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Why Fear is an Incompetent Teacher

We teach children through fear but don't retain the material. It's the current model used despite its limitations to conducive learning.

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Fear Discourages Learning
We teach children through fear but don't retain the material. It's the current model used despite its limitations to conducive learning.

We all want our children to grow, not just by learning the curriculum, but also as fully capable people. Therefore, teaching through fear and compliance will not develop into skilled individuals. Instead, let’s have them learn through engagement and empowerment by bravely asking questions and enthusiastically searching for the answers.  We want to inspire students to learn for the rest of their lives, not just to get to graduation. 

Plato believed that the knowledge which we gain under compulsion is the information that our mind doesn’t keep.  It makes sense that if we’re forced or coerced into learning something, even if it’s valuable, that we will associate it with dread. This anxiety in learning anything makes it more difficult for us to recall the material.   

My granddaughter is an excellent example of this phenomenon.  As the start of school was approaching, I took her shopping for some supplies.  I asked her if she was excited about starting third grade, and she burst into tears. 

“Madeliyne, why are you crying?” I inquired.

“Grandma, in third grade, they make you take a big test,” she sobbed, “and I have to pass so I can show everyone I’m not stupid.”

Wow—it stunned me.  It took me a while to get Madeliyne to calm down. I was reassuring her that the test didn’t matter with all the other things she would do in her lifetime.  Still, I thought it was utterly sad that at the age of eight, she was terrified of having to take a standardized test based on the pressures she heard from the surrounding adults.  No wonder that 44% of elementary students show significant signs of stress.  So, why do we instill fear into our children when we want them to learn? 

No trace of slavery ought to mix with the studies of the freeborn man. No study, pursued under compulsion, remains rooted in the memory. ~ Plato

Learning Involves Change

We are designed to be afraid. It’s part of our genetic make-up so that the species survives.  But as we saw in my granddaughter’s case, she became afraid of something she shouldn’t fear.  And being apprehensive decreases our learning abilities. 

All learning involves change and our egoic minds associates risk with any alterations in what it defines as normal.  Since change is neutral, we can determine if the threat the ego perceives is real or only a dreadful thought in our heads.  Anxiety about the future is paralyzing and keeps us from making decisions. 

Our distress builds over time, and they compound and exaggerate the stress we feel. Then we start to feel helpless because the egoic mind alters the thoughts into criticism of self and sees the mistakes, setbacks, and failures, which magnifies our feelings of low intelligence.  This line of thinking is harmful to ourselves and more so to our children.  

All this built-in coercion arises to get kids to conform and rise to meet the challenges before them.  However, this fear-based learning doesn’t allow real growth to occur.

Fears are educated into us, and can, if we wish, be educated out. ~ Karl Augustus Menninger

Letting Go to Grow

So how do we grow without the fear that change seems to bring?  First, know that to grow, to learn, to gain knowledge requires us to let go of something.  A former belief, the way we did something, and outdated information we need to unlearn are things we need to release to allow growth to occur.

The desire to gain knowledge requires courage on our part.  When we realize growth is more important than our fears about change, we choose to be brave and learn despite being afraid. This realization is how we develop a growth mindset, one that questions everything and is persistent in finding the answers by going within ourselves

If we don’t question all we come in contact with, then we allow others to influence who we become.  We’re no longer empowered to become who we authentically are.  By giving up our power, we don’t discover our truth and happiness eludes us.  When we cling to traditions and reject anything new, we close ourselves off from growing. 

No power so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear. ~ Edmund Burke

Awareness of Fear

No one thrives in a culture of fear, so instilling fear into the learning process won’t help a person grow.  So how do we empower ourselves when fear creeps into our lives? 

First, recognize that if you are feeling anxious as you are moving towards the edge of your comfort zone that you are moving towards a growth spurt.  This bit of unease shows you are doing something unfamiliar, and there is an excitement about taking on a new challenge and gaining new abilities.  And once we get past this nervousness, we will enlarge our horizons, and our future will be brighter.  So thank the Universe for providing you with this situation to expand your soul.   

Then realize that our egoic mind lets our imagination create horrible scenarios that are always worse than what could happen.  Instead, allow your thoughts to drift, to build the dreams you desire.  You still have your imagination at play, but instead of wreaking havoc in your mind, you are reframing the scene to have the outcome you desire.  Both could happen, but focusing on the positive, you can move forward with ease and peace instead of fear.  Since your thoughts create