A taste of freedom – Trauma healing in Somatic Education

Bessel van der Kolks’s book The Body Keeps the Score, #1 New York Times bestseller for 27 weeks, long time Amazon bestseller in nonfiction, published in 36 languages, has 124 mentions of the word “school.” Throughout his book Bessel van der Kolk writes of rape and violence happening in schools—and of domestic rape and violence, obviously performed by people who went through compulsory schooling themselves. Yet, he fails to critique compulsory schooling, the bureaucratic system. Quite to the contrary, his book concludes, “The greatest hope for traumatized, abused, and neglected children is to receive a good education in schools.”

The next famous trauma-expert celebrity on main stream media, Peter A. Levine, seems to ignore the trauma-causing system design in compulsory schooling all together. I couldn’t find anything much about it in the following books of his: In An Unspoken Voice, Waking the Tiger, Trauma and Memory, Healing Trauma. In almost all schools children are subject to coercion and indoctrination, by design. On top of that, some schools are so rotten that the danger of actual rape and physical violence is real and ever present. 12 years in such an environment do nothing to a child? Really? And not a single chapter on that by one of the most acknowledged trauma experts in the world?

So much for the work of the famous and much praised psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk and psychotherapist Peter A. Levine. And how many do follow their lead?

However, psycholinguist Frank Smith is not afraid to look at the origins of trauma in compulsory schooling. Psycho-linguist, not psycho-therapist. In his book Understanding Reading he writes, “A final point. It is not necessary for any readers, and especially not for beginners, to understand the meaning of everything they attempt to read [..] children are rarely given credit for their ability to ignore what they can’t understand and to attend only to that from which they will learn. Unfortunately, the right of children to ignore what they can’t understand may be the first of their freedoms to be taken away when they enter school.

Credit where credit is due. How come a psycholinguist can write what the most famous of the trauma-therapy bunch can’t even hint at? But then, of course, Frank Smith’s work has been discredited, debunked, factchecked. Of course. Speak against the machine and see your life’s work being pulled off the shelves. Bad luck for the people who are kept in the dark, by the best of the best of trauma therapy? Or their own fault, for trusting the top selling experts of mainstream medicine?

On top of all that, I don’t even think that “The right to ignore” is the first freedom taken away from children upon entering school. The list of freedoms taken away immediately upon entering school is a long one.

“Each day, schools reinforce how absolute and arbitrary power really is by granting and denying access to fundamental needs for toilets, water, privacy, and movement. In this way, basic human rights which usually require only individual volition, are transformed into privileges not to be taken for granted.” John Taylor-Gatto wrote about it truthfully and without a muzzle in his books, for example in The Underground History of American Education, Weapons of Mass Instructions, Dumbing Us Down. That is after he has quit his job as a school teacher, he wouldn’t have been able to speak up like this and hold his position in the system.

And all this is not mentioned by the great trauma-expert celebrities?

Classes and the environment for Somatic Education must be set-up very differently than classes in compulsory schooling, if humans ought to grow and heal.

For example, when you come to my classes of Somatic Education, be it in person or on video, your freedoms are not taken away from you. This is the first thing that confuses new clients. Where should they lie down? Should they lie down? Or should they sit? Stand? Do they need to participate or can they just watch? Why don’t I stop them from talking, or being silent? Why don’t I tell them which books they have to read? Why don’t I give instructions with a voice of superior authority, why don’t I correct and adjust clients, but make mere suggestions instead? And why don’t I get upset when they fall asleep?

When you come to my class, you may even keep your freedom to ignore me. “You don’t need to see me, but if you would like to participate, I’d suggest you chose a place from where you can hear me well,” I often begin. You don’t have to look into my eyes when I talk to you. “Look at me,” is a command you will never hear in my classes.

And so healing begins. Your freedoms are built into my teachings. The movements are the vehicle, the work is the work, your freedoms are the teaching; for you to remember.

A state of physical ease and freedom from pain

There’s a boatload of ex·tra·or·di·nar·i·ly expensive international schools around here, where I live. At lunch time or late afternoon, when I sit in a coffee shop, I most always have some teachers around me. They make most of the Western looking faces around here. Overhearing them, usually they talk about holidays, family, travelling and making plans, and jest about the problems at school. I talked to some; really nice and cheerful folk.

