Effects of Trauma on Learning
Adults experiencing the effects of past or current trauma may display such symptoms as difficulty beginning new tasks, blame, guilt, concern for safety, depression, inability to trust (especially those in power), fear of risk taking, disturbed sleep, eroded self-esteem/confidence, inability to concentrate, or panic attacks (Mojab and McDonald 2001). Some people may manifest no symptoms; at the other end of the spectrum is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, characterized by flashbacks, avoidance, numbing of responsiveness (including substance abuse), persistent expectation of danger, constriction (dissociation, zoning out), and memory impairment (Isserlis 2001).
It may not be readily apparent that a learner is experiencing the effects of trauma. Instead, such manifestations as missing class, avoiding tests, spacing out, and having what may be interpreted as inappropriate or extreme reactions to class discussions or activities may actually be responses to trauma. It is true that learning may be impeded by fear, anxiety, poor concentration, and the enormous energy involved in hiding abuse or struggling with immediate survival needs. However, interpretations of trauma and its effects on learning are shaped by education discourses (Horsman 1997, 2000b; Isserlis 2001). A deficit perspective suggests that the learner, not the social system, must change. A medicalizing discourse emphasizes that healing, "getting over it," must take place before learning is possible. Discourses of educational practice may view dropping out, stopping out, or spacing out/dissociating as lack of motivation or persistence rather than survival mechanisms. Discourses focused on outcomes and account...
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