How Can Your Teen Claim Her Power? Part II

by Jacob Saborin

Our Open Doors Intern, Jacob Sabourin, has worked closely with struggling students at Aquinas College here in Grand Rapids.  He is a Political Science major with a keen interest in the politics of power.  At Open Doors, he offers a class called Powerful Possibilities.  Here he continues his critical analysis of power.

In Part I, Jacob explored how teens can reclaim their power.  It begins with some critical thinking about what power is, and how they can access it.  Here he explores how critical thinking can be integrated into every part of education — connected in the same way the real world (outside of the classroom) is connected.

Think you know what a strawberry is? Let’s look at that.

Usually we can speak the word from an early age, and we know what it means. It’s a strawberry. It’s red. It has seeds. We can taste that it’s sweet and tart. The green parts are less sweet. We learn these things on our own, before schooling even begins.

Then we enter school. We learn to spell. S-T-R-A-W-B-E-R-R-Y. We write it ad nauseum to practice for a spelling test. Second grade, probably. We copy the definition out of the dictionary. A fruit, hollow on the inside. Things we pretty much knew already from eating a fruit salad at home a couple times a week. But we sure got that spelling thing down, anyway.

Spelling test — no “strawberry” though.

Sixth grade we start talking about various countries’ imports and exports. We might imagine crates of strawberries stacked between rows of pineapples and melons on a boat sailing from Brazil (which we recently learned is in South America) to the U.S.A., relayed onto a truck, and driven to the supermarket. We wrote down and presented those lists of imports and exports on a poster and read them to the class for our presentation. Strawberries were grouped in the category “fruits and vegetables.”

In high school we probably took a class on economics that said all prices are determined by supply and demand in our advanced capitalistic free market system. More people demand strawberries, the supply goes down, and the price goes up. Or vice versa.

And that’s what we learn in school about strawberries. What else is there to learn?

First off, the connections and relationship between the linguistic roots of strawberries (explored cursorily in second grade), the geography (hardly glanced over in sixth grade), and the economics (oversimplified and propagandized in eleventh grade) were never explored. The social and political aspects of strawberry-related agriculture were never mentioned. In essence, through schooling we never understand how a strawberry actually affects our lives.

Strawberry farm worker from Florida

What if we learned about strawberries in a different way?

If I were to visit a strawberry farm on Michigan’s western shore, I could ask the farmer why his strawberries grow there because I read on my plastic supermarket package of berries that they were from Mexico and usually the fruit says it comes from a Latin American country. A conversation like this might ensue:

Farmer: “Well, the soil’s pretty decent in the southern part of Michigan because three hundred years ago the land was almost entirely covered in oak trees, which died or were bulldozed and left good nutrients in the ground for plants to grow.”

Me: “So good soil makes good strawberries?”

Farmer: “It helps. It’s hard to grow on poor soils like in the Upper Peninsula where the pine trees leave the ground all acidic. But the biggest reason there’s so much fruit grown in western Michigan is because Lake Michigan keeps the growing season longer than in other places.”

Me: “How does the lake keep the growing season longer?”

Farmer: “The growing season is between the last frost of spring and the first frost of autumn. Water has a very high specific heat, which means it takes a long time to heat up and a long time to cool. Much longer than land. So in autumn when the ground in most places starts to get cold, the lake is still warm, and it keeps the plants from frosting over and ruining the fruit. Plus, the lake keeps the temperatures predictable in spring, so we know just when to plant the seeds to make sure they won’t frost after we plant them. The lake being so warm in winter is also the reason we have lake-effect snow.”

Me: “Oh, that’s cool. A couple years ago I heard there was a problem with fruit growing or something. All the fruit was expensive and I couldn’t find any local fruit.”

Farmer: “Yes, the prices went up because massive amounts of our crops died because there was a sudden frost weeks after we planted in the spring.

Misshapen berries resulting from blooms which were partially damaged by frost.

Farmer: “I lost all my money and had to get a loan and go into enormous amounts of debt, and now I can’t afford to eat anything but rice, beans, and the food I grow myself. Weather anomalies like that are getting more common because of global climate change caused by the unchecked industrial development of the human race, and it could cause a lot more disasters, food shortages, famines, and economic collapses. Also all of those things tend to incite war.”

Me: “So what you’re saying is, you think we’re all going to lose our jobs and starve if we continue to destroy the planet?”

Farmer: “Well, let’s not look at it in such a grim light. That’s not going to happen to all of us.”

It may seem like I’m drifting off-topic at this point in the conversation. But I’m not. This imaginary conversation just covered geomorphology, geography, climatology and weather, politics, sociology, and economics. And the entire conversation was, at its core, about strawberries. And the entire conversation related to the everyday lives of the people involved: the news stories we hear on the radio or television, our financial struggles, the food we eat, the weather we trudge through, and our seemingly mundane conversations at home.

