to go beyond proficient to an expert?
I can tell you, there would be far less mediocrity and apathy in our world. Not to mention the fact that we would have fewer reasons to be awestruck by the stories in our Facebook news feed about kids who have had the opportunity to follow their passions to become “prodigies” because every kid would have the freedom to do the same – it would be utterly commonplace for genius and brilliance to be on display at every turn.
We had a busy and exciting week! DRC-East, in Lawrenceville opened on Tuesday, Exploration Station, the DRC afternoon program began on Monday. And, we had a fantastic article about all we do in the Watertown Daily Times! Thank you to everyone who has worked hard to get us to this place.
* Photo above and the following copy is from the article ...
CANTON — Walking up to the two-story Deep Root Center, a crafted Tin Man, from “The Wizard of Oz,” serves as a greeter. Continuing onto the porch and crossing the threshold of the front door, a creative, colorful frenzy can be observed on any given day.
On Monday, that frenzy involved a colorful birthday cake baking in Deep Root Center’s kitchen oven and a sweet aroma filling the house.
“Kids learn how to seek out the information they want to learn on their own,” said Maria Corse, Deep Root Center founder and executive director. “It’s completely different than anything most people equate with education.”
Celebrating her 10th birthday, Kiana Tiernan, a student at Deep Root Center, cut into a vanilla cake adorned with rainbow sprinkles.
Deep Root is an education and after-school hub for students ages 5 to 19, where one rule is solidly enforced: respect.
Other than that, kids are encouraged to work through individualized learning plans with the help of Deep Root staff and peers.
The Center, 48 Riverside Dr., Canton, celebrated its sixth anniversary Monday, and will now offer programs in Lawrenceville — the second center will temporarily be located at the Lawrenceville Fire Department, until the permanent Lawrenceville rental space is ready.
The need to expand to a second location, Ms. Corse said, has arisen due to the Canton center being at capacity. By September 2019, 15 students were on the waiting list for the school year. The first day of programming in Lawrenceville is scheduled for Jan. 7.
Ms. Corse has 17 years of alternative education experience and believes in the playfulness of learning, that the best learning outcomes are derived from hands-on experimentation.
With learning and curricular flexibility, Deep Root operates on “self-directed learning,” and is modeled on programs facilitated by North Star Learning Center in Sunderland, Mass.
Founded in 1996 by Ken Danford and Joshua Hornick, North Star provides an alternative to middle and high school for teens, and as interest in the education style grew, similar centers started to emerge across the country.
After sharing its vision at replication conferences in 2011 and 2012, Liberated Learners, Sunderland, was built on the principles of North Star to assist local centers with organizational needs and increase awareness of the education model.
As a member of Liberated Learners, Deep Root Center fosters student development through a home school legal framework, which allows students to leave traditional school to become members of Deep Root.
To fulfill that framework, Individualized Home Instruction Plans are developed for each student with guidance from Deep Root staff.
Specific subjects, including math and English, are incorporated into IHIPs in compliance with state law, and at Deep Root, such subjects are referred to as “buckets” that are intended to be filled with classes, projects, creative activities and independent research, all in line with a student’s personal interests.
Serving kids who have previously been enrolled at more conventional public or private schools, or acting as a supplement to kids who are home schooled at their own residences, Deep Root aims to offer something for everyone. On Monday alone, Ms. Corse said, “we’ve got kids playing chess, we’ve got the bakers and the art makers.”
While the younger students, called “seedlings,” are guided with more structure, older kids and teens are granted freedom to explore their learning goals and check in with staff mentors weekly.
For Deep Root apprentice Chase Villenueve, becoming part of the Deep Root team after completing his work as a student last year was an easy decision.
Mr. Villenueve arrived at Deep Root Center as a student in 2017 from Gouverneur High school, where he was constantly concerned about time — timed classes, time to study, timed tests and a generally time-oriented schedule.
“Here, I didn’t have to worry about time,” Mr. Villenueve said. “I had time to do stuff at my own pace.”
Though transitioning from public school to Deep Root required some adjusting, Mr. Villenueve said the stress level associated with Deep Root was more manageable, and he has been proud of his role as an apprentice helping other students at the center.
All students, Ms. Corse said, are welcome at Deep Root Center — regardless of a family’s ability to pay. And with the center providing around $120,000 a year in fee reductions, Ms. Corse has looked to community partnerships and a budding after-school program to fill gaps.
“I pinch a dime until it screams,” she said.
In partnership with the Food Bank of Central New York and through the Church and Community Program of Canton and the Canton Neighborhood Center, Deep Root receives food pantry items each week to keep the center’s kitchen stocked and students fed.
As Deep Root Center grows, so does the need for continued support, which can take a variety of forms, Ms. Corse said, from registering kids in the center’s after-school care program to volunteering to share a certain skill or passion with students.
Between the chasing footsteps and experimenting, a student sat in the “chill space” quietly reading, another composed a song upstairs using a computer software program.
But all eventually convened in the kitchen when Kiana informed them, “Cake is ready.”
No, I am not alluding to the massive trucks covered in flashing lights, filled with a grainy sandy-salty mixture, and equipped with an enormous curved blade on the front and another “wing blade” off to the side (famously known for cutting down rural mailboxes), that those of us here in northern climes both rely on, and dread meeting from the opposite direction or getting behind, during our long winters. I am, actually, referring to the, less than laudable, newly minted terminology describing parents who go beyond hovering (I’m sure you have all heard of the ubiquitous child rearing style – called helicopter parenting) to actually create a barrier of protection, and actively pushing (removing) obstacles or potential disappointment out of their child’s path, before the child can encounter it.
Beyond creating entitled, narcissistic, and obnoxious brats, these parenting techniques go against every natural law of childhood.
