Critical Wellness

Critical wellness and social-emotional learning rely on educators’ recognizing, understanding, and affirming students’ racial and cultural identities.

Critical wellness is advanced as a necessity for educators and others who work in educational contexts with students whose social, emotional, and political landscapes have worked against them, their families, and their communities. Indeed, as the authors have conceptualized it, anyone working with young people from camp counselors to social workers to school educators should press toward critical wellness.

 All Students Must Thrive : Transforming Schools to Combat Toxic Stressors and Cultivate Critical Wellness

Frequently absent from the wellness literature is an acknowledgment that such issues as poverty, race, gender identity, and structural inequities act as impediments for many students in schools.

 All Students Must Thrive : Transforming Schools to Combat Toxic Stressors and Cultivate Critical Wellness

When critical wellness becomes part of our educational ethos, students and educators alike benefit because they work concurrently toward healing and humanization. As a pedagogical stance and an outcome, the authors advance humanization as an essential tenet of critical wellness. In the authors’ words: “Humanization as a critically relevant, and real, form of social and emotional health and well-being, must channel the hurt and desire of students to express the pathos of community suffering that too often goes unacknowledged.”

 All Students Must Thrive : Transforming Schools to Combat Toxic Stressors and Cultivate Critical Wellness

Educators must develop a healthy understanding of historical, political, and economic structures that have a profound impact on students’ ability to learn.

 All Students Must Thrive : Transforming Schools to Combat Toxic Stressors and Cultivate Critical Wellness

All Students Must Thrive is intended to inform educators about social and economic issues—trauma, death, violence, displacement, abuse, and racism—that have a profound impact on students’ social emotional well-being and their ability to learn in schools. Critical wellness in education is a concept that addresses the role of race, culture, trauma, mental health, social emotional* well-being, bias, identity, and adverse circumstances that inhibit students’ ability to be whole in the pursuit of education. And it does so without placing these issues within a deficit-laden framework that blames children, families, and communities for their circumstances. This book argues that the concept of critical wellness is vital to correcting school inequity. It also provides strategies for implementing a critical wellness framework in a class, a classroom, a school, or throughout a school district.

 All Students Must Thrive : Transforming Schools to Combat Toxic Stressors and Cultivate Critical Wellness

Critical wellness in education brings together three theoretical frameworks that have relevance for equity in schools: wellness, critical pedagogy, and critical race theory.

 All Students Must Thrive : Transforming Schools to Combat Toxic Stressors and Cultivate Critical Wellness

To address what it means to make SEL critically relevant for students of color, teachers must aim for humanization. How teachers take up and approach SEL still falls far short of transforming the dehumanizing structures that impose self-hate, divide-and-conquer tactics, and suboppression, and consequently harm the social and emotional health and well-being of young people of color. Humanization requires that students learn the following three concepts:

  • Knowledge of self
  • Solidarity
  • Self-determination

Humanization provides the real social and emotional learning that historically marginalized communities deserve. By lacking an explicit analysis of the intersecting systems of racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism, SEL is not encompassing enough of a framework to address the dehumanization that marginalized communities experience. Fulfilling the aims of SEL does not ensure humanization, whereas fulfilling the objectives of humanization does ensure that teachers are addressing the social and emotional needs of marginalized students. SEL and humanization need to work together.

The problem is, color-blind approaches to SEL compound the harm done by intersecting systems of oppression by placing the burden of responsibility for change on the people who are harmed the most—students of color, gender-nonconforming youth, and young people whose families bear the brunt of economic disparities in underdeveloped communities.

 All Students Must Thrive : Transforming Schools to Combat Toxic Stressors and Cultivate Critical Wellness

Critical wellness is a term coined by Tyrone C Howard and his
co-authors in this really fantastic book called “All Students Must Thrive”, which I highly recommend.

They define critical wellness as the idea of fostering wellness plus critical pedagogy plus critical race theory.

So what they’re looking at is the idea that we have to
understand the ways that social, political, historical, economic factors impact our ability to be well.

What does “critical wellness” look like in practice? w/ Alex Venet – YouTube

Further reading,

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Published by Ryan Boren

#ActuallyAutistic retired technologist turned wannabe-sociologist. Equity literate education, respectfully connected parenting, passion-based learning, indie ed-tech, neurodiversity, social model of disability, design for real life, inclusion, open web, open source. he/they