There Are Trauma Skeptics Among US Amidst a Massive Trauma: Yes Really!

So, I seem to get easily angered these days. I admit it. Usually, I deal patiently with critics — and I’ve had many critics starting from my days as a law professor, through my days as a college president for 8 years, through my government service at the US Department of Education and as an author. I get criticism. In fact, I openly ask for dissenting views as an author and educator. I have thick skin. Even trolls don’t get to me most of the time.

But, my tolerance levels have changed. Drastically. Yesterday, I took off on a post that was made by a Head of School who suggested that all was rosy in his home and the homes of his students. I blasted back: privilege does not confer immunity from life’s badness. Few lead charmed lives. Ask the Kennedy family or ask Joe Biden. (I am not being political.)

And now this. By the by, I am sure I am not alone in feeling more than a tad out of sorts. Now the story.

I submitted an article to _________________ (a well regarded publication). I had vetted the topic with them. It was a piece on reopening schools and what we need to do NOW to prepare for that happening. The covid virus has taught us the power of preparation; that’s for sure. Schools, I observed, aren’t light switches — turned on and off.

In responding to my submission, the editor suggested the piece was premature. Really? Seriously? We didn’t prepare for school closings and now it is too early to deal with reopenings? Please.

But, here are the words that just literally flipped my lid and I am quoting them exactly, lest you think I am exaggerating. I will not, in the effort to promote civility and decency, name the person who wrote them. I want to disclose but I am an educator, trying to do what educators do: help learning.

So, quoting directly, here is what the editor wrote:

“I also think there’s no evidence of the trauma that you allude to. I’m not saying there’s no trauma in all of this. What I’m saying is if there is any trauma, it’s not reflected in the article. And I’m not really sure there is “trauma.” Trauma has become kind of a trendy thing to say but I question the extent to which it actually influences or “informs” how things are actually done.”

Now, the passage above in contradictory to be sure. But two things stand out to me: (1) the denial of trauma as something trendy not real and substantial and (2) the absence of proof, assuming it does exist.

Let me start with the proof issue first.

In the law, we have a phrase: res ipsa. Would one need to prove the earth is round? Would one need to prove the sky is blue (some of the time)? Would one need to prove that pregnancy requires an egg and a sperm (for human reproduction)? Some things are so obvious that proof is not necessary. Do we still ask for proof of Pi?

Now, if you wanted proof that the virus generates trauma, here are some links:

If the coronavirus and all the accompanying aspects flowing from it — from threats of illness to death to transmission to catastrophic shortages of ventilators and masks and body protection (garbage bags aren’t ideal) to school closures when school is where some students get food and are safe — are not evidence of trauma, what is?

Bodies in the streets?

Suicides in public?

Doctors and nurses dying on video?

Now, as to trauma being a fad without substance.

Trauma is getting to be a trendy word, although people don’t understand it fully. I get that. But, trauma is real. It is as real as the earth being round and the air being filled with oxygen and the human body filled with blood. Trauma affects not just our mind; it affects our bodies. It affects our immune system, our chemical balance, our neural pathways and that’s just a starter list of its impacts on us.

But we name it (trauma) because then we can tame it and frame it. We can’t address problems that have no name, no anchor, no home. And for the record, denial does not make something go away. It’s still there, lurking in the recesses of our minds and bodies.

The world is filled with disbelievers. We have those who don’t believe in the Holocaust despite the presence of ovens. We have folks who don’t believe in evolution, despite strong science. We have individuals who don’t believe in medicine and leave outcomes to a higher being. Lots of folks have belief systems that are not shared. And, the reality is that we likely can’t convince these folks otherwise, which get me to my solution here.

I am done with this editor (and perhaps his publication too). If one can’t see trauma, then my work will never meet the goal of this editor to prove everything.

I am old enough and gray enough and wise enough I hope to know when I need to give up and move on. In my book Breakaway Learners, I sadly acknowledge that not all children can be saved from the trauma they have suffered. Perhaps the same can be said about this editor. He can’t be saved.

And, I need to stop trying. Yes, I want everyone to recognize trauma’s immense tentacles. But, there will be disbelievers. Now and forever. Time for me to move on and leave this editor to deal with other authors. I won’t be a writer in his stable. That’s for sure. That’s not traumatic. It is accurate though.

And there’s a lesson: some fights aren’t worth fighting. This is one of them. Tant pis.

Author, Educator & Commentator; Former President, Southern Vermont College; Former Senior Policy Advisor, US Dept. of Education; Former Law Professor