All animal babies, including humans, have evolved an innate technique that beautifully uses exploration, experimentation, and, an inborn flexibility to adjust the original plan, based on errors, as the dominant method of learning. Kids are incredibly resilient – their bodies and minds are designed to play, get bumps and bruises, seek out danger to see, for themselves, how far they can safely push the limits; they are supposed to encounter obstacles, barriers, and disappointment. This is the natural means of acquiring knowledge, not only about the world, but themselves – what they like, what they dislike, what they are good at, and most importantly how they each learn best as individuals.
Are they visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners, or some combination? Do they gravitate towards logical, mathematical type thinking or are they more inclined to think about things in a more fluid and organically creative way? Are they happy to be solitary or do they feel better surrounded by people? Will they gain more information through visual and spatial cues, nature, or music and rhythm? The only thing children need to understand all of this is an environment filled with real-life stuff as well as caring, loving, and supportive adults (who are willing to get out of the way and follow the child’s lead) were they are free to roam, investigate, and explore on their own, and seek out help when needed, without hindrance or prefabricated agendas. Most of us know these things about ourselves because we have had the opportunity to investigate and test out our own preferences, throughout our entire lives – from infant-hood on.
I wonder, though, is it our culture itself that is responsible for producing Helicopter and Snowplow Parents? In our attempts to keep kids safe in what we perceive to be an unsafe world – we have attempted to recreate, carefully cultivated, antiseptically cleaned, “safe” environments that replicate everything children “need” - from “playgrounds,” retail “play spaces,” and specially designed “playrooms” in our homes, to daycare facilities, preschools, and (of course) schools. We shame the parents who actively avoid these often age segregated spaces filled with safe equipment, predetermined lessons, adult driven activities, and arbitrary rules that offer little room for exploration or outside the box thinking, and a whole lot of control.
As a culture, we have developed what amounts to unimaginative, creativity (and immunity) killing, padded cells. And, in doing so, we have effectively removed those biological and cultural mechanisms for learning (not to mention health); leaving children, as they grow older, to flounder, rudderless, without any other authentic means of seeking out information about themselves or their world. Subsequently, in our attempt to keep kids safe, we are anesthetizing them from real life, and we are also inhibiting their natural immunity (yes, kids are sicker), with (the irony of it all) toxic chemicals. You can be sure that these kids will eventually rebel!
This all means many of our kids are entering adulthood without a literal, or figurative, clue. They have no idea what they are interested in – what really lights their fire, and have no way of figuring it out, because they have been taught to fear the unknown (including the outdoors and all it encompasses - but most especially - dirt), change, disappointment, and making mistakes. They also don’t know how to solve problems or think creatively. They expect to be entertained, want everything to easily fall into their laps, and are keenly disappointed when they don’t. And, they honestly don’t know how to fix that. Instead, they blame others for their failures, seek out means of artificially removing obstacles, and often inflate their own accomplishments to appear more influential, well rounded, and smarter. I am deeply saddened to say, as a society, we are not growing people who care about kindness, or helping others - who understand empathy or compassion – we are raising people whose main objective is to get ahead, and they will use whatever unscrupulous means it takes to get there.
Opening day for DRC -East is Tuesday! Stay-tuned for photos and other developments, as we get established. Contact us if you are interested in learning more about joining us in Lawrenceville. There are limited spaces available.
The DRC Afternoon Programs opens Monday, January 6th. Register your child today!
This past week, I have been thinking about what to write in this last blog post of 2019, and, of the entire decade - no pressure there! I started reflecting on how far we have come over just the past year and the immense gratitude I feel towards the people who have invested an astounding amount of their time and talent, physical energy, positive vibes, and financial contributions - not to mention, the incredible families who trust us with their children’s education.
With all of that love and confidence standing solidly behind us, we are literally doubling our facilities and staff, and tripling our programming over the next week!
Looking back to the beginning of this academic year (as I have mentioned here before), I knew we would need to open a new facility – sooner or later. As the Fall progressed and we continued to add kids to our waiting list, it became apparent that it would have to be on the sooner end of things. Nevertheless, as with most things in my life, I trusted that everything would fall in to place, exactly when and where it needed to be. And, that is exactly what transpired – all starting with a spontaneous visit this past August.
One of our parents, happened to meet a friend at the local gas station. The friend was commiserating about how miserable her kids were in school. This parent said, “come with me, I have to show you this place that my kids love!” They showed up with kids, a grandparent, and a puppy in tow, during our Summer Programming. I gave them a quick whirlwind tour and then got on with my day of facilitating projects with the Summer Peeps – and in the process completely forgot the friend’s name.
Flash forward a couple weeks – Loretta, a Grandma (Mema) called to check out DRC for her grandchildren. We were full at that point, but I offered to meet with her to discuss options. Two amazing, in person, conversations, of marathon length, later, I discovered that her son owns a home in Lawrenceville that is massive, and upon inquiring, is open to having DRC use it as our permanent facility (we will use the Lawrenceville Fire Station short term until, it is ready for us). But the kicker of this whole story is, a month later, after finally putting the pieces together, I realized that the friend (Erin) who came by with the parent in August, is the one who told Loretta about us. And, after listening to Loretta expound on her many talents, I offered Erin the After-School Staff Position, which, I am thrilled to say, she accepted. I am excited to see how she, and our After-School apprentice, Ryan, bring this new program to life.
In this round about and inextricably, wondrous and serendipitous way, we now have a new center, an after-school program, and a lead staff person for each (not to mention, several more student members) all from that one spontaneous gesture!
This all would not have been possible without Chris. I really can’t begin to express my appreciation for my “sidekick” Christopher Raymo, who, like all well-respected sidekicks in the super-hero world, is the backbone and, let’s be honest, the magic behind the daily functions of DRC- Canton. He is the main reason I have been able to sequester myself in the office to focus on these expansion plans, as well as all the other admin. “stuff,” and the, essential, mentoring sessions with members. He, quietly and patiently, holds everything together, including the physical space. There is a reason I "secretly" refer to him as the “kid-whisperer.”
