Teach our children to think: a move away from fear-based education

Yesterday an Ottawa school cancelled a field trip because one parent was afraid.

Students at St. Peter Catholic School were to travel to the U.S. to experience election activity first-hand. When a parent expressed concern that the teenagers might be exposed to opinions that did not mesh with hers, and those she projects onto all Catholics, the principal cancelled the field trip. (Read the Ottawa Citizen story here: School trip cancelled amid pro-choice controversy.

This parent didn’t consider that the students might make the trip, hear those opinions and then reach the same conclusion as she did. Instead, she wanted to deny students access to information.

That is the opposite of what education is about.

Education is about fearlessly exposing our children to the broadest spectrum of information available. It’s about teaching them to separate credible sources from non-credible sources. It’s about teaching them to think critically about the best possible information and then to form well thought out opinions, even if those opinions differ from those of parents.

It’s about teaching them “to think,” not “what to think.”

After all, if you’re afraid that information that opposes your point of view might change someone’s mind, then maybe the foundations of what you believe are a little shakier than you’re willing to admit.

3 thoughts on “Teach our children to think: a move away from fear-based education

  1. dorothyanneb

    This is becoming ever more prevalent. Wish people would understand that ideas grow stronger through discussion. Of course it would have been wrong for just that one student to stay home, since the parent didn’t want to take responsibility for her closed-minded ness and so she damaged the experience for all. How supremely selfish!

    1. Arlene Somerton Smith Post author

      Field trips are fewer and farther between these days anyway. I find it sad that these kids were denied the opportunity to travel and learn the best way possible – through first-hand experience. SO much better than reading it in a book.

  2. rmichaelfisher

    I agree with much of what you say and thanks for saying it.

    Recently I took up to study the use of the “fear-based” concept itself and encourage you all to check it out (free pdf paper @ http://csiie.org/mod/page/view.php?id=3 scroll down for document) entitled: “The Problem of Defining the Concept of ‘Fear-based’”. I invite dialogue on this topic so we can be more clear what we are talking about and refine the effectiveness of using it as a construct. The Abstract of the paper is below:
    Abstract: Over the past 25 years of systematic research on fear and fearlessness, the author has found an ever-increasing use of the term “fear-based” by many and diverse authors, teachers, professionals and citizens-at-large. Particularly in the last decade the term, much like “culture of fear,” has become popular across disciplines and is reflective of an inter-est, by diverse peoples, in human motivation at its deepest core “emotional” level. Most every writer-critic, in a binary (polarized) way of thinking, believes (or argues) that “fear-based” is negative and destructive, if not the source of all conflict, evil, and pathology—it appears a universal knowledge and “truth” that this is so. Love-based is usually held up as the opposite (i.e., binary stance). Although the author (a fearologist) has also taken that binary positioning for many years, upon recent philosophical reflection and some research, finds this less than a satisfactory position—especially, without nuancing its validity more systematically and without having the critical dialogues required to ferret out what we are talking about. He concludes, typically, this increase of usage of the “fear-based” label, important as it is, has not been very enlightening but rather repetitive, moralistically judgmental and cliché—due to virtually no conceptual defining, theoretical critiques, specific measurable assessments, or critical thinking of what to do with the term “fear-based” when it is opposed (for example) to “love-based” in real life situations, with real actors and organizations coming from either fear-based or love-based paradigms. The many (and increasing) critics of anything “fear-based” always implicitly or explicitly identify as not fear-based (i.e., more or less, love-based) and morally superior. Without more critical analysis of the concept and its uses, the author feels the labeling starts to become embedded in ideology, secular and religious, turning at worst into extreme violent ideologism—an oppressive way to think. This introductory paper, a philosophical reflection based on fearlessness (and a critical integral approach), offers an initial discussion of these problems of using the label “fear-based” and offers some recommendations of how to improve our methodologies, claims of truth, and teaching (i.e., education about, for example, fear and love as root motivational constructs).


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