ACEs in the Stillness

The main intersection for our class is between English and the sciences as we take up the familiar cause of creating an integrative experience in education. Geology fits itself into Jemisin’ writing in many ways but serves mostly as a point of conflict although the work of studying the Earth isn’t explicitly the violence being done. The fallout of what the Earth does and the consequences of trying to affect it are things we see very clearly in The Stone Sky as our familiar heroes, Essun and Nassun, move through disaster. We’ve talked a great deal about the world Jemisin’ has built and the people who populate it, but my specific position as an educator has started to lead me towards the roles and actions of children in the the Stillness and how the environment interacts with them outside of the silver threads of magic.

There’s a lot to be said about the raising of children in the Stillness, but what has interested me most is how children develop psychologically. My coursework at Geneseo required me to take a psychology class in adolescent development so that I could better understand what affects my students on a mental level. Because the business of teaching has everything to do with the mind, understanding how young minds work is paramount to effective instruction. Of the studied topics, adverse childhood experiences has stuck with me as a particularly troubling aspect of negative development. Considering Jemisin’s themes of abuse and mistreatment on a multitude of levels, it seems fitting to talk about the weight of what happens to adolescent characters beyond the reminder that Nassun is only twelve.

This article, an NPR article that comes with a quiz on adverse childhood experiences, and this article, a US Health department branch that includes adverse childhood experiences in their prevention literature, provides a basic overview of how adverse childhood experiences impact youth. The short version of those sites and their links to the actual research conducted is that adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, can build exponentially, ‘cluster’ in their occurrence, and have lasting affects on the behaviors and physical health of those they affect. An easy way of understanding them is to considering ACEs as effects of a lived in environment. Although Jemisin’s environment of the Stillness ranges from nearly Neolithic to modern, it’s as developed as our world. With a high level of organization, development, and accumulated history on both Earths, there exist systems that serve one purpose while creating a toxic environment with damaging effects to an other.

You don’t need Jemisin’s disaster strewn landscape of the Stillness to generate risk environments and damage the livelihood of children though. The events following the enormous rift that Alabaster are more than enough to generate an extreme environment that has a broader affect on the Stillness’ children and adolescents. Even before the near-global disaster, the oppressive environment against orogenes was enough to create a fearful, pedicidal majority. If ACEs can be categorized as either abuse, neglect, or household dysfunction, then Essun/Damaya would have easily checked the boxes for ACEs related to her being physically abused by Schaffa, caged by her family, and being denied food due to her being an orogene. Following with the cycle that ACEs can create, Nassun suffered her own broken bones at the hand of her mother, witnessed the death of her brother, and has already killed multiple times due to lack of security) by the age of 12.

I’m wary to make anything close to a diagnosis due to the fact that a single class in college does not make me an expert, but I found it interesting that there are some traceable lines with empirical data on how a 12 year old adopts Nihilism. This post really is a continued exercise in my delight that Jemisin writes about fantastic things that are explainable either in her world or ours.

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