The youth at Open Doors often want to think critically, on an advanced level, so that someday they can have these sorts of conversations and not feel totally unaware.  If teens want to access their power, they can start by understanding how connected the world is, and how their choices — in what they purchase and how they treat the environment, for instance — can have a powerful effect on the world.

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A teen connecting creative choices with the natural world during the Open Doors Summer Program.

This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

How Can Your Teen Claim Her Power? Part I

by Jacob Sabourin

One of the things we love to explore with teens here at Open Doors is how they can reclaim their power.  It begins with some critical thinking about what power is, and how they can access it.

Our Open Doors Intern, Jacob Sabourin, has worked closely with struggling students at Aquinas College here in Grand Rapids.  He is a Political Science major with a keen interest in the politics of power.  At Open Doors, he offers a class called Powerful Possibilities.  Here he begins a critical analysis of power.

A stressed teen tries to access her own power in ways that cause friction with family.

The word poder in Spanish has two meanings when we try to translate it into English:

  1. Power (a noun).
  1. To be able to do something (a verb). Conjugating poder in this way allows a Spanish speaker to say things like “yo puedo,” which means literally, “I can.”

Power as we think of it (as a noun), is a measure of the ability to do something. “What can I do?” is the same question as “What power do I have?”

Resources are the sources of peoples’ power. Money, knowledge, and physical strength are all resources. In this way, money, knowledge, and physical strength are all forms of power.

A good way to begin to understand power dynamics in the world is to ask questions about resource allocation. For example:

  • Who has the most money? How did they get that money? What do they spend it on? How much do they spend?
  • Who has the least money? Why do they have so little money? What do they spend their money on? How much do they spend?
  • Who has the most knowledge? How do they get that knowledge? What are they using that knowledge for?
  • Who has the least knowledge? Why do they have so little knowledge? How do they use their limited knowledge?

    A teen often fears he is the one with the least knowledge and the least power.
  • Who has the most physical strength? How did they get so much physical strength? How do they use their physical strength?
  • Who has the least physical strength? Why do they have so little physical strength? How do they use their limited physical strength?

To ask these questions is to begin to think critically about the world around us. These questions can be applied to the large scale: “Who has the most power on Earth?” or the small scale: “Who has the most power in my classroom?” To be a true critical thinker, one also has to ask, “How much power do I have?” and related questions such as, “Who has power over me?”

Through critical thinking, we become aware of the world, and by extension, ourselves. So, through critical thinking we gain knowledge of a very important kind.  This knowledge allows us to increase our power as individuals.

If everyone were to think critically about the world, we would all be more knowledgeable, and all of us would create a more powerful society. That is, we would be able to do more.

An empowered teen has more tools to face life’s challenges.

In Part II, Jacob will explore how every part of learning can be connected to these questions of power.

This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

Fall 2014 — Classes And Open House!

(Save the date:  Open House on Friday, September 26 at 6:30 p.m.  More below.)

We’re so pleased to start our Fall 2014 Semester with some amazing teens.

Love these amazing teens.
Yes, even this guy.

During this first couple of weeks, the teens can attend any class they want — this helps them judge whether a class is a fit for their learning goals or not.  Then we can settle on a schedule for the rest of the semester.  Options for classes include Mechanical Autopsy, Film Studies, Powerful Possibilites (a Political Science class), and more. (Click on a class below to see the full title.)

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Film Studies with Bruce Winegar.

We have teens from very different backgrounds, and so we’ve already had opportunities to talk over differences, clarify everyone’s comfort zone, and reach out to make amends.  It’s not always easy, but at Open Doors, resolving communication issues is a major part of the learning.

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Talking LEGO after the Mechanical Autopsy class.
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Brian Leugs, instructor, looking wise about Mechanical Autopsy.
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Rebecca Kirk, Director, crafting and talking with teens on a chilly September day.

Our next Open House will be Friday, September 26 at 6:30 p.m. — come see for yourself!  We’ll be hosting in partnership with our neighbor Continuum Healing and their potluck dinner.  You can tour the center, ask questions of the staff, look at example learning plans, and see our members’ work and class materials.

This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

WGVU Morning Show with Shelley Irwin

Check out our fun interview with Shelley Irwin of the WGVU Morning Show.  You’ll hear about Rebecca’s journey and the founding of Open Doors.  It was such a pleasure to talk to Shelley — she’s always a joy.

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Left to right: Amy Carpenter Leugs (Outreach Director), Shelley Irwin (WGVU Morning Host), Rebecca Kirk (Director and Founder of Open Doors Center for Self-Directed Teens)

Eastown Street Fair

We had a great time at the Eastown Street Fair, talking about the Open Doors alternative to school to some very interested neighbors.  The Book Fairy joined us to give away her free books, and we developed on-the-spot free learning plans for folks.

