Monday, January 11, 2010

Fear Factor

So much has been said about the effect of fear on a society. Murrow powerfully said, “We will not walk in fear of one another”. Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote that, “What begins in fear usually ends in folly.” We’ve recently had a few helpings added to our diet of fear in the aftermath of the failed attempt to blow up a plane headed to Detroit. (A while ago CNN had a tag line I loved: “Fight Fear with Facts”; I wish they’d bring it back.) As Roosevelt said so well, the freedom from fear is a key human right. How should peace and global educators respond, then, to the pervasive fear in society today?

A variety of activities and programs can be implemented in response to our culture’s feasting on fear. Happily for English and history teachers, literature and history are both filled with books, poems, essays, events and leaders who have led societies through fear and those who have led societies beyond it. But I wouldn’t count math and science out either. What is the body’s biological response to fear? What goes on in humans chemically when we fight or are threatened? What’s behind the statistics the media reports regarding terror and crime? Do they distort reality or reflect it? Such “essential questions” can form a vibrant and compelling curriculum, in my view, to begin a dialogue on what fear does to a society and its relationship to violence.

Nor should this dialogue be limited to the classroom. As I was reading some more Ian Harris this morning (Peace Education, 2nd Edition), I was reminded yet again how many other avenues there are for such community conversations—student groups, churches, synagogues, mosques, labor groups, VFWs, local media. Schools are a microcosm of society, and so we can never lose sight of the larger national and global picture.

Nothing reduces fear so much as taking action with others. Therefore students, teachers, parents and community leaders also need the opportunity to design and implement programs which address causes of fear, insecurity and conflict. School systems can partner with local faith leaders on interfaith dialogue, or victims-rights groups serving victims of crime (something like “Take Back the Night” seems like it would work wonderfully). So many of us rightly decry the lack of leadership in our country right now; without giving students the opportunity to lead, how can they gain these skills for the future? Also, such experiential learning respects the fact that, while clearly the media and politicians can foster and exploit fear, the emotion is sometimes quite real (acts of terror and crime of course do occur). The curriculum suggested briefly above is a starting point for classrooms and communities to examine social fear’s sources and causes, and then act, in the true spirit of praxis.