How Experience Shapes our View

For your reference, before you begin reading: What are Schemas?

I have been thinking about writing a post about “schema” and how all the experiences and knowledge we have build into ways we continue to interpret information – visually, in reading, and in future experiences. When I stood in front of a classroom of 30 middle schoolers (four times a day), I had to consider that each student had a vastly different schema. Each had different experiences, different traumas, and different support networks. Before I could expect anyone of them to learn anything in my classroom, I had to understand that. To understand, I had to read, have an open mind, and listen when a child came to me with their experiences.

The original purpose of this particular post was to talk about how I use that understanding of schema as an artist – how I take my knowledge of my audience’s potential knowledge and make compelling storytelling imagery.

In light of everything I’ve seen take place over the past week, I thought a good use of this post would be to talk about different schemas and how they are always changing, evolving, and unique.

As a cisgendered, straight, middle-class white woman, the outward perception of me is that I lead a life of complete privilege. And to a degree, that is true. I was born as and identify as a female. I am attracted to men. We are comfortable with our financial situation. And I am white. I move comfortably through society with few worries.

What exists but can’t be seen in my schema is the abuse I endured at the whims of a narcissist, or the fact that I grew up in a relatively poor town with one working parent and one who stayed home. What cannot be seen is the assault I endured that changed how I trust men. What cannot be seen is my anxiety and depression and sleep disorders. What cannot be seen is my trauma.

So, I tell you this because when I think about thinking (metacognition, if you’re interested in a vocabulary word), it only makes sense that if *I* have trauma that is unseen, so do others.

We, as human beings, should do no less than consider that other people have unseen trauma and knowledge outside of our own. When cries from the streets of “Black Lives Matter” are met with “All Lives Matter,” it denigrates the collective trauma of the African American community. Of course, all lives matter; but black lives are part of all lives. People with white privilege, like me, cannot understand this part of the Black schema because it is not our experience. But we can think about it, and we can listen to the stories, and we can be allies. We can teach our children that justice can only be served when the system is equitable. We can show them how to be compassionate. We can teach them to stand up when they see a wrong being committed.

Silence is not an option. Silence is complacency. Feelings of guilt and shame make it really difficult for white people to speak up. Feeings of fear. The fear of losing business. The fear of losing friendships. The fear of family members cutting you out. We cannot allow our lives to be controlled by fear. Silence may protect my emotions and relationships, but right now silence does not help solve the problems in our society.

If someone disagrees with me, it doesn’t define their “goodness” or “badness” – it simply means we have a different schema. If my opinion is too much for them to handle, we can peaceably part ways.

My schema is constantly changing. It has changed a lot over the past week as I have searched for ways to be a better ally to POC and other marginalized groups. (Guess what, I searched that out on my own because it’s not the job of my friends who are POC to educate me. They’re tired. If you want to know how to be better, do the legwork. You will appreciate it far more that way, as will your friends who are POC.)

Twenty twenty. The year the world burned and a pandemic struck. Let it also be the year that we learned. Let it be the year we deconstruct old ways and rebuild new ones. Let this be the year we turn civil unrest into civil discourse. Let this be the year we turn ignorance into understanding.

And it always be up to you.


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