If I had to pick a motto that guides my academic learning, it might be this “If you love something, critique the hell out of it.” I think trauma-informed education is incredibly powerful and I’m a huge advocate. But loving trauma-informed education, for me, comes with a healthy dose of critique and critical exploration. Any time educators take on a new model or paradigm, we need to do so with a clear understanding of its potential pitfalls. I love this question I first learned from Chris Lehmann: “what is the worst consequence of my best idea?”
In my book Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education (learn more here), I dive deep into many critiques of trauma-informed education as I build a vision for what this approach could be. This reading list will introduce you to some of the same themes I discuss in the book, for you to get started with your own exploration.
As with all of my resource round-ups (see the end of this post for more), this post isn’t intended to summarize all of those critiques or to be a complete bibliography. Instead, here are some places to get started. I selected a variety of perspectives that will help you understand some of the main themes of critique, particularly from equity and justice oriented educators.
Note: I mostly selected open-access articles below and tried to note where you may run into access issues. And at the end of the list, a few links for those of you with academic library access!
- The Future of Healing: Shifting From Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement by Shawn Ginwright (full article). Let’s start with a classic. Ginwright’s 2018 article went viral for a reason. He powerfully writes about the potentially pathologizing impact of labeling students by their trauma, and makes the case for a healing-centered approach.
- As the world becomes trauma-informed, work to do (full text) by Kathryn Becker-Bleese. This paper is a great introduction to the distinction between individual versus systemic explanations for trauma, and how these explanations are tied to racism and oppression. Becker-Bleese charges readers to critically engage with models of trauma-informed care so that we are not merely reproducing the status quo.
- Trauma-informed practice is a powerful tool, but it’s also incomplete by Simona Goldin and Debi Khasnabis (full article, may be paywalled). Following a similar thread as Becker-Bleese, Goldin and Khasnabis make the case that trauma-informed education must address systemic inequality. This article digs deeper on the same theme and introduces Goldin and Khasnabis’s framework for SysTip (systemically trauma-informed practice). While you’re at it, check out the entire issue of the Bank Street Occasional Paper series #43, which problematizes trauma-informed education and SEL.
- Why Our Trauma-Informed Teaching Must Be More Culturally Responsive by Helen Thomas (full article). This fantastic piece speaks to the intersection of culturally responsive teaching and trauma-informed practice, grounded in an Indigenous context. Thomas speaks about how a strengths-based approach works in concert with knowing the sociopolitical and historical contexts of your school community.
- If We Aren’t Addressing Racism, We Aren’t Addressing Trauma by Dena Simmons (full article). Dr. Simmons makes the case for understanding racial trauma and its harmful impact on all students, and why educators must not take a passive stance. Active anti-racism must be central to our trauma-informed approaches: “It is important to understand that we cannot trauma-inform away racism.”
- How Trauma-Informed Are We, Really? By Paul Gorski (full article, may be paywalled) I appreciate Gorski’s critiques here as they are grounded in powerful stories and examples from his work in schools. He shares three commitments that educators can make as they seek to implement trauma-informed practices in a transformative way.
And here are a few favorite journal articles (you may need library access for these).
- Interrupting the Weaponization of Trauma-Informed Practice: “… Who Were You Really Doing the ‘Saving’ for?” by Simona Goldin, Addison Duane, and Debi Khasnabis (link)
- Trauma informed practices in education and social justice: towards a critical orientation by Mark Boylan (link)
- From Producing to Reducing Trauma: A Call for “Trauma-Informed” Research(ers) to Interrogate How Schools Harm Students by Robert Petrone and Christine Stanton (link)
Despite its sometimes-buzzword status, I really believe that trauma-informed education can provide a guiding framework for centering humanity and care in our schools. This is only possible if we implement that framework with a fierce commitment to equity and justice. I hope these resources help strengthen your critical lens and fuel your fire for this work.