”Together as a community we do everything in our power to heal our pain, to understand our pain, begin to formulate our own theories of change and then take action”
‘Teaching as healing‘
When we tell kids to ‘leave it outside’. To leave whatever’s going on in their personal life at the school gates. We are essentially telling them that your reality, your experiences are not important enough to bring into this space.
In Wisdoms classroom the opposite happens. The experiences of students are validated, shared, explored. The space that once excluded their narratives now embraces them as a critical component of their education. A classroom culture based on the concepts of Ubuntu, an African proverb meaning ‘I am, because we are’ and the Maya proverb of In Lak’ech meaning ‘I am you, you are me’. It’s a ‘classroom community that can actually heal’. And it’s not just the students, Wisdom is a part of that community too, sharing and healing alongside his students – ‘students see me going through that process with them, and that leads to a deep bond, a true teacher student relationship’.
When you live in a society that implicitly and explicitly blames the poor for their poverty, what might our kids conclude about the cause of poverty in their community? When a child grows up never knowing her incarcerated father, and never learning about mass incarceration, who’s she going to blame for that loss? When an education tells a child that through hard work anything is possible and that worth is measured by grades, college and career, what message does that send a child who’s family never graduated high school or college and who’s mother works two low paid jobs? How then does a child measure the worth of her own people? How does she measure the worth of her self?
As Wisdom shares, ‘it does violence to your consciousness to constantly see inequity in your community and never be given the tools to either comprehend that pain or to address that pain, to heal that pain.’ Without the tools to critically interrogate their reality and contextualise this suffering a child has no means of defence against this ‘violence’ to their sense of self and community. They learn that their suffering is a consequence of some deficit or failure in themselves or in those around them. That they are somehow responsible for their own oppression. That what they receive is what they are worth.
In order to heal, students need to be able to deconstruct the perverse myth that they are somehow deserving authors of their own trauma, and contextualise their experiences within a rigorous analysis of the framework of oppression that shapes their social reality. As they do, the oppression that had been internalised becomes externalised, revealing it’s true nature. It becomes tangible – they can now name it, talk about it, write about it, march against it, disrupt it, dismantle it. As Wisdom puts it, ‘together as a community we do everything possible to heal our pain, understand our pain, and then begin to formulate our own theories of change and then to take action’.
As Wisdoms students show, once they begin to recognise their capacity to be transformational big things start to happen. The present reality is no longer something to submit to, it can be disrupted, it can be transformed. They learn to advocate and organise, disrupt and influence, debate and inspire. As Wisdom puts it, it’s about ‘creating opportunities for the work they do in the classroom to have impact.. As we’re going through the system we’re achieving that transformational change.’
‘For student to become conscious and empowered individuals who can use their educated voice to advocate for themselves, their family, and their gente, their community. For them to adopt an identity of transformative resistance. Students who are empowered, who can code switch, who can speak the language of the system, without loosing their true identity, their authentic self. Who view education as a fundamental right that should be done with them.’
(This video was created for Teach For All. The article reflects the personal opinions of Faolan Jones)