I am also thankful to have Chase Villeneuve as our apprentice at DRC- Canton. He has learned a ton over the last couple months and I anticipate awesome things from him, when we rely more heavily on him during the remainder of his tenure.
Trish Pielnik, has agreed to be our new lead staff for DRC-East in Lawrenceville; however, she is no stranger to DRC. After randomly picking up a DRC brochure from the Potsdam Food Co-op and “cold calling” one day, in February or March of 2017, to inquire about volunteer opportunities, she started spending one full day at the Center each week. Trish’s passion for the outdoors led us to begin the Water, Woods, & Wild Wonders in Sept. 2017, with her as our volunteer coordinator of that program. I am beyond grateful to Trish for not only making that initial phone call and her friendship, but for the amazing levels of empathy and compassion she brought to our kids each week in that role, and her leap of faith in accepting this position. I am super excited to witness the growth and accomplishments, as both she and our student members at DRC- East explore all the possibilities, and find their footing in that new facility.
While this post has been focused on the DRC staff, please know that this note of gratitude extends my deepest thanks to everyone (see the list above) who has had a role in getting us to where we are right now! I am beyond grateful and forever in your debt.
I look forward to exploring, with an open heart and mind, the many new serendipitous adventures and friendships this New Year (and decade) will bring! Onward!
* You will find the official bios of our inspiring staff (all 6 (!) of them) by following this link. *
Happy New Year to you all!
Two days left in 2019. Don’t miss out on tax-deductible contributions this year. You can donate online here.
Over the millions of years of human evolution – we, modern Homo sapiens, have only recently, lost our propensity for hibernating. No, it isn’t that the physiological or psychological needs went away – we are simply forcing our bodies to live as if it is perpetually summertime to keep pace with the modern world and expectations for busy-ness.
Nevertheless, our DNA carries that ancient memory of hibernating. Increasing darkness and colder days trigger that intense desire to curl up in a snug lair and sleep – just drowse away the days. Only waking long enough to fuel the body and the fire. We physically need those intervals of dormancy to allow for spurts of intense growth and renewal. In this crazy world of GO - GO - GO, we forget that new ideas, concepts, theories, and creative ingenuity are born in the still and quiet darkness.
On this day after winter solstice, I bestow upon you the gift of permission (not that you need it) to join me in hibernation. Pause - take a nap (or two, or three). Slow down, feather your nest with the coziest of blankets and pillows, a few books, (in my case, a Macbook) and a cat (or dog) or two, let go, allow your mind to meander wherever it chooses, be with your deepest self, and dream! Take as long as you need to replenish the reserves of mental and bodily strength and creativity that you will need to continue on your journey of growth, as you pursue all your aspirations. Rest well!
You were born curious. All humans come into this world with an innate desire to explore – taste, touch, hear, smell, and see everything within our reach. To be as succinct as possible, we are all, every single one of us, natural scientists.
No! Despite cultural evidence to the contrary, science is not a separate, exclusive, elusive field where brainy researchers conduct baffling experiments in rarefied environments.
Play is our fundamental mechanism for experimentation and every part of learning. At the end of the day, our inherent passion for information drives that playfulness. Science is art. Art is science. Curiosity is the key!
Without the desire to explore the possibilities there is no innovation, ingenuity, or revolutionary ideas. Science is life. Life is science. And - curiosity is the key!
Imagination, vision, individuality, and poetic genius, cannot exist without the compulsion to create. Life is art. Art is life. And, wait for it – curiosity is the one, and only, key.
Tragically, the coercive systems within our society are designed to obliterate all sense of inquisitiveness to, purposefully, produce obedient, compliant, docile citizens, who are not provided the tools or environment to learn how to think for themselves or create change.
When you take away the opportunity to question, explore, and create, not only do you remove the artistry and eloquence of science, but, eventually, the beauty and intentional merits of life itself.
You can make a difference by investing in DRC – the environment deliberately designed to instigate curiosity and creativity, and to generate outside the box - free thinkers. Thank you!
We are thrilled to announce that Erin Teirnan will be the lead staff person for Exploration Station – which opens January 6th. Stay-tuned to this space for her complete bio. Register online. We anticipate the limited spaces filling up quickly.
… is the one thing we, humans, prize above all else, and the ideology that this country was founded on. Nevertheless, if we are being utterly truthful, we clearly have very little choice in a large portion of the decisions that determine much of our lives. And, when you look closely at those allowed little or no privilege, never mind, a voice or opinion, including: people of color, women, single mothers, LBGTQ individuals, the impoverished, the traumatized, the isolated, rural, and marginalized populations, the sick, and most startling of all, our children - the stark reality of how few options exist for an enormous cross-section of the population is damning.
No! This is not a politically charged post. Except to say that governance should have everything to do with allowing people to live authentically, with common senses and decency – within a culture dedicated to kindness, equity, and above all the freedom to choose the best options (in all matters) for themselves and for their families, without judgment (criminalization), or blame.
As I have mentioned before, many people around the world are choosing various forms of self-directed education (SDE) for their children. Not only are local families flocking to DRC (as indicated by our growing waiting list), it has become a worldwide phenomenon. Kerry MacDonald, an economist and a founder of the Alliance for Self-Directed Education, who un-schools her own children outside Boston, MA, has become an important voice for the SDE movement. She has written a book called Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom and she also writes articles for various online formats, as well as renowned periodicals like the Wall Street Journal.
