Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Emotional Literacy: Reflections on Megan Boler "Feeling Power: Taming the Labile Student"

The Unknown's picture


            I had not considered how teaching emotional literacy maintains social hierarchies. I appreciated how Boler connected emotional literacy to vocabulary and that it is important that children are given words to describe their complex and conflicting feelings. Yet, at the same time, what words should be taught? How can children creatively and accurately express their emotions without preserving social institutions by using existing words that reinforce individualism?

            I was intrigued by the way Boler questioned “controlled” emotions and how she connected this notion to “blaming the victim” (Boler 82). I had not considered that when people structure the way emotions are conveyed, they are telling people that certain modes of expression will not be tolerated, considered, or listened to. Also, maybe there is a way to create a space where people of all ages can express their emotions however fully they feel them.

            For a classroom to be multicultural, introspective, thoughtful, understanding and a place of change, it is essential that the people who are oppressed and marginalized in society feel comfortable and are encouraged to express their experiences with racism, sexism, ableism, anti-Semitism, and any other injustice Boler explains the importance of silence and who is silenced or feels silenced in upholding the social structures of inequality: “In sum, my greatest hope is that the explicit discourse of emotions leads us to develop, as a culture, a ‘meta-discourse’ about the significance of different emotional expressions, silences, and rules in relation to the power relations that define cultural injustices” (Boler 82). I agree with Boler that it is important that students understand who has been historically silenced, or even when people have been allowed to talk, how has their speech been framed or distorted. When have people spoke using other people’s language so they could be heard, but not necessarily understood? How do we create a classroom where not only the teacher, but also the students value each person’s opinion equally? How do create a space where students are listening to seek understanding, not simply to respond?

            Megan Boler claims that the ways people express their emotions differ depending on their sociopolitical and cultural background, and many of these expressions are not understood or accepted: “Is there an opportunity to analyze how emotional expressions and rules vary according to cultural norms and context?”(Boler 83). Though I applaud Boler for insisting that emotions are conveyed, understood, and interpreted differently depending on the person’s sociopolitical background, she does not consider or fails to mention how learning differences and people on the autism spectrum struggle to read and make sense of body language in particular, but other social cues as well. People’s understanding of feelings and actions are obviously cultured and influenced by the dominant power, but their ideas are also affected by their ability to even see or perceive those dominant notions of how they should act. I would be curious to see if there is more potential, in some ways to educate these children on emotional literacy, because they start with less knowledge and awareness about how they should behave and express their emotions.

            Megan Boler argues that under the name of “caring,” the educational system has imposed existing social structures and dominant agendas: “While the concern and care for youth is real-in general, adult society really does want their children to grow up free from violence and harm-the discourse of care masks other rationales” (Boler 86). I did not realize how much money was used in “security” measures such as guns and x-ray machines to “ensure” children’s “safety.” I think these enactments do not create stability, cohesiveness, or comfort, but fear. The government is forcefully imposing their values through armed people and weapons. There is also no explanation of why these security measures are carried out and the parents should be able to voice how they see these measures effecting their children's education.