Toxic Schools Worsening Toxic Stress: The Destructive Reign of Standardized Education, Pathology, Medication and Behaviorism


From HERE this NOW: “Although the ACEs study had been published three years earlier, I had never heard of it nor understood the impact of trauma on child development and behavior. The bit I understood about child development came from my graduate coursework and the work of Jean Piaget, John Bowlby, Erik Erikson and Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking book, Emotional Intelligence.

In the first edition of Emotional Intelligence (1995), Goleman speaks to the early findings in neuroscience. His work indicated that when people experience rage they are hijacked by such strong emotion they cannot access the part of the brain responsible for reason and rational thinking. They literally can’t think straight.

That made sense to me.

Goleman’s description of the overwhelming somatic experience of rage resonated. The blindness, the swirling inner storm that surged and spewed out. I had experienced it with great frequency in my late teens and early twenties. I could recognize its swell in students. And yet, I was trying to teach them to override it with their mind.

Cognitive bias is rampant. It’s literally everywhere. It’s baked into the essence of what it means to be American. We speak this bias without recognition.

‘Mind over matter.’

‘Happiness is a choice.’

These idioms reflect the long-standing belief that if we put our ‘minds to it’ we can overcome anything. These values and beliefs are further reflected in recent educational trends like encouraging ‘grit’ and ‘growth-mindset.’ The vast majority of what I see folks doing that claims to be ‘trauma-informed’ involves some version of cognitive bias or behaviorism.

We hold a deeply entrenched belief that children and adults possess 100% conscious control over their behavior …

Advances in science in the last thirty years help us realize the fallacy of ‘mind over matter.’

BUT, we are so tied to this belief that it highly agitates others when challenged. Bottom line, it has us wrestling with our identity as Americans.

Who are we if we aren’t self-made, pulled up by our own bootstraps, masters of our own destiny?

Who are we?

And almost more importantly,

Do we like who we’ve become?”

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  1. I would hope that MIA starts to deeply “connect the dots” that are deep, metaphorical cigarette burns on the souls of countless teachers, administrators, education specialists, students and parents across America. These “cigarette burns” are gifts from policies of Presidents Of Past and Present. One truly needs to be an education expert to recognize them … for starters, get really friendly with Diane Ravitch, because she can name all the cigarette burns and the policies that brought them.

    Then connect with the Badass Teachers Association. Not only am I a “frequent flier” to MIA’s largely excellent material, I deeply know the realities of public education, special education, prejudice, disability discrimination and much more.

    It’s NOT “Toxic Schools”. BAD TITLE.

    It’s POLICIES that make schools toxic. Believe me, if BATs and other education groups had their way, public education would be fully funded. And oh so much more! Unfortunately, it’s far easier to skimp here and then “pay the piper” with full funding for prisons down the road.

    WE ARE NOT THE BAD GUYS. “Toxic schools…” in this title erroneously ascribes blame to schools and all who work/learn there and have suffered through so many metaphorical “cigarette burns” that all one sees when entering some schools is ignored scar tissue.

    IT IS THE POLICIES THAT ARE TOXIC. They have worked as a horrible acid (largely hidden from view, except those IN that scene feel and breathe the acid of bad policies and ultimately DEMORALIZATION. Not burnout!

    PLEASE PARTNER WITH TEACHER ACTIVISTS WHO CAN SHED LIGHT ON ALL THE “CIGARETTE BURNS” THAT HURT… The scary thing? State boards of education see our concerns as “union grievances”. And mental health people see us as being in a separate silo from them.



    We want teachers as peers. We want school districts to comply with the ADA. We want a mentally healthy work and learning environment.

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  2. Good article Emily.
    I believe that every child can instantly perceive when someone “singles” them out. And that is what schools often do in the name helping. They forget that most likely the kid has been singled out at home also, and so is very leery of that walk to the “safe room”.
    The childhood I had, really leaves me amazed that I lived for 60 years. Teachers and counselors alike have to realize that anything, any move on their part that the child perceives as “being worked with”, can be detrimental.
    I like the style of Shannon, to take the child away from the environment.
    Adults have to drop all intentional therapy and simply engage the child, find out through activities where their anxieties or shyness lie. Where their frustrations take over.
    They do not have OPD, AVD, ADHD. There are no meds to engage a child to feel open and receptive, happy, laughing.
    The teachers are overworked, the policies suck and are not there for children. Psychiatry entered the doors of schools to take over in child rearing which they do with drugs and a further inflaming the child as the problem by a psychologist or counselor overseeing “progress”

    I wish I could have been in a place where adults don’t have “roles”.
    My only answer to this is to set up schools that operate without strict guidance. Most are private. So many kids fall through the cracks and that is NOT a fault of the child or parents.
    Even if the child has “trauma”. The focus on that alone is awful for the kid. The “trauma” should be in the background only, the therapy is changing the environment, to suit the child. Often the “trauma” can melt away. The very focus on what adults think the “problem” is, can often keep it alive.

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