Sunday, May 14, 2023

"A Teacher Never Fails, Only You Do"


This article brought to you by the Peer Voices Network. 

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Today's post is a story about a response email motivated and inspired by an excellent four minute student advocacy video (linked just below), and how that student performance helped me understand and make sense of a recent experience I had. A hurtful experience where I, yet again, was silenced by and banned from a supposedly trauma-informed mental health support community.

This is only secondarily about that one incident though. This is about a proud vocalization speaking out against, and explanation of, ongoing attempts to hold individuals themselves responsible for their natural and understandable emotional distress in response to societal failures. A reality these sorts of communities continually fail to address. 

For some brief context, this group that silenced me, PACEs Connections, has a focus on education and childhood trauma. I am a childhood trauma survivor. On one of their public comment forums I let out a single "f-bomb" comment as part of anger directed at one of their hosted article authors yet again not representing the story and perspectives of my trauma communities correctly. This misrepresentation is a common occurrence on their website and in the theory, materials, and methods they promote. In response to my language choice, I was instantly banned. No probation period. 

There was some follow up review. During that time PACEs Connections staff chose to spend their time policing my language choice while simultaneously failing to listen to, respect, and seek to understand why I was angry.  They refused to engage in meaningful and respectful accountability for addressing the problematic content - problematic as determined by a multitude of peer feedback perspectives. They chose to not take accountability for resolving what caused the anger in the first place - egregious misrepresentation of my survivor community's experiences and viewpoints.  

This is far from an isolated incident. Similar hostile interactions with mental health "support" communities and professionals have happened to me, on average, 3-5 times a week every single week for almost four full years. I am hoping these communities will eventually come to understand why this treatment of peer voice is deeply problematic. And figure out how to take direct action to support changing the status quo silencing, ignoring, denial of, and hostile attacks against peer perspectives, opinions, and views.

The  below letter (slightly edited here for clarity) was sent to PACEs Connections staff on May 14th, 2023.

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"A Teacher Never Fails, Only You Do"

The above quote was found within the following four minute advocacy performance by student voice. I recommend watching that video in full, then reading this note. 

Video Link: 2014 - Brave New Voices (Finals) - "Somewhere in America" by Los Angeles Team

Watching that helped me start to more fully understand. To help along the construction of a concept I innately have known was occuring. But could never find and struggled to build a descriptive concept for it or put words to it. Which also prevented me from truly or fully understanding what has been happening to me. That concept being: It can be abuse to be failed.

Students are constantly gaslit into being, themselves, called failures when they are the ones being failed by systems and societies. 

With the additional social justice note that children, peers, and service users of social services are (almost) never allowed to define what will be counted as success or failure. We remain unable to and disallowed from holding systems and others accountable for our own self-defined "failure" and "success" needs. That is the country and system we live in. 

This can be extended to include my own ongoing situation where, for example, it seems believed that PACEs Connections didn't fail me. Instead, I was declared to be a failing participant within their community and banned for what they viewed as my own failure. It is decreed that systems and services don't fail. Only I do. That is the narrative I'm subjected to every day. That is the narrative I have to fight to not internalize and often don't succeed at preventing. It is an impossible ask to not prevent it when the narrative onslaught comes from every angle, every single day. 

I reject the notion that we, the victims, have to build "resilience". I reject the viewpoint of "it's me myself who isn't doing enough to not let these experiences affect, hurt, and damage me". That is an abusive and unjust framing of the situation. Stop calling myself and my peers the failure point. Start understanding that we are being failed and point your compassion, outrage, and focus at those failures. We do not need to be "fixed". Why?

Because my peers and I are not broken. We are not failures, though we are constantly treated as such. We are, it remains true, suffering. But it is because we are constantly being failed. When we speak up in protest of that gaslighting self-fault narrative, we are ignored. We are attacked. We are dismissed. We are further failed, and often further traumatized, by those experiences.

It's time to end that cycle. It's time to get the story right. 

My peers and I are not failures, though we are constantly treated as such. We are not allowed to define or effectively pursue health, success, or help on our own terms. My peers and I are being failed and abused by the systems we inhabit every day of our lives.

Even when you discuss social determinants, you're not always getting the story right. Please stop doing that. Please start being held accountable to truly listen. Please have the humility to understand your story of these situations might be wrong. Please work to properly empower the people themselves to write the story correctly.


- M

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Photo by Antor Paul on Unsplash

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