Site Trauma Conference
The Site Trauma Conference took place last Saturday and, as always, it was challenging and thought provoking. It highlighted how trauma has more than one face and how, particularly, in a world of twenty four hour media it is played out both publicly and privately. I canʼt help feeling that the thirst for immediacy from the media is a trauma in itself and that people can find themselves giving interviews to the media when they are not truly able to give consent. Writers are very aware of this intrusion and its effects and an example of this would be the television series Broadchurch which presented a collective trauma.
On the night before I attended a screening of an Israeli Documentary about holocaust survivors and their children. What it illustrated so vividly was how trauma is passed on and down through the generations. What it also showed was that speaking about the trauma in itself is not enough. The speaking of the holocaust by the survivors may ease the symptoms of trauma for them but it quite clearly had traumatised their children. I fully support that it must be spoken of in a very public way but perhaps more care needs to be given to children and grandchildren of survivors. You may think that this only applies to families of holocaust survivors but these kind of horrors have continued and are continuing albeit not on such an industrial scale. In my work in the NHS it was not particularly rare to speak to refugees who were survivors of some horrific atrocities. Not all of these are well known but it is a grave concern that the trauma will be passed down to their children.
The Site Conference itself, in general, focused on a more meta-psychological understanding of how trauma is constructed and processed. The phrase, the image, whatever you wish to call it, came from Rob Weissʼ paper, that has stayed with me. He described how when something like a painting or a childʼs drawing is removed from the wall it leaves a trace. It is gone but something of it remains and can be both seen and not seen. Perhaps, this an important clue to working with trauma. Perhaps we are often dealing with the very vivid trace but not always the trauma itself. I have a personal experience of this. I was badly scalded two weeks before I was two and this forms my earliest memory. I donʼt recall being scalded at all but I remember the seconds before it and again a memory from my recovery and they are not bad memories. So all that remains for me are the traces and I have to say, in my case, I am glad that it is so.
Literacy and Numeracy
There has been a lot of wringing hands in the press and television on Englandʼs place in the international league tables on numeracy and literacy published by the OECD. England was the only country in the UK to submit data so we must assume that the rest of the UK would have achieved a similar place in the tables. England was placed 21 out of 24 for literacy and 22 out of 24 for numeracy. Inevitably, it is back to failing schools, failing teachers and even sometimes failing parents. Nowhere has there been less than a cursory nod to the developmental psychology of children.It is well acknowledged that children in Finland do considerably better than children in the UK and it is also acknowledged that they start school at the age of 7. We have a school starting age of 5 or do we? We have a school starting age of children who are 5 during the school year. In other words, there are some children starting school who are only just turned 4. You donʼt have to be a child psychologist to know that childrenʼs development is rapid at this age. Is it possible that children are getting left behind simply because they are not ready? If you factor in the additional pressures of stats and key stage indicators on both children and teachers is something going awry?
In James Davies book ʻCrackedʼ on page 41 he reports on a Canadian study of 1 million children in which they discovered that the increase in diagnoses of children with ADHD correlated strongly with their age in the school year. The study saw a marked increase in diagnosis of children born later in the year and this rose month by month. What is worrying about this is that these children are being pathologised and even worse being medicated. Perhaps all that is wrong is that they are just not able to concentrate because they are too young. I cannot help wondering if this cannot be transposed to our literacy and numeracy problems.
I went to a small village school when I was 5 and I mean 5. I was born at the end of February and I started school after Easter and it was the same with all my classmates. I am a baby boomer so there was considerable pressure of numbers on this tiny 3 classroom school. I certainly believe my teachers were good but they probably werenʼt outstanding. I couldnʼt read or write when I went to school, I might have been able to count but I donʼt recall. What I do recall is that I developed a love of reading that has never left me. We didnʼt have class positions or school reports or parents evenings. I passed the 11+ and went to the Grammar School but many of my classmates didn’t and that has made me a firm believer in comprehensive education. However, as far as I am aware no one left my primary school without basic literacy and numeracy. I believe that this was influenced by our age when we started but also the teachers had the freedom to teach us in a fluid way that was organic and in no way anxiety inducing. I think that began to be lost at the same time as our place in the league table started to drop.