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Pedagogies of Wholeness: Cultivating Critical Healing Literacies with Students of Color in an Embodied English Classroom


Trauma has a significant impact on marginalized communities (Ginwright, 2016) and is an issue that should be addressed within schools (Ko et al., 2008). The problem is that schools are themselves a site of violence, where young people become disembodied from their own righteous rage and resilience (Duncan-Andrade, 2009), and teachers learn to silence their own needs in order to fully serve their students (Hydon et al., 2015). This dissertation therefore explores ways to take back the various ways of knowing we hold in our bodies, minds, and spirits, and channel them into pedagogies of wholeness, which embrace the full humanity of young people at the margins and the teachers who serve them, in order to heal from personal and collective pain.

Focusing on the context of an English classroom and my own teaching as a teacher/researcher, I explore the following questions:

• How do Students of Color describe the impact of trauma on their lives and learning?

• How does a teacher create and implement healing pedagogies in an English classroom?

• How do Students of Color respond to healing pedagogies in an English classroom?

• How does a teacher maintain a sustainable healing pedagogy practice?

I combine Auto-Ethnography (Chang, 2016) with Portraiture (Lightfoot & Davis, 1997) to craft blended portraits that examine my process as a teacher/researcher throughout a 20-week semester of teaching 11th–grade English at a public high school in Los Angeles. Honing in on interviews and interactions with four student participants throughout the semester, as well as my own curriculum analysis and personal reflections, the blended portraits reveal the burdens and strength Students of Color carry while navigating various worlds, and the tensions and epiphanies that arise when cultivating bravery, belonging, and critical understanding in the classroom. I offer a critical healing praxis framework, which describes (a) how I come to understand students’ complex needs and design units of intimate inquiry, (b) how students engage in an embodied analysis of various texts and develop critical healing literacies, and (c) how I work towards keeping myself grounded and centered throughout this soul-demanding work.

By employing embodied frameworks, radical feminist epistemologies, and an intersectional analysis, pedagogies of wholeness push against private/public and emotional/rational binaries in schools, and offer concrete ways to help students make meaning from their pain and emotions, and uncover and meet their needs to feel fully seen, heard, and understood. Integrating critical literacy (Morrell, 2008) and socio-emotional literacy practices, critical healing literacies help students shift from being objected to false dominant narratives to becoming the subjects of their own life-affirming narratives. In turn, they are able to lessen the weight of grief and anger, and ultimately move in the world—not from habits of fear, shame or lack, but from a deep sense of knowing, conviction, and compassion for themselves and their communities.

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