Sometimes I think I would have made a good school teacher. On top of that, I heard that schools around here pay really, really well. And I have to admit, I do envy these teachers to some degree. They get plenty of students, great social integration, a huge, worldwide, very diverse network of colleagues, flexible hours and long holidays, a taste of luxury and adventure at the forefront of society. In return they have to sign work contracts and submit themselves to their school’s mandates, ethics, rules and regulations… become part of the schooling system, cogs in the wheel, bricks in the wall, henchmen for the Rockefeller family.

So there you have it: before I become a teacher in the schooling system, hell has to freeze over multiple times until it’s at a bearable temperature. What’s the difference between numbness and comfort? Between turning-a-blind-eye-to and being liberal? Will we humans ever form a society where everyone has the feeling that everything is all right?

At the doorstep of Kindergarten

My neighbours somehow convinced me to join their 6k morning runs. Three times a week at 5:30am, at the break of dawn. Pretty awesome actually. Especially since I have the luxury of taking naps afterwards.

Jogging in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, figure that. That’s actually possible because of the lockdowns and the New Normal, in terms of air quality. Also, I live in one of the cleaner areas in the city. As most everywhere else, there’s no notable sidewalks or parks here, however traffic in the early mornings is slow enough to use the streets for running.

One of the things you would notice about this area is, that it’s jam packed with hyper-expensive schools and pre-schools. Very fancy daytime detention centers. Facilities in which children are temporarily confined, denied a variety of freedoms and trained to adapt a mindset of obedience, under the authority of the state or state licensed private organisations. In some streets these facilities are built almost back to back, with very prominent roadside advertising billboards in between them. As I limped-by by the tenth or so, I asked myself, “Am I too upset about schools? Do I take my critique too far? Shouldn’t I focus more on my running?”

I recalled Elizabeth Kübler-Ross and her five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. “Now at age 48, shouldn’t I have reached the stage of acceptance already?” I thought.

But then I also recalled the great Alice Miller, I paraphrase into a first-person perspective:

“After having experienced child maltreatment it is not enough to grieve about what happened, as psychoanalists assume. It is indispensable to rebell against the endured cruelty, as well as clearly recognize and reject it. Only this way we become free of the tendency to unconsciously repeat the same pattern. The suppressed rage subsists in our bodies if it was never consciously experienced, nor expressed.”

I was thinking, “True that. I haven’t even started to feel angry. My rage is just in its feebly beginnings. I will write more about what compulsory schooling really is, about its unreformable, psychopathic nature. And how I clearly reject it, as my professional choices are proof of. I will not hold back.”

As I passed by another fan·cy-schman·cy Kindergarten, I suddenly saw it very clearly: Children are experts at studying the feelings, expressions and behaviour of adults, the grown-up’s interactions and daily routines, as the child’s mission is to become a member of society, be a valuable part of their community. All this is taken from children at the doorstep of Kindergarten.

Children are grouped by age. They are put into cells they call classrooms, together with a (quite often stressed-out by the burden of responsibility) woman with a shrill, loud voice. Not only is a whole range of freedoms taken from the children, such as privacy and the right to refuse compliance, but worst of all, they are robbed of context.

Small wonder I felt so alienated in Kindergarten myself, when I was a child. Children are removed from their parents, their parent’s work and life reality, and put in a room with children the same age. There’s nothing of importance to do or learn, no mind to study. And soon enough, in the absence of meaning, the children will stumble into games and quarrels of hierarchy, social class, possession of items, levels of compliance and playing favourites, and so forth, and so forth.

Right there at the doorstep of Kindergarten the processing begins. Even the most well-meaning, hard working educator does not stand a hint of a chance to help it. And if they try, they will burn out quicker than you can say Herbert Freudenberger. Stripping meaning and context from human lives is the very nature of the psychopathic, narcotic compulsory schooling. It’s the system’s design, and it’s perfectly resilient against change or reform.

The 6 stages of trauma (an early draft)

I’ve just skipped through an interview with one of the world’s top trauma experts, Dr. Gabor Maté, On How Trauma Fuels Disease, on the Rich Roll Podcast. He makes great points with his thesis of culture vs biology, but like seemingly most everyone else, ignores the elephant in the room. His lack of criticism of compulsory schooling stands out like a sore thumb, given the examples in the interview, and how many times he mentions schools, for example, in his book When The Body Says No… thirty-one times; without notably criticising schools themselves even once.

I’ve left a comment on the video, expecting the comment to be either deleted, ignored, or criticised, something like that. But then I’ve actually gotten a great comment on my comment, by Jayzin C:

“This is a really great point. I went to a great public school and was never bullied, but recently at age 36 I’ve thought about the fact that we all had to physically sit there for 6 hours a day with only a little recess or gym in between. How insane? [..] That must’ve had serious impact on our bodies and minds. I know it has for me.”