She wrote a recent article for Forbes, entitled - Closing the Choice Gap in American Education, with the image of “mind the gap” that you find in subway and train stations, directly under the title. This particular article and photo caught my eye and my imagination, because here in the NoCo (an enormous geographically, rural area), besides DRC, two Catholic schools, and a small, rural non-public private school, there are no other accessible educational alternatives to the public system. And, now, I just read that St. Mary’s in Canton will be closing at the end of June.
But, as someone recently pointed out, this constricting phenomenon, in impoverished areas around the country, but especially here, doesn’t only apply to education. It carries over to health-care, including mental health, housing, food, and durable good choices, which encompasses a scarcity of retailers (No, the sudden proliferation of the Dollar General stores in rural hamlets do not count as a viable choice.), and on, and on, and on …
I firmly believe that this endless list of free choice deprivation is the driving force behind the ubiquitous ills that plague St. Lawrence County. I won’t enumerate them all here – however, I think we all understand that the resulting traumas are what we encounter and try to deal with on the daily.
I am a proud native of the North Country; born in Potsdam (fun fact: my daughter, Kenzie, was born in the same room at CPH- 32 ½ years after I was). I grew up in Norfolk, Brasher, and then after living out-of-state for ten years, returned to raise my children in West Potsdam and finally built a home and settled off-the-grid in Pierrepont. I may playfully threaten to move someplace like, oh say, Vermont; in spite of all the teasing, as you probably guessed, I am profoundly committed to staying right here.
However, in all honesty, if I spend too much time cataloguing the problems that exist here, I too become easily overwhelmed and exhausted by the enormity of the challenges they represent. This is why I have honed my focus to establishing a viable option for children. In creating a positive space for them to grow, learn, and play, where they can take the time to develop goals and aspirations – an inspiring, safe environment filled with resources, materials, and supportive mentors, we consciously provide them with the freedom to make individual choices that will guide them to be the people they were destined to be.
And, we are dedicated to, intentionally, “minding the gap” that clearly exists in educational alternatives, by opening Deep Root Centers in towns, villages, and hamlets throughout St. Lawrence County. I envision doing this by becoming an integral part of each community, by sharing buildings and spaces that already exist in other capacities. Thus, we are excited to announce that DRC-East, our second center, will be opening January 7th using the Lawrenceville Fire Hall as our temporary home until the permanent location is ready for us. Beginning with two days a week (T & Th), it will eventually be open every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. This expansion will allow us to accommodate most of the folks currently on our waiting list - however, we anticipate several new applications once we open this DRC on the eastern side of the county. We understand that this one new Center will not fulfill the need!
As with most not-for-profits dedicated to creating opportunities, we work within the constraints of an extremely tight budget. BY consistently keeping our promise to accept anyone who needs our help, whether they can pay the full fee or not, over the past six years, our staff and Board are constantly seeking ways to fill the budgetary gaps. The families waiting to join DRC are a never-ending reminder that the educational option we provide is an essential component of the North Country.
We are asking you to contribute today. By choosing to underwrite Deep Root Center, not only are you investing in those inspiring young voices who are bravely choosing to take charge of their educations with us, but in the process, you are helping to tackle the systemic problems, created by scarcity of free choice, which persecutes the entire region. Thank you!
Yes, there is more exciting news from DRC! Our afternoon program, which offers a much-needed option for after-school care, with the basic DRC philosophy of non-coercion and hands-on, interest-based learning, is opening January 6th. Click here for more information. Please share this opportunity within your network.
Who decides what excellence means, or to be more accurate, what it looks like? What are the criteria? These questions could continue for another paragraph or so, but, I’ll stop here because I think you know where I am headed …
Excellence, along with its alter egos - perfection, superiority, flawlessness, and grade A+, has created a culture in which we are never fully satisfied with our real and authentic selves. This discontent includes all of the superficial imperfections, as well as the limitations, involuntarily, determined by the labels placed upon us by others, and ourselves. As a society, we slot everything into predetermined categories and then feel the compulsion to harshly judge the “broken,” the “flawed,” and the less than ideal. We don’t allow ourselves to celebrate the awesomeness of everyday accomplishments, feel gratitude for the commonplace, or honor the beauty of individual struggle. We simply don’t see the superpowers behind the labels.
As a result, most of us spend our lifetimes seeking out that elusive ideal by engaging in a variety of activities, which only produce a temporary "high" but will never completely fill that void created by the feelings of discontent and failure. When you think about it consumerism (our entire economy) is fueled by this obsession for achieving excellence.
Many of you will recall my dislike – I mean my complete and utter aversion of using diagnoses to label someone. I truly believe that they do nothing more than provide people with excuses: 1) to treat the labeled differently, and 2) for those who carry the label to allow that diagnosis to determine their behaviors and hold them back from achieving the things they always wanted.
A couple of weeks ago, I had a teen, who knows this about me, look me square in the eye and say, “but sometimes those labels can be helpful because they give a name to the thing that someone has been struggling with and believed they were the only one.” Well, that certainly gave me pause; however, after contemplating her view for a long time, my stance remains intact.
Simply put, I look at it like this: as humans, we are all somewhere on the various scales of neurodiversity, mental, and physical ability. So instead of pigeonholing, condescending, or condemning, I am encouraging that on a broader level within our society, we intentionally create space, time, and support where everyone has the opportunity to fully explore and recognize their inherent abilities - their personal brilliance. And, then, work through their own challenges to figure out and develop the techniques and personal life hacks that work best for them - which may not be (are probably not) the same ones that work for others with the same diagnosis. This along with the understanding that our life, itself, is in constant flux, is necessary for our personal evolution. For instance, I always work with the underlying knowledge that as I grow and change, every single project I undertake can be revised, or, even scrapped and redone, at any time. In my mind, nothing I have worked on is ever completely "finished."
