When Troubled Students Are Seen as #SadNotBad

I was heartened the other day when I read about a collaboration of five schools in New Orleans, almost all of whose schools are charter schools, that’s replacing “no excuses” discipline of troubled students with a trauma-informed approach.

If students anywhere in the country could use a less punitive school climate, it’s students in New Orleans. According to the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies, children in the Big Easy have post-traumatic stress disorder at three times the national rate. As NPR has noted, the city’s high incarceration rate also means that many students are without at least one parent—which causes its own serious problems.

IWES has started a social media campaign, #SadNotBad, which has elicited tweets like this:





It’s easy to misinterpret sad, troubled behavior for just bad. According to LucidWitness.com, kids in dysfunctional, abusive, or neglectful homes can develop a hyperarousal response that could have them flipping desks in the classroom.

Others shut down completely—almost ensuring that they won’t get the attention and services they need. Still, others can develop dissociation, a kind of emotional and social checking out. Trauma affects two out of three kids, making it an epidemic, according to some experts.

Yet the story of Ryan Speedo Green, the bass-baritone in demand at international opera houses, offers some hope. The acclaimed opera star and winner of numerous awards used to throw desks at teachers. He told his white, female teacher he wouldn’t be taught by a white woman. He spent time in a juvenile facility.

I heard him recount his story at this year’s Oliver Scholars Gala and immediately wondered, ‘How many more budding opera singers are languishing in juvenile facilities today? How many students would benefit from a more trauma-informed and less punitive approach at school?’

Another tweet under the hashtag #SadNotBad reads: “Strike ‘at risk’ from your vocab, switch to ‘at promise.’ Don’t operate from a deficit base.”


For more about the collaboration in New Orleans, visit the Hechinger Report.