Explore Nueroscience in Education with Dr. Lori Desautels

I am Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman Rolled into One

I Am Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman Rolled into One


Preparing for the upcoming school semester, I continue reflecting and returning to our nation’s most recent conflictual tragedy between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. We all felt our emotions soar and our hearts sink into angry despair as the news of this trial unfolded with the outcome.  The media swirled with tweets, Facebook statuses and collective opinions that questioned, judged and empathized!  As I write this article in this moment, President Obama has addressed this today to the surprise of many.

What is next? This incident did not fall out of the sky nor is it the first of its kind as our history is filled with similar tragedies that awakened our nation and world for a period of time. A period of time…then the memories fade, the emotional unrest lessens and we return to our daily lives.

As schools open their doors in a few weeks, I challenge us as educators and parents to take this contentious occurrence and shift perspectives. Our children and adolescents need our deepened understanding, our difficult questions and a place to explore the Trayvon Martin’s and George Zimmerman’s that live inside within us.  We need to begin asking ourselves and one another, what positive and beneficial results or consequences could develop from this confrontation?

Charter, public, private and all education environments contain the often ignored ingredients of unconscious misunderstandings, active diversity tensions, alongside the age old prejudices that live inside each of us if we are to be honest and reflective!  Our political and educational reformers continually address the emergent desire and needs for achievable academic outcomes, teacher and student evaluations and assessments that drive learning and therefore competitive economic results. But once again, we find ourselves spinning spewing and judging this court case inside a mindless collective reaction.

Educational research repeatedly purports that the deepest and most emotionally lasting learning occurs when the subject matter is relevant, meaningful and current! I cannot think of a more appropriate time, individually and collectively to discuss, question and intentionally lay the groundwork for a new school year where community circles, individual differences and personal challenges are welcomed, explored and made a part of every school and classroom’s culture and curriculum.  We all are responsible and privileged to discover and share in the potentially positive and sustaining aspects of this most recent human conflict resulting from a survival mode of human functioning.

I believe we now are presented with choices. We can choose to move forward with resignation, despair embracing a collective victimhood, or we can promise ourselves and one another that we will begin to examine the hurts, prejudices, judgments and dispositions inside our own minds that promote and present negative emotions and behaviors in our homes schools and community. This school year I will reflect and try to model for my students  those difficult questions that become buried and forgotten in our fast paced and stress filled lives There is not an individual on this planet that is immune to the subconscious and conscious thoughts we hold evaluating and critically judging those who feel and appear different.   Where this Trayvon and Zimmerman heartbreak began and where it ends, rests within each of us.  When we continue to focus on the injustices, the seemingly unfairness, and the repetitive racial conflicts that have taken the young lives of many men and women throughout our world’s history we recycle the same “mindset” and are subconsciously calling forth more of the same.

How do we create a culture where bullying, exclusive dispositions, fears of differences, and individual and collective anger are squelched and replaced by feelings of well-being? This is not a trite or “fluffy” directive. We know that positive emotion leads to higher level creative thinking skills, the enhancement of long term memory and improved immune systems. We also know that emotion and the implementation of questions drive sustained learning while personalizing the subject matter for the expression of living experiences! We must begin in our classrooms, homes and schools employing the power of questions coupled with an intentional shift in perspective, imagining which is empathy in its purest form what could be….not what is…

  1. How do you feel when someone has taken advantage of you or treated you in a disrespectful way? What do you do with those feelings? Do you feel better or worse based on your responses?
  2. Remember a time in your past when you treated someone unfairly and knew or felt that they had been hurt by your actions or words?
  3. What types of prejudice or judgments or exclusive conversations take place in your home or school?
  4. Who triggers anger quickly inside of you and why?
  5. As a family or classroom, what three values will we implement this year that are inclusive, fair and lead to feelings of capability and success for each individual?
  6. What is empathy and how can we demonstrate this feeling of “walking on another’s path while in their shoes” this school year? What kinds of collaborative activities can we include where we see and understand, reaching beyond the external negative  behaviors and know their pain and discomfort?

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”   Alvin Toffler

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