I agree. Each day schools granted and denied us basic human rights, when we were children, such as: the access to fundamental needs for toilets, water, privacy, and movement. As kids they tried to make us feel indifferent to constant surveillance, age-segregation, bells and confinement, busy work, studying random, unrelated topics, accepting whoever stood before us as authority, sitting in silence without movement for hours on end, et cetera, et cetera, et cet·er·a.

Homework: make a list of all the things they tried to make you feel indifferent to.

This morning, while working on the table of contents for my blog, I’ve come up with my own thesis on trauma healing. In my first draft Trauma comes and goes in 6 steps:

  1. Hurting – the traumatic event that actually hurts whether we know it or not
  2. Shock – the inability to cope with the immensity of the hurting event
  3. Acceptance – the past can’t be changed, so we accept both, that the event has happened as well as our current state of being
  4. Anger – first step of healing
  5. Rejection – not going there anymore, making sure it will not happen again
  6. Outgrow – find new ways, grow into new habits

Uh, what a nice 6 steps, innit?! Not bad for someone who’s not working for a hospital, who doesn’t have agreement contracts with insurance companies, and who isn’t an international bestseller and trauma expert… innit?

Like birds under the sky

So we rented a scooter and drove criss-cross over the Island of Phu Quoc, Vietnam. Here’s two pictures where the ever present, extreme environmental destruction and extreme littering is drowned out by the magnificent colours of the land:

While driving two things impressed me, monumentally:

1. On the side of a road I saw a small sized, yet grown cow. Not one of these over-engineered industrial cows from which 10 gallons of milk are drawn every day of their short lives, but a cute little cow. And with her was a calf, a cute litte baby cow half her size. The calf was busy drinking her milk. What a sight! A natural sized cow roaming about under the sky, not in a box, not barb-wired in, with her calf, which was drinking its mother’s milk! This truly touched me.

2. Then later, on the side of the road, I saw children playing, jesting, running about. They were maybe 3 to 8 years old, with strong black hair, barefoot, with no other things on them than simple clothes. I saw children playing with sticks, children riding bicycles, and even some children riding 50ccm motorbikes, all making joyful faces. These children are not locked in, not confined to gated spaces, not under surveillance, neither under supervision. They are roaming about freely under the sky, making up their own games and stories. How amazing is that?! This almost blew my mind, I haven’t seen such a thing in—what seems like—decades.

These children reminded me of my own childhood on the countryside. The stupid school I had to endure was in one town, my family’s home was in the next. My father used to drop me off at school in the mornings. And every day, after the unnaturally long hours were over, the ordeal of sitting still in the government’s indoctrination facility, the time that was stolen from children, families and communities, I had the free choice of walking home. Or riding my bicycle, or taking a bus. Even hitchhiking was an option. I was free to make my own choices and to design my own routes. I would walk and wander and think, let my mind run loose, try different pathways, experience all weather and seasons. The road went alongside the lake, then up the mountain, through the lower part of the forest. I would play with the children from the farm that was on the edge of the forest, explore the forest with its ants and insects, foxes and badgers, trees and dying streams. The only thing that was expected of me was that I be home before dinner.

While we were driving on a scooter over that island in Vietnam, at least for some long minutes, I went into a mode of thoughtfulness. I was thinking of the essays of John Taylor Gatto’s book Dumbing Us Down; about the differences between networks and communities, between institutions and families, and how compulsory schooling took down the world as it was for millions of years. A quote came to mind:

“Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values which will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important: how to live and how to die.”

Us common folks they serve hope

I meant to continue to write about compulsory schooling and its devastating effects on society. This topic is in my blood now. And about the failure of homeschooling. And why homeschooling might be even worse than compulsory schooling in schools. For it takes the worst of schooling even deeper into families and communities, into their very homes, making it even more troubling. iPads and video chat and temp teachers. Like a virus traveling from the nose downwards and nesting itself deep into the lungs, and from there entering the bloodstream, sickening the whole system.

But I also wanted to share a positive outlook, what I see is uplifting and emotionally helpful. I recall the saying, “Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.” I have the story in my brain (or wherever words and pictures and such are stored in the physical body), but appear empty handed, I didn’t write anything for a full week; because I didn’t have the time to write it down in a mode of conciseness and precision.

