Hardly a week goes by without some trauma in the US. Some events are nature made; some are human-made. There appear to be fewer and fewer “safe” places and spaces. The usually “safe” places – schools, universities, churches, concert venues, public streets – are not safe. And, there is constant media coverage of whatever horrific event is going on, making their reach even broader. There are also anniversaries of past traumatic events – from Sept. 11th or Kent State. Both children and adults are affected, those who are at the events and those who know people at the events and those feeling the impact of the events from afar.
Add to these large “T” events, defined as big one point in time trauma, this reality: there are a growing number of young people who are experiencing small “t” trauma in their daily lives. These are young people exposed to drugs, shootings, parental or guardian or familial abuse, hunger, homelessness, and illness (one’s own and that of family members). The exposure to these traumas change a child’s brain hard wiring and can affect their health and well-being through adulthood. Yes, really. And small “t” trauma is “big” in terms of its effect.
And, this is not a problem affecting just a few individuals. A recent look at Adverse Childhood Experience Scores (ACEs) confirms this observation: almost 50% of children have experienced at least one traumatic event at or close to home; 35% of children ages 0 -- 5 have experienced one or more traumatic events, and 21.7% of children ages 0 –17 have experienced two or more traumatizing events.
We can add to this Big T and little “T” events the trauma and toxic stress that we are experiencing because of the current state of politics and government. People are treating each other badly. Bullying is “in” in DC. Whether in person or through tweets or other forms of insult, we are uncivil, and these acts are repeated on television and in social media with regularity. It is affecting how we feel about our nation, our leaders and each other. Teachers report classroom stress; so do educational leaders across the Pre-K – 20 pipeline.
Finally, I think that there is an individual and collective response to all the allegations and admissions of sexual harassment and sexual assault by individuals in positions of power. For many individuals, learning of these abundant bad acts by leaders and actors and professors allows them to access abuse they suffered. For many women and men, these abuses happened many years ago and have remained in some dark secret place unresolved. Priests, pediatricians, politicians, pop stars: the list only keeps growing.
It is for these four reasons, among others, that we need to augment the training educators receive in handling trauma, toxic stress, and abuse. And, trauma is contagious. While there are pockets of such training now, it is neither systemic nor systematic. And, sadly, it needs to be both systemic and systematic, given trauma’s prevalence.
There is no shortage of ways that training can occur, in the near and longer term. There is no single approach either; there are many ways to address issues of trauma and abuse. There are both people and quality readings that can benefit educators and students. But, ponder this: the effect and effectiveness of trauma initiatives need support from within institutions. Indeed, I think Boards of Trustees and Boards of Education at the local and state level need to be educated on this topic.
Initiatives can take place in Schools of Education (although that is a long-term strategy given the need to amend curricula and course offerings). They can take place in professional development opportunities within schools, on campuses and in communities. The latter can happen almost immediately. The training can be offered at academic or student life conferences, but they would need to be affordable and accessible – both in terms of time and money for attendees. For the record, most of these events are planned a year in advance, so this is hardly a short-term strategy. There can be webinars and presentations can be accompanied by Vialogues (videos that allow after the fact comments and dialogues among listeners and the presenter). There can be readings and articles delivered to educators by the leaders of their institutions. Just look at the catalog from Columbia Teachers College Press. And, we can mobilize some mental health professionals to visit schools and campuses, both to train personnel there and to meet with students, faculty, and staff.
As to the content of these educational initiatives, this is not the space in which to detail that but know that there are resources, including studies, that can be deployed. And, if we are seeking analogies, we can look to the treatment of PTSD in Veterans and the rich literature on the trauma caregivers and medical professionals experience.
I worry about two things in particular though. I am concerned what I call “one-offs.” These are trainings that have no follow up or follow through. These occur when there is a seminar or course and then the conversation and engagement on the topic ends. The topic of trauma and toxic stress and abuse needs to be thought about, deployed, reflected upon and engaged with – not once but over a period of time. And, educators need to test it out in the trenches and make changes and adaptations, depending on the culture in which they are operating, the nature of the student population, the nature of the trauma (Big “T” or small “t” or both).
I also worry about the quality of programming offered. Helping others deal with trauma is, obviously, not something to be toyed with or managed lightly. The topic is too sensitive, too powerful, too deep to be handled in ways that exacerbate the problems individuals are experiencing. And, institutional change to increase sensitivity to trauma needs to be thoughtfully implemented. The challenges are real, but the absence of change is not an option here if we want to improve the lives and success of the students we serve.
On this I am clear: we need to institute trauma-based initiatives to educate our educators now. Time is a wasting, and the plethora of trauma, toxic stress, and abuse are not declining. For the health of our nation and its citizens and the benefit of the future generations, we need to act now. We know about the atrocities of war and its aftermath. Peruse the stellar writings by Professor Nancy Sherman. Sadly, we have a type of war in our nation. We need to fight not only those wars but also their aftermath. Now.
This article first appeared in Forest of the Rain Productions; a special thanks to Dr. Michael Robinson. Link to piece is: https://forestoftheraineducati...ore-karen-gross.html