Envision a culture driven by the compulsion to encourage the strength and tenacity of individual talents and authenticity, where we would no longer have a large portion of our society who feels like their personal quirks and obstacles make them inferior. And, now, imagine a world crowded with enthusiastic people who acknowledge their innately flawed humanness, have the audacity to embrace their imperfections as their superpowers and use their lives to inspire others.
Annual Funding Appeal -
Please remember DRC in your end of year giving. We rely on your contributions to do our work.
Exploration Station -
We are super excited to announce that DRC is launching an Afternoon Program beginning January 6th. Space will be limited to ten kids. Details can be found here.
With our official number at twenty-six, and a daily attendance hovering around eighteen to twenty, the 48 Riverside Drive facility is at capacity, and then some. In the past three months I have had to say, “no,” to several kids who want to become members (two this past week). Which means there are currently fifteen kids on the waiting list, homeschooling on their own, with our consultation services. There have been a few who were not willing to homeschool without us, and decided to stay in school. I try not to think about the outcomes of those decisions, too often.
When DRC opened in that sad, one-room space, January 2014, above the McFadden Dier Leonard agency, with one student, and the following eighteen-month period when that number tanked to zero and occasionally climbed to a whopping five (only to drop back down to zero), none of us could have imagined or predicted the immense growth that has occurred over the last two years.
In those intervening, nearly, six years, we have served a total of seventy-four youths, as members - some of whom joined us for a few months, rarely showing up, before moving on, others who stayed for a year or so, and a few who are still members after four years.
Here are a few snap shots, to help you understand the magnitude of this recent influx, I have written forty-three IHIPS (Individualized Home Instruction Plans) since August, along with the accompanying Quarterly Progress Reports this November. This Fall, I met with twelve to fourteen teen members every week for their individual mentoring sessions. These unique conversations represent the integral piece of DRC that cannot be replicated within a coercive and compulsory system. This is the time I am able to really get to know each of them. Their fears and anxieties, hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes, and their ambitions. Some are very casual and last for a few minutes while: standing in the kitchen cooking lunch, hanging on the couch, setting mouse traps (don’t ask), sorting out the garage, or watching DIY videos on You-tube in the classroom; others happily evolve into awesome, mind blowing, dialogs that extend upwards of an hour in the comfy chairs in the office.
While these conversations swirl throughout our days – it is the hands-on projects and activities that dictate the flow. This year alone, the kids have used over 200 hot glue-sticks, emptied a few bottles of paint, and commandeered every empty box, piece of cardboard, plastic bottle, etc. to create an uncountable number of art and craft projects. They have cooked an abundance of pasta and tomato sauce, mac and cheese, homemade tomato soup, pancakes, and grilled cheese. (Our repertoire is sometimes limited by the items available through the Central NY Foodbank and our personal tastes.) They have baked cakes, cookies, fruit crisps, and quick breads. And, we have gone through enough Greek Yogurt, apples (120 lbs.), bread, butter, orange juice, eggs, and peanut butter (12 – 1 lb. jars) to sink a ship. This next week, we are making a Thanksgiving feast. Yes, the dishwasher runs once a day and the dish drainer is never empty. There is always at least one guitar being strummed, with the drum-machine thumping in the background. The chess board is permanently set-up on a “tv-tray” in the “chill-space” with barely a pause between games. It is not unusual to see an eighteen-year-old engaged in a strategic battle with a nine-year-old. The upstairs classroom is generally occupied with teens in front of laptops working through online classes, watching documentaries and You-tube videos to research various subjects, or even popular films and television shows, reading from a range of text books that inhabit the bookshelves that line the walls, while constantly plugged in to a variety of music. The Seedlings Room is filled with kids playing Legos, magnetic rod toys, creating story-lines, characters, and settings through imaginary play, coloring, reading, working with Khan Academy or Prodigy Math programs or online Language Arts programs, and researching random interests, online.
This all provides the backdrop of an ever-present droning hum created by spontaneous, non-adult directed activity, Some would classify it as utter chaos, I prefer to label it happy, magical artistry that inspires all who enter.
When we took a long, hard look at our stated mission of providing the facilities, resources, and support for young people to take charge of their education, we felt an obligation to all of the children, of the NoCo, who want to be part of this exciting and exhilarating place. Therefore, as you have probably heard, we are expanding! We are bringing all this crazy energy to Lawrenceville, DRC-East, in January. This, of course, will stretch our already limited resources. Because we have maintained our promise to accept any child who needs us, whether their family can afford our tuition or not, fee reductions this year, alone, total more than $105,000.00, which is more than double the annual budget.
Over the past six years, we have had the great, good fortune to have amazing friends and supporters who have contributed several large (for us) grants and donations between $4,000 – $10,000. Those along with smaller (but no less significant) donations have sustained us though some intensely lean times.
We are once again looking to you, our neighbors, to help us provide the facilities and resources for all of the kids in the St. Lawrence Valley, who are inspired to leave a system that is not working for them, to take charge of their education and lives. This is just the beginning – as families leave the established system in droves, we envision a Deep Root Center in every small town in St. Lawrence County, where young people can happily forge a life filled with curiosity, creativity, and hope.
This is your opportunity to invest in our collective future, by supporting our (their) dream. Thank you!
As you have probably guessed, it is once again that time of year that we come to you for support. This year, we are trying a couple of different things to increase visibility and participation. We will be sending out the below double-sided color version appeal to a select few via US Mail. The remainder will be sent digitally through email.
To make it as easy as possible, we have set it up so you can contribute in a variety of ways:
As always you can send a check to - Deep Root Center, 48 Riverside Drive, Canton, NY 13617
Click the link here or in the emailed version - it will bring you directly to the donation page on the DRC Website. With the PayPal button you can choose a one-time donation or you can become a sustaining donor, by clicking the monthly contribution box.
