Shame and its Role in the American Classroom
It’s a powerful factor in the lives of many students today. Curtis Thompson, author of the best seller The Soul of Shame, presents evidence of shame’s connection to the prefrontal cortex of the brain which is largely responsible for judgement, decision making, and problem solving. As a high school math teacher of a culturally diverse student body, I found many students who struggled with these issues.
Do you have any students who struggle with judgment and decision making? Odds are 5 names just came to mind. I already thought of 12. No matter your number, shame may indeed be the true culprit. Shame is defined by a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. Individuals who are conscious of their inadequacies can feel a continual sense of embarrassment and indignity.
From the perspective of many kids I’ve taught, the school environment is a reminder of the assumed reality that they’re not good enough or subpar. It’s a place of shame for many students. No wonder there’s such little motivation to apply themselves or put forth effort. They see no point in even trying because of the constant sense of shame they feel. Over the years, I’ve heard statements from students like,
“Nothing I can do or say is going to make a difference so why risk being humiliated or reminded that I’m a loser!”
“I don’t care about life in general so why should I play your game?”
For far too many students, the present-day testing schedules and grading structures serve as a constant reminder of the shame that they feel. “I’m not good enough”. “I’m a disappointment”. “There’s no hope for me”. These statements ring loud in the minds of kids throughout the country. If we continue this downward trend of ignoring the shame, we only serve to demotivate individuals instead of inspire them.
What would it look like if our classrooms began to acknowledge this root issue of shame? How could we begin to create safer environments for our students so that shame doesn’t have such a foothold in the minds of our youth? I have a few ideas. I bet you do too. Why don’t you email me sometime? We can brainstorm together.
I’m Chris Morris, founder of Morrissey Character Awards and the Morrissey Model. We offer a platform to recognize students for the positive things that they believe they can do to reverse shame and inspire effort.
* For more information on the significance of shame and its effect on our lives, I encourage you to check out Ted Talks videos on YouTube with renowned expert, Brene Brown.
If you are an educator or teacher, I invite you to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We bridge the divide between teacher and student in a way that builds relationship and transforms the classroom experience.