“Trauma is caused by events which ‘overwhelm the ordinary systems of care that give people a sense of control, connection and meaning’” (Horsman).
We live in a world of hurt. This world is nowhere near perfect, and while some people believe that humanity is “progressing” and that world peace and gender equality are within reach, I tend to disagree. Rather, I plainly disagree. Perhaps people are seeing a different world than I do. Perhaps I am pessimistic about humanity, although I don’t think that is the case. Perhaps I just see things the way they are. I don’t believe that everything is going to hell in a hand basket; however, I do believe that over time greater injustices have occurred and more hurt has been created. I won’t go into the reasons why this has occurred, that is something you can investigate on your own; however, I do believe that it is a trend and that we must pay close attention to the consequences of that trend.
Jenny Horsman’s article, ” ‘But I’m Not a Therapist’ The Challenge of Creating Effective Literacy Learning for Survivors of Trauma” was enlightening to say the least. This article appealed to me for a variety of reasons. Not only did it apply to my experience in the local jail, but it also applied to my future as an educator. Whatever situation we are in, we must come into it knowing that many individuals have experienced some violence in their lives (whether emotional, physical, mental, or spiritual). Living in this world, it is hard to escape not being attacked in some area of your life. Horsman addresses specifically the difficulties that accompany being a literacy advocate and active literacy proponent.
One of her opening questions challenged me: “What impacts of abuse do you see in your literacy program/your work? How can/should literacy programs address these impacts of violence?” These simply stated questions made me think about the jail and how so many of those women have been directly influenced by a variety of violence. How can literacy help them? There is no doubt that literacy and recovery from trauma are closely linked, as Horsman repeatedly claims. Writing is a freeing and empowering act. I think about my classrooms and wonder how my perspective of writing and other literacies will impact the student living with sexual abuse. Will I be able to bridge that gap, as Horsman claims? Will I be able to help those I work with, at jail or at school, redefine “normalcy” so they can move onto a next phase of learning and recovering?
Horsman addresses a critical component of literacy and violence when she discusses the direct role of the literacy worker. When I step into that jail or that classroom, I become the real me. However, what accompanies that role is also the, “cost to themselves [literacy worker] and a limit to what else they can take on in their lives as a consequence of their work in literacy.” When working with groups that have experienced violence, which can be well established is anyone, there is a burden that we as literacy workers take on. I remember after our second or third workshop at the jail, my supervisor asked how we personally debriefed the night. I never really thought until that moment how critically important it was to decompress from that experience. When we sit in that room we are sharing lives, stories, pain, happiness…a full range of human emotion and experience. That can be draining or inspiring, and sometimes both simultaneously. Horsman highlights the importance of finding a community and support system for literacy workers, and I have been able to experience that importance first hand. I know that when I enter my own classroom it will be vital to have a support group because I will be with my students more hours of the day than not. They will be a part of my life, not something I just “leave at the office.”
Horsman’s article is worth reading and opened my eyes to things I knew existed but needing reminding of. Her connections make me think about this world we live in and the impact of relationship and literacy on life. Her statement, “we cannot take refuge in the silence about such trauma, it is vividly present” is a wakeup call we all need.