You can also choose to sponsor a DRC Kid. That link is in the digital version of the appeal, as well.
We are also encouraging supporters to check with their employers to see if they provide matching donations or may be interested in sponsoring a DRC kid themselves.
You will also find an on-going Giving Tuesday Fundraiser on the DRC Facebook page.
No matter how you contribute, we are grateful! Thank you!
Watching young people, who have experienced trauma, flounder, make excuses, and disengage from their life is a heartbreaking task I am “forced” to endure (and, respond to) every single day. I am embarrassed to say there were a few occasions, these past couple weeks, that I was not able to meet this challenge with positivity or compassion; in fact, my reactions bordered on frustration and barely contained anger. Not a proud statement to place in the first paragraph of a blog post that is an attempt to illustrate the devastation of learned helplessness, one of the detrimental and life-long effects of childhood trauma. Nevertheless, it is a personal disclosure that I hope will help others, not only recognize the symptoms, but attend to those who are suffering, without bias or criticism.
Learned helplessness is a term coined by Psychologists, Martin Seligman and Steven Maier, in 1967, when they were conducting animal behavior research and discovered that after repeated exposure to stress, an animal (in this case dogs) would become passive and stop trying to “fix” their situation. They soon realized that this phenomenon transfers to humans too.
Children who have been exposed to trauma behave in much the same way. To put it bluntly - they just give up. They are sad, apathetic, lack the ability to self-motivate, feel powerless, have few interests, deflect, are unwilling to try new things because they are afraid of failing, and, possibly the most concerning symptom, is their seeming detachment from their own life, as well as the people around them. Through exposure to trauma, they are simply conditioned to believe that they are incapable of making positive changes that will affect their own realities and those of the wider world.
For a person who is the complete opposite of all those things – it is, straight-up, exhausting to be around those who are passive and defeatist. Yes, I understand, honor, and respect all the reasons – it is still extremely difficult to watch. (After all, I am neither a saint, nor am I superhuman.)
No, those suffering are not lazy. Nor are they willfully trying to make you (me) angry. Although, at times (especially this past week), it is very easy to believe those two particular condemnations.
How then, do (can) we, as mentors and (safe adults), maneuver through our own emotional triggers to help these kids?
I believe that our first goal is to present ourselves as real, flawed people with all the typical baggage everyone carries through life. Use your personal stories as examples of the ways you met challenges and succeeded. Provide time and space for healing – as much as they need. Create an atmosphere that feels cozy, comfortable, and safe – a place they can equate with feelings of positivity, love, and acceptance. Present opportunities for them to talk about their experiences without judgment and draw out tales from their lives that exhibit favorable outcomes. Politely point out their negative self-talk and coach them to use affirmations instead. Gently get them up and moving – engaged in everyday activities. When they say “I can’t” or “I don’t know how,” walk them through the task – one step at a time - calmly and without censure (this is the exact point where I came up short of patience in the past few weeks). Encourage those who feel powerless to make one change – one decision, and then support them to take ownership of that choice, whether it was favorable or not. Prompt them to start thinking and talking about their future – to make lists with goals and aspirations along with incremental steps they can take to get to those objectives. Make a point of noticing and mentioning every single positive step they have taken – no matter how small.
Most importantly – be gentle with yourself. If you screw-up, admit it, apologize, and move forward. Our most valuable contributions to those who are suffering from learned helplessness is to model real-life, with all of its opportunities to contribute to the elegance and beauty of human connection, as well as the pitfalls that will inevitably cause pain.
I fully believe that our core purpose for being here is to enjoy our one life to the fullest, and to advance purposefully with new knowledge (acquired from all of our mistakes), and, intentions to do better next time, all the while helping others to do the same.
End of Year Funding Appeal
Reason Number One for investing your philanthropic contributions in Deep Root Center:
DRC is the one place in the North Country committed to providing a safe, non-coercive, self-directed learning environment where kids, who are not positively served by the public-school system, are authorized, and, supported to follow their interests and to make decisions about their own education and life. We do this by keeping our promise to help any child, whether their family can pay our tuition or not.
You can contribute to my Facebook Birthday Fundraiser here. Or, you can go to our website and donate there. We are specifically encouraging people to sponsor a DRC kid with a one-time donation or a monthly contribution. You can also check with your workplace to see if they offer matching contributions. Thank you!
Behind the Scenes:
We are making some progress on DRC – East. However, as with all new ideas and ventures, we have encountered the fated “two steps forward, one step back” syndrome. We will keep you updated in this space.
Our culture has instilled, within all of us, this bone-deep, paralyzing fear of standing out and being different. I am sorry to be the one to break this to you, but you, me, all of us, as unique individuals, are completely, off the wall, bonkers, weird! Not one single one of us is normal! Therefore, the sooner we get over ourselves and accept it, the freer we will all be to live authentically!
After observing teens at the DRC dance Friday evening, I am now convinced that the main thing our society is missing is our ability to ignore our own inhibitions (throw caution to the wind) to be utterly real and celebrate our own innate human-ness. Instead, we have buried our true selves alive in fear of judgment, bias, and criticism of self and others.
The atmosphere was set – a generous DJ playing fantastic upbeat music, cool disco lights, and snacks … but the teens held back – no one, except me, was willing to step onto the dance floor and move their bodies. After a little while, a few brave souls became entranced by the thumping beat, and ventured over. But, it wasn’t until a couple of younger kids arrived and quite literally threw their bodies into action (dancing, spinning, jumping, jiving, and doing cart wheels) that most of the other kids, eventually, joined in. A few continued to hold back, eat snacks, and converse in a small cluster. They never allowed themselves the pleasure of pure abandon.
