Many of my young charges struggle with some form of learning.
While one may be brilliant and unstoppable with math and its application, the same person might have severe challenges with remembering to add punctuation at a sentence’s end.
While another creates incredible artwork, there lies difficulties in manipulating numbers to construct a coherent plan for conquering fractions.
Not one of them has trouble doling out and accepting shame.
Learning to live in shame by both giving and receiving it unquestionably, is something that is so easily taught and absorbed that it is frightening. I am often amazed that the concept of learning to shame others is so simple to pick up and execute.
Whether it is education, home life, work or relationships we all learn early and often the ways to shame and humiliate each other. The most troubling part of this equation is the belief that this is the natural way for people to interact. Another troubling fallacy masquerading as fact is the agreement that this brings relief and that if given enough time, everyone will have a turn and everyone gets to play.
When I first began teaching more than a decade ago, I received the advice to not small or be too nice. In clearer terms, I was informed that “good teaching” was based on control, domination and keeping young people in line.
This was code for ongoing humiliation and shame.
No one thought it odd to belittle young people in front of their peers.
Teaching fourth graders one year, I witnessed a teacher make two young people feel inadequate and unprepared for learning.
A simple redirect would have sufficed. Instead, this teacher went for the tried and true humiliation that is “first crush”.
This shut down both young people and interfered with the days’ learning.
Shaming, like poverty and all forms of trauma, is violence.
We allow and accept so much violence towards children that it is mind boggling.
In educational settings, shame is prevalent in the ways we choose to educate boys.
In Peg Tyre’s The Trouble with Boys, she shares her findings of the shame cycle that starts with boys as young as five.
“Most boys, however- the ones from families who don’t have the resources or the sophistication to game the system- begin school at the earliest age, full of excitement and enthusiasm. Then their teachers ask, then insist, often again and again, that they behave in ways that are beyond their natural developmental abilities. In short order, they become confused, upset and sometimes dejected. They may be slow to read, but they are not stupid. The experience of kindergarten and first grade delivers to them an implicit message that careful curriculum planners probably never considered. The message they get is this: School is not geared for boys.” (p. 95)
She later highlights the fear and anxiety that young male bodies seem to provoke in educators. It is impossible to educate and share in risk taking when each interaction is undergirded with fear.
Why are we so paranoid about boys and aggression? There was a time when boys’ noisy , boisterous expressions were seen as natural parts of their psychological makeup. But then came a series of of tragic school shootings, starting at Columbine High School in 1999 and continuing straight up to Virginia Tech in 2007. Instead of beefing up community mental health resources to get help for kids who need it, schools began to adopt zero-tolerance policies toward any behavior that they could construe as aggressive or potentially aggressive. (p.104)
As a grandfather to two sweet young black males ages 9 and 11, I have seen the humiliation that is targeted at them in terms of education and learning.
While young girls are often targets as well, I tend to focus on males because this is the experience I am most familiar with.
Young boys and girls are at the mercy of adults who view them as property (which means they are “owned things” ) and can be used, harmed and violated whenever the adults in their lives feel like it.
In the absolutely wonderful and succint, Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America, Dr. Stacey Patton discusses a dark and accepted secret of many African Americans and offers solutions to abuse and domination.
Unlike domestic abuse involving adults, people seem to be incapable of immediately recognizing the violence for what it is when an adult is hitting a child. If a parent’s intent is “loving” protection, then that often excuses the violence against the child. But at the end of the day, intentions are irrelevant. “Abuse” and “discipline” both involve physical violence coming from two distinct places, one loving and the other malicious and neglectful. But from the child’s perspective, the hurt and pain are indistinguishable.” (p. 164)
Dr. Patton offers hope when she states: What has been missing from the national and community conversations are black parents who used to hit their children but have stopped, and those who have successfully raised children without ever whupping them. (p. 195)
We can and must do better.
When you are in the throes of shame all rationale and coherent thought gets tossed aside. It is our job as educators, parents and friends to not allow this to happen.
One of the major ways to both stop the shaming and interrupt our tendency to engage is to simply question both the recipient and the agent of shame in a way that makes all parties rethink their actions.