I thought this blog post was going to be about how mindfulness can support students who’ve experienced trauma. As a former educator, who has had the pleasure of working in predominately African-American schools or schools with majority students of color, I was going to say that I knew that some of my students were living in homes where they witnessed violence, faced food insecurity, or other ‘issues’. But the deeper truth is, when I was in the classroom the deepest trauma, I fought against was the narrative of black-brown inferiority. This is the first time I’ve named it as such, but as I look back, I can clearly see that my 23-year-old-self worked to undo that harm every day. I knew my students lived and would grow in a world where prescribed narratives about them dictated how they would be ‘seen’, ‘heard’, and prejudged and that these had the power to make or break them, not only in school, but in life.
Narratives like ‘these kids can’t,’ ‘these kids don’t want to learn,’ ‘these kids don’t know how to act’, permeated our planning and discussions. But the truth is ‘these kids’ were wholly misunderstood, ‘these kids’ were wholly unseen, and ‘these kids’ by nature of being ‘these kids’ were absolutely underserved and mistreated by virtue of false narratives and adult collusion.
‘These kids’ were amazing, curious, energetic, brilliant, and bright. But my vision of them didn’t matter if you, yourself, were blind to it—if you take a 5th graders word for it when he says ‘I want to be a drug dealer when I grow up’ and do not call bullshit. (A story for another time.)
But this is why I know Mindfulness to be an important part of shifting this ‘dynamic’ for educators and students alike. The harmful narratives of ‘you can’t do anything right’ and ‘something is wrong with you’ must be unearthed and seen. As Lisa Delpit says, “We do not really see through our eyes or hear through our ears, but through our beliefs.”
The moment one sees and re-cognizes a false thought and disidentifies with it, it loses its defining power. I do not believe that mindfulness alone will solve it. Change must happen via truth-telling alongside a reclamation of real history & stories, and humanization.
To again quote Lisa Delpit, “If the curriculum we use to teach our children does not connect in positive ways to the culture young people bring to school, it is doomed to failure.” But even a curriculum is only as impactful as the level of consciousness from which it is delivered. And the teaching must be deep enough to penetrate the subconscious mind. Reading and information alone do not train you how to identify a false belief, especially in the moment and when triggered, but Mindfulness implicitly does. Creating a gap between awareness and thought does. (i.e. present-moment awareness).
This gap between awareness and thought is the liberation we call ‘respond vs. react’ because it affords you the choice to respond with laughter, or course correction, and/or power over the thought, rather than reactivity and/or misidentifying the thought as truth.
This is why mindfulness is a critical practice for educators (and students). Adults design and enforce power structures in schools (aka discipline, classroom management). Mindfulness affords us both the skill and capacity required to dismantle not only our thoughts and subsequent actions, but the beliefs driving said structures.