The struggle to fit in (keeping up with the Joneses) consumes our lives, to the point where our energies are focused on accumulation and the economy of deficit (both inside and materialistically), instead of recognizing and celebrating the abundance we already possess. Our internal compasses are eternally set to “search” mode instead of “happy” mode.
Being content with our real selves – the ability to acknowledge and accept both the positive and negative aspects of our personality is when change can occur and the intentions we set for ourselves begin to manifest.
My main job, as a mentor, is to convince young people that they are completely awesome right now. And, that, I really want to get to know them as real people - their talents and gifts, the pieces of their personality they would like to change, the things that they find hard, their worries and concerns, as well as their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. I especially want them to fully understand that they are welcomed and honored for who they are, in this moment, and, that I fully expect them to pay that respect forward.
Get comfortable in your skin! You are, absolutely, perfect, exactly, as you are! Yet, don’t be afraid of transformation because the next version of you will be just as superb. Celebrate you! Dance! Use your voice to advocate for change! Share your amazing self with others, all while honoring their distinct human-ness. And, please, let your weird light shine, so we can all see the real you!
It all begins with the nervous phone call or email (on average 1 or 2 a week). The script is nearly identical for most. “My child is really smart, but miserably unhappy, anxious, depressed, not eating, etc. They are beginning to act out in ways they never have before. They are rarely attending school, or are going to the nurses (guidance office) and calling me after an hour to come and get them. The principal is calling every day and threatening to call (or already has) CPS to report truancy. They are recommending my child be admitted to the Psych. Center. I just don’t know what to do, but I just want my child back and “X” told me that you could help.” In very few cases, the parent has already decided that Deep Root Center and homeschooling is the answer and just want to get everything set up.
My first job, in every single case, is to simply listen on the other end of the phone, offer reassuring murmurs every once in a while, and schedule an appointment. Currently, within that conversation, I have to let them know that Deep Root Center is full; however, I can still help them as a homeschool consultant.
Then we meet. Frequently, my initial impression is an anxious parent (usually Mom) with a quiet, subdued child (or, teen) in tow. After introductions, I either give them a tour or invite them to sit in our “chill space” (living room area) to talk. Upon making sure they are comfy, my opening question is always, “how can I help you?” The responses vary but generally center around their stories. I won’t begin to try to repeat the heartbreaking tales I hear. However, most focus on a child’s needs not being met, multiple failed attempts (by the parent) to advocate for their child and resolve the situation within the system, and their ultimate frustration in dealing with a coercive, dismissive, inflexible, and intimidating authority figure.
By the time a child and a parent are sitting in the DRC “chill space” telling me their story, they are just plain-old tired from dealing with people who won’t listen, and an establishment that is so very entrenched in decades-old methodology that it can’t see the harm they are inflicting on those they are supposed to serve. They are exhausted, at their wit's end, and utterly frightened of leaving a system that tells them that their child will fail life if they opt-out.
My main task, besides writing the NYS required IHIP with the child dictating (which often involves me lightly prodding and asking tons of questions to determine exactly what they want to do), in each of these encounters is tell both the parent(s) and child (teen) that they are going to be absolutely fine. In fact, they will thrive. Most look at me as if I am completely off my rocker - crazy.
Nevertheless, the only thing they really need from me, in that moment, is permission to breathe and to take time to heal. "Yes, everything is going to be OK. Disregard the state mandated curriculum – it is total b*llsh*t anyway. Everything they teach in school can be contained in one small, hackneyed, constraining, dull, and boring box. The world of knowledge is infinite and it is all yours for the taking. First - rest! Then - go! Explore! Open your mind to all the possibilities!”
With those few words, I see (parent and child’s) shoulders dropping, a hint of a smile, and a deep breath. By the time we get to this point, the young person is walking around, exploring the space, asking questions, and engaging comfortably in the conversation. Oftentimes, they both hesitate to end the meeting, because they don’t want to leave the safety of the little cocoon we have spun together. They continue to ask questions, seek reassurance a million times, and then, ever so gently, I remind them (while shepherding them toward the door), “Yes, you are, both, going to be fine. Go out there and be awesome. And, if you need anything, I am only an email away.”
As you have heard, here, several times this Fall, Deep Root Center's Canton facility at 48 Riverside Dr. is at capacity. Hence the above conversations have been extremely hard for me - knowing that I cannot, immediately, offer kids, who need us, a place at DRC. The waiting list now has 13 kids on it.
That will all be changing very soon, when we open a new Center in Lawrenceville (on the eastern- most edge of St. Lawrence County) to be called DRC - East. We will share details as things develop over the next couple months. The plan right now is for it to be open in January when we return from Holiday break - exactly six years after opening our Pilot Program in Canton. Stay tuned for more awesomeness from DRC!
I think we can all agree on a few basic tenets: there are varying levels of traumatic experiences, no two people will respond identically to the same trauma, a young person who has endured it is forever changed, and while the experience(s) can never be erased, emotional healing can be achieved. I would go even farther to say that the layers of catharsis fully depend on how the trauma was originally dealt with. Those who are instructed to hide it, as a secret, will continue to be traumatized throughout their lifetime. This is probably the main reason that incidences of childhood trauma tend to be generational. The only way to fully heal and break the cycle is to bring those horrible experiences into the light of day to be dealt with in a productive manner.
The main reason DRC has built a solid reputation for helping young people is because of our insistence on recognizing, and in fact, honoring each individual’s unique perspective and history, whether they have endured trauma, or not. Most kids perceive that Deep Root Center is a safe place almost immediately upon entering. Not only is the atmosphere relaxed and homey, the vibe naturally projects animated engagement. It is a hive of activity filled with happily, absorbed kids who are freely occupied with independent and group ventures. And, it is, most definitely, not school, which, in many cases, is all they need to know.
