We know who they are. We whisper about them. We publicly shame them. We communicate non-verbally that is what you get for being so fast. But rarely do we ask questions like--what happened, how are you in this moment? Rarely do we ask them to lunch or praise them for what they have done right.
Janie was a student who had a reputation, she was a student who teachers would laugh about, who the boys would call whore and other beloved names. And, Jamie could not sit still. 9Correction, Janie would sit still when she and I and maybe one or two others met for circle. Even then, she struggled.)
Janie saw a school counselor, who, used language like ‘girl drama’ to describe (dismiss) her and a few other girls’ challenges.
It was clear to me that Janie was not a whore. That Janie would have ‘sat’ still to learn if she could have. But if you’ve never experienced or honored the experience of trauma, at best you offer cliched advise and at worst you misname it (i.e. she doesn’t care), dismiss it (i.e. well,look at how she behaves) or blame it on the girl—cast it off as a behavioral issue or one of attitude.
What do I mean by honored the experience of trauma? I mean take it in. Sip on it so hard that your empathy turns to compassion which turns into a recognition of the resilience and plight of some of our students. I mean put your heart in it. I mean get in the mud with those who need you the most instead of slinging it.
I did not know Janie’s ACE’s; I did not need to know. Her ACEs were staring us all in the face. And we did not do enough.
Here’s a statistical reality we need to remember:
One in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult.
82% of all victims under 18 are female.
Females ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
(all stats https://www.rainn.org/statistics/children-and-teens)
And for girls of color, the rates are higher. I remember what it was like to walk the streets of Baltimore as a teen and have things thrown out of cars at me and my friends because we wouldn’t give someone our number. I remember having my skirt pulled up at a bus stop and feeling like I could not tell anyone. And, I remember witnessing violence in my home and putting on a face for school the next day and trying to pull my attention from rumination back to the classroom.
So, what is the takeaway, aside from the need for increased education and awareness? First, fight the urge to forget, to go unconscious. Remember that our girls are our girls. Remember that we teach children, that we do not know what they carry or the paths they walk. Second, be slow to blame and quick to invite, to get to know. Third, know that your words have make or break power, so does your silence. And, please, let us begin to see beyond the surface not only with others, but with ourselves. It is the broken, thwarted, and/or unexamined part of ourselves that allows us to label others, especially children, who are simply following our lead.