All In The Family, Part 2

Posted: April 14, 2016
Last Updated: August 10, 2016

(Mary O'Connell/CBC)

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Childhood trauma is increasingly being seen as a major factor in academic under-achievement. Mary O'Connell explores what happened at one high school when suspensions and punishments were replaced with new "trauma-informed" approaches.  54:00

Truancy. Drug use. Failing grades. Academic failure has often been explained as a function of poverty, class, even poor nutrition. But now, childhood trauma is increasingly being seen as a major factor in academic under-achievement. IDEAS producer Mary O'Connell explores what happened at one high school when suspensions and punishments were replaced with new "trauma-informed" approaches. Part 3 airs Wednesday, August 17.

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Developmental molecular biologist Dr. John Medina explains how parents can reduce "sloppy emotional hygiene"  1:14


"If you're deemed to be the bad kid that's better than being the stupid kid, so he'd rather throw a desk, then be called out for the fact that he can't read."


Over the past decade, we've heard a lot about "resilience". Why is it that some people buckle under intense pressure, while others power through it?  We often hear how important "grit" and "character" are -- the idea that noncognitive skills like self-control, curiosity and perseverance are more crucial than intelligence. This concept has been criticized for focussing more on the narrative of the individual, rather than creating a supportive and nurturing system of learning.

However, some schools in America are pursuing the idea of integrating "grit" into the curriculum. In fact, researcher Angela Duckworth has devised a " grit scale" to measure traits like zest, optimism and gratitude. But educators are learning that when it comes to traumatized children, relying on "grit" or "character" is not enough, because social and emotional deficits can under-cut intellectual progress. That's what Jim Sporleder learned when he took over as principal of  Lincoln Alternative -- a Washington state high school for high-risk kids.  After learning through neuroscience what trauma does to a teenager's brain, he abandoned his traditional disciplinarian approach and completely re-thought how to interact with his student population. The results were extraordinary. The "trauma-informed" practises Jim Sporleder learned have become part of a growing network of schools, social service agencies and medical clinics that are spreading throughout North America.


Participants in the progam:

Jim Sporleder, (past) principal, Lincoln Alternative High School, Walla Walla, Washington.

Brooke Bouchey, (past) intervention specialist, Lincoln Alternative High School, Walla Walla, Washington. 

John Medina is a developmental molecular biologist and best-selling author. He is also an affiliate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine.   

Teri Barilla, Children's Resilience Initiative, Washington. 

Chelsea Humphrey, graduate of Lincoln Alternative School, Walla Walla Washington. 

Related websites:

Reading List: 

Paul Tough, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. New  York: Houghton Mifflin, 2012. 

Bessel Van der Kolk, MD, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Penguin Books, New York. 2014. 

Heather Forbes, Help for Billy: A beyond Consequences Approach to Helping Challenging Children in the Classroom. Boulder, CO.: Beyond Consequences Institute, 2012. 

Charlotte Silver, Can Childhood Trauma Shorten Your Life? Alternet, 24 Dec. 2013. 

Martin H. Teicher, Scars that Won't Heal: The Neurobiology of Child Abuse, Scientific American, March, 2002


David Bornstein, Teaching Children to Calm Themselves

Rebecca Ruiz, How Childhood Trauma Could Be Mistaken for ADHD. The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 07 July 2014. 

Kenneth R. Ginsburg, and Martha M. Jablow. Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving  Kids Roots and Wings. Elk Grove Village: American Academy of Pediatrics, 2011. 

John Medina, Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Seattle Washington Pear, 2008. 

John Medina, Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five. Seattle, Washington, Pear, 2010. 

Daniel Siegel, Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation. New York: Bantam,  2010.