When a young person first joins DRC, we don’t always know whether childhood trauma is part of their history. Our first goal is to create a natural, easy rapport with them – a connection of mutual trust. We, quite simply, treat every single child with dignity and respect. We want them to understand on a deep level that even though we are the adults, it doesn’t mean we will ever coerce them to do something they don’t want or feel ready to do.
Within this mentoring relationship, their past experiences are eventually revealed one infinitesimal anecdote at a time until we are able to piece together their story. With that being said, based on their behavior, we are usually able to determine pretty quickly whether they have endured childhood trauma. Those who have often exhibit high levels of anxiety, have a difficult time trusting and developing friendships, have a fear of committing to anything (classes, a project, etc.), are extremely hard on themselves, have a victim mentality, are afraid of making mistakes, have trouble making plans for the future, and are frequently exhausted.
Beyond creating a comfortable environment, sitting with a child who is hurting – merely being there as another human being, is probably the most important thing we do. I want to be very clear in stating that we are not trained therapists, nor is DRC a therapeutic center. Nevertheless, we are mentors who care deeply for each child entrusted to us. We are dedicated to working tirelessly to provide whatever resources each child needs to begin their arduous climb towards emotional well-being. If that means encouraging them to seek out professional counseling, that is what we will do. When it requires patience, affirmation, and pure kindness, along with occasional gentle reminders of our community agreements while they work things out in the best way they know how, that is exactly what we will provide. And, when they make progress, we bring it to their attention and celebrate (loudly) with them.
There is never a good reason for condemning a child for being lazy, irresponsible, stupid, or a troublemaker, who seems hell-bent on making your life miserable. You may never know their personal stories. However, we all know there is a good chance they may be just one of an incredible number of children who are completely overwhelmed from dealing with the symptoms of PTSD, and, are only able to focus on surviving each individual moment in the best way they know how. All children, not only those who have suffered hardship and trauma, require understanding, respect, and compassion, as well as, the time, tools, and space to become healthy, kind, and motivated individuals, who are ready to explore the possibilities, dream big, and tackle whatever challenges come their way.
Childhood Trauma is life-altering. No one can negate that fact. Neural pathways and general brain chemistry are damaged for those who have endured either a one-time traumatic event or long-term, sustained trauma. There is a general recognition that children and teens are at a greater risk than adults who experience similar harm because their brains are developing and growing.
There are entire professional conferences and training that address and teach the “Trauma-Informed Approach.” I am not going to delve too deeply into this latest buzz phrase in the field, except to say, like so many things in the professional educational world that are commoditized and standardized, , in my mind, provide little in a practical or individualized application. I firmly believe that trauma-informed care cannot be accomplished in a coercive, institutional setting. To offer something that requires personal connection and open minds in a facility that does not provide freedom of choice or self-determination for the practitioner or the child is, truthfully, an oxymoron.
The triple threat of poverty, anxiety, and depression exists because of trauma. The resulting apathy, disenfranchisement, hopelessness, and anger are continuously fed by that preexisting damage. We cannot solve society's problems with the band-aid of Trauma-Informed Care. Our response requires a complete cultural shift that places compassion before judgment or blame, people above profit, engagement beyond detachment, and freedom without coercion.
Children who are living with PTSD need personalized, adaptable, compassionate, and loving connections, not an inflexible, “one-size fits most,” “cure-all” that feels cold and clinical. They don’t want a “safe room” (padded solitary cell) where they can “de-escalate” on their own. They do want a comfortable space where they can vent to a safe and trusted person. They do not need confrontation or condemnation – they do need empathy and understanding. They should not have to change themselves to fit into a particular environment – the environment should be accommodating for everyone. They won’t recover in a system designed to change behavior with punishments and rewards. They quite simply need to heal in a place with caring people who will provide flexible tools- to recover on their own schedule and in their own way.
*This is Part One in a two-part series. Next week, I will discuss how the effects of Childhood Trauma present at DRC and how it informs everything we do.
DRC Fundraising Store
Students in the DRC DIY/crafting class have decided to sell some of their creations as a fundraiser for Deep Root Center. They are starting out with up-cycled braided dog toys and will be expanding to other pet related items soon. Check out their on-line store here. All purchases go toward DRC fee reduction program.
We are in the process of developing an After-School Program for children who attend other schools in the area. This program will offer the time and space for kids to dive in and investigate all the interests they have, but don't have time to do during a regular school day. The entire Deep Root Center facility will be open for kids to build and create, play and explore (indoors and outside), as well as chill and relax. The lead staff person will have a background in STEAM education and will be available to provide guidance in a variety of projects based on the specified desires of the attendees. We will be seeking 10-12 participants for the Pilot Program that will run from January - June 2020. Like our regular programs, we anticipate this will fill in quickly. Get in touch to be placed on our enrollment list. Fees will be posted soon. Family discounts will also be available.
Only in a society that is hyped up on fear, will the local police be called because a young man is wearing a trench coat. True story! And, it was not the first time! This post is not about that specific tale, which is truly not mine to tell, but the sense of disconnection we have fostered through our, obsessive, willingness to judge and criticize others based on our personal and cultural biases.
Why did we stop talking to people? Why are we afraid of teenagers? Why do we hone in on the differences instead of the similarities? And, most importantly, why have we, as a society, lost our ability to create connections, instead of dissonance?
Does anyone else recognize how utterly stupid it is that someone actually called the police because they saw a teen walking around wearing a trench coat, or, the multitude of other ridiculous reasons law enforcement have been contacted in recent memory?
The only way we can fix this is to counter the culture of fear and prejudice by developing bridges across the perceived divide of differences to recognize our shared humanness and to create relationships. Go - talk to a stranger! Look at people and smile when they walk past. When you are curious about something, ask the question - get engaged. And, most importantly, open your mind and your heart to the beauty of diversity. Only then can fear of the other be replaced with the sense of community and connection.