Have you ever been wounded by experiences in education? Perhaps through a teacher who called you stupid. Or being punished for thinking out of the box with a creative flair. Or being bullied in a variety of ways. Some of our greatest areas of pain can be through something called “Educational Wounding”, even if it happened decades in the past. A few years ago, I sat listening to my father-in-law as he poured out his pain from school days almost 70 years before in Switzerland. Due to those experiences with various teachers, he had always felt deep down that he was stupid and educationally limited. Yet this dear man was one of the strongest learners I knew, with a penetrating intelligence that had never been affirmed.
Those of you who know me or read this blog know that I have a strong passion to learn, especially in areas of history. I love to learn, love to read, love to study. Yet except for a handful of teachers, my most life-giving experiences of learning were outside the classroom and decades after my initial years of schooling. A 7th grade history teacher named Mr. Miller fueled my life long passion for history, and I will be forever grateful. But I remember more experiences of being wounded in my first years of schooling than inspiration and encouragement. How was it for you?
In a post last year, It’s Okay To Fail, My Son , I wrote about the struggle of many kids in the educational realm dealing with parents’ expectations. This title is from a powerful novel written in India, with the story of a father who realizes the damage coming to his son from the educational system as it exists. Educational wounding is a global problem, and some of the greatest pain adults continue to carry all their lives.(See my recent post on carrying pain, ‘Fences’: What do you do with pain entering 2017?) It can stifle creativity, and smother innovation. It causes people to think they are stupid, when in fact they may be the smartest people in any room.
In India I have a friend and colleague, Sarah J., who is writing more and more into this area on the pain coming from educational wounds. She is even designing a seminar that will be run in India, and could be run anywhere, that brings out of darkness these wounds, and gives people tools to help heal. Often, like for my father -in -law, these wounds are like a cave filled with darkness, as the image with this blog post portrays. Here was a man in his late 70’s who wept as he described how he was treated so many decades before. My regret is that he didn’t find more healing in his final years, from these particular wounds. I have included below some of Sarah’s words on this subject of educational wounding, taken with her permission as part of a larger paper she is doing for a Masters course.
“In Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach, Jane Vella talks about the need for safety if learning is to take place. Anxiety greatly prohibits learning. If we can help students early in their education understand the educational wounding in their past, and free them from the fear of that happening again, they will experience transformation more quickly. In order for the students to experience this safety, the campus staff needs to be equipped with positive teaching methods that are grounded in the healing they themselves have experienced. Creation of non-judgmental and affirming atmospheres along with the design of courses with activities which start simple and grow in complexity help to provide a safe environment.”
Sarah goes on to write “‘Everything we do teaches’ was a quote on a framed poster that hung in our dining hall for many years. Staff can underestimate their ability to negatively influence through cutting or sarcastic words spoken outside the classroom. Conversely, they can also overestimate their authority and perceived right to speak into the lives of students. School leaders and staff need to be made aware of how their comments or ways of addressing students may actually inhibit learning and growth. Just as spiritual formation is an incremental process, leadership development also takes time. We are unrealistic if we expect students or staff to recover from educational wounding, plus other hardships they have faced personally if they do not have a consistent leader who helps them to process through their past experiences.”
Writing about India specifically, but true globally, Sarah concludes with these powerful statements: “The exhilarating miracle of learning happens naturally. We see this in babies who learn to walk, talk and comprehend completely through informal learning. Academic and personal growth are stunted or completely cut off when abuse happens within the educational system. Like a juggernaut, the cycle of educational wounding will only continue to roll through India causing a swath of destruction to rip through the hearts of her young. At the University of the Nations we have a chance to create an ideal environment where students, released from educational wounding, are free to learn. By personally addressing the hurts that have been caused in our own hearts, we, as leader, can personally be transformed into teachers and leaders who release students back into the natural order of learning. There is a lot to learn. Setting our students free to do so is our job.”
Thanks Sarah for those powerful words, and for your sensitivity to this issue in the lives of people. We need many more people like Sarah all over the world who are not afraid to address their own pain in this area, and then be “transformed into teachers and leaders” who can set others free. There is truly so much to learn! And so much that can change our world for the better! What a tragedy that so many are crippled and paralyzed from stepping through those doors of learning by prior experiences of wounding.