So, maybe tomorrow. Today I need to finish a text for a lesson I taught online in German language. A financially almost fruitless endeavour. The Euro is crashing, my small savings in my savings account disappearing, any income in Euro flushed down the same spillway. Luckily my patrons in the English speaking world support me in USD, which seems to be stable. Yet, Austrian German is my mother-tongue, and I want to share my work with the German speaking folk as well. Would there was hope. At least they hand us that, with a smile.

The uprooting of family businesses and families by compulsory schooling

Downstairs, starting at the corner of my street where I live in District 2 of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, there’s hundreds and hundreds of little shops. Some of them shops are selling fresh fruit. The one where I buy my bananas is one of the best selling shops in the area. Business is good. They sell various types of coconuts and coconut jelly desserts. They sell various types of bananas, mangoes, mangosteens, avocados, dragonfruits, longans, all kinds of fruit.

The shop is a shop and a home, with the storefront in the front, a courtyard in the middle, and a home in the back. All members of the family work there: the father, the mother, the grandparents, and two kids of about 5 and 9 years old. There’s chickens walking about in the courtyard and in between the crates in the shop, there’s a dog and two cats.

The kids are part of the family and learn the business. They see how the grown-ups run the business, buy and sell, handle problems, tend to customers. The kids are free to roam around and study, but also do chores like cleaning, preparing fruit for selling, they talk to customers and handle money. They grow into the successful family business and are part of the family and greater community of sellers and business owners. They are close to their parents and grandparents, and absorb their values, skills, teachings, everything that is important for a good life.

Now imagine: the police shows up and takes the kids away. For 12 years, for five to six days a week, for 5 to 8 hours at a time, they are put into a building that is removed from public life. Every hour they are moved from one cell to another cell that is bland and has no connection to real life or family business. They are put into these cells with other kids of similar age and social background, which are equally removed from their lives and families.

This means the kids can learn hardly anything from each other as they are all just kids without context, and they all have nothing of real importance to do, to see, to learn. This is inherently stressful for all of them, since it’s the nature of children to learn and to get prepared for life as grown-ups, to grow into their position in a community and to learn to participate in society as a whole in meaningful ways, to find meaning through what they do. They feel an internal, invisible clock ticking while they are forced to sit idly and are kept away from their real lives. Every tick of that internal clock is like a beating, and the stress just keeps building up.

They need to sit still on little chairs behind little desks and comply with a whole range of rules that don’t seem to make sense. They are required to obey to an authority that is foreign to their family, to their community, and to their actual lives. In fact, in most cases they won’t even know the people that are giving them the rules, these people are neither close friends of their parents, nor part of their families, nor their communities. Worse so, with time children will become used to following random strangers (and might even look for strangers to follow) and to accept mandates from whomever mounts themselves in front of them.

On top of that they are given “home work” by the strangers they need to obey. “Home work” that for the most part neither has relevance for their own lives nor for their families, and which will eat away even more time and sense.

On top of that their skills to write, to read, to calculate and to communicate is kept at an inadequate, poor level, in most cases much worse than what they would learn at home for the community they were born into. I quote from the book Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto: “It appears to me as a schoolteacher that schools are already a major cause of weak families and weak communities. They separate parents and children from vital interaction with each other and from true curiosity about each other’s lives. Schools stifle family originality by appropriating the critical time needed for any sound idea of family to develop—then they blame the family for its failure to be a family. It’s like a malicious person lifting a photograph from the developing chemicals too early, and then pronouncing the photographer incompetent. A Massachusetts Senator said a while ago that his state had a higher literacy rate before it adopted compulsory schooling than after. It’s certainly an idea worth considering: schools reached their maximum efficiency long ago, meaning that more for schools will make things worse, instead of better. [..] Senator Ted Kennedy’s office released a paper not too long ago claiming that prior to compulsory education the state literacy rate was ninety-eight percent and that after it the figure never exceeded ninety-one percent, where it stands in 1990.”

Not even mockery, but sad reality, the children’s family has to pay money for all that schooling either directly, or indirectly via government tax. And after these 12 years, when the kids are finally free to go, their family’s business might not exist anymore, or for whatever reason they don’t want or can’t enter their family’s business anymore, and they need to start a profession (or job) from zero, maybe in a dog-eat-dog environment.

This whole thing is as mad as it sounds like, yet many parents are still under the spell to think that the benefits of compulsory schooling outweigh the problems, and that the problems can somehow be fixed. However, as things look like after 200 years of compulsory schooling, the schooling system can’t be fixed… just like black mold on a wall can’t be fixed. The solution is to have less of it, not more.