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Our Open Doors booth in front of the Hookah Lounge at the Eastown Street Fair.
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We’ve had a perfect view of the Bangarang Circus Aerial Artists!
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Our yard signs, chilling at the Street Fair.
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P1090240 The Book Fairy was a hit with all ages.
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Free Learning Plans
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Lots of folks stopped by to hear about self-directed learning.
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Flying in the silks — an aerial artist from Bangarang Circus
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It was a great day at a great booth!

Open House: What is Self-Directed Learning for Teens?

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We help families reclaim the joy of learning — our teens are taking back their educations, building skills and self-confidence, and learning who they are and what they have to offer the world.  

How does it work? Come talk to us!  Have a tour of Open Doors Center for Self-Directed Teens, look over the current class schedule, and ask all your questions. See you there!

Monday, September 8, 2014 at 12 noon

1324 Lake Drive in Grand Rapids, MI 49506

1324 Lake Drive close

Self-Discovery through Self-Directed Learning

by Kate Boelkins

Kate Boelkins is studying to be a secondary education teacher at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.  As part of her training, she has assisted in several classrooms in the area.  We are delighted to have her as an intern at Open Doors.

Developmental psychologists agree that the voyage towards self-discovery is vital for mental growth, for emotional development, and for self-esteem improvement.

Open Doors Tapestry
The voyage of self-discovery — those who open doors discover new lands within.  If a tapestry says it, it must be true.

Yet self-discovery is often ignored or suppressed in the traditional classroom setting.

In their natural state, teens are constantly struggling with an identity crisis brought on by changing relationships, mounting responsibilities, and simple developmental psychology. Between the ages of 12 and 18 years — a mere 6 years — we expect teens to develop a sense of self, to home in on their interests, and to use those interests to outline a plan for the rest of their lives.

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Every teen must embark on her own version of the hero’s journey, like those found in film and literature.

In theory, this period of self-discovery and identity formation is fostered by the encouragement of adults who reinforce exploration and motivate teens to develop a sense of control and independence in their lives. This encouragement should inspire self-confidence in teens and help them find their core direction in life.

However, this doesn’t seem to be the case for a majority of teenagers graduating high school and headed out into the “real world.”

Recent studies show that up to half of college students enter college “undecided”, having no idea what to pursue despite the fact they are paying tuition for their education. On top of that nearly 80% of college students change their major at least once.

Distressing research from Penn State suggests this complete lack of direction is due to a “developmental disconnect”.

These teens simply haven’t formed enough of an identity to define their interests. Why not?

  • The traditional classroom takes students and strictly defines the information in which they will be immersed each year.
  • This knowledge is comprised only of an “academic” load, meaning the traditional subjects of English, Mathematics, Science, and History.
  • The exploration within each subject is shallow and broad, and allows no flexibility for students to delve deep into an area of interest.
  • Areas outside the traditional academic area are ignored, and even rejected from the classroom.
  • Learning is transmitted through books and lectures, not real world experiences.

After graduating high school, students have been exposed to only certain areas of academic information. If subjects in school fail to grasp their interests, teens are at a loss when asked to choose a direction — nothing seems worth pursuing. When they reach college, they’ve had little time to define their own identity and find it impossible to make an informed decision.

Additionally, this lack of freedom affects the psychological state of the teen as a whole. The classroom experience is restrictive– it’s commonly noted that one week we expect students to ask permission to use the restroom, and the next we expect them to have a detailed plan for the rest of their lives.

Raising hands to use the restroom, though it helps the teacher keep order, is part of system that doesn’t support independence and self-direction.

Schools often fail to encourage and support student exploration. Teens need new experiences; it is normal to run through many different trials and errors before they have the self-knowledge to make decisions.

Instead of fostering opportunities and embracing failure, schools often try to confine students to specific ways of thinking and doing.  They look for hard commitments too early in the students’ development, without offering the tools to build self-knowledge.

Teens are then left with two poor choices.

  • Fall into a pre-described identity defined by the school climate they’ve known, which can result in choosing a post-grad path like college that is a poor fit for the student.
  • Avoid self-exploration completely.

The lack of self-discovery and identity formation in the teenage years can have life-long impact.

So how can this change? How can we as a society foster confident, strong-hearted, and self-directed teens?

It begins with adults. We have the responsibility to our teens to change our perspectives on what is important for them. Instead of ensuring they fit in the mold, we need to encourage the quest of new experiences, applaud them when they pursue what they love, guide them when they have questions, and let them know it’s okay when they change their mind.

At Open Doors, this mentor relationship is priority – teens have the freedom to explore what interests them, whether it involve traditional academic areas, video games, or wild edibles. By their side are experienced adults whose mission is to simultaneously participate in their exploration and guide them towards self-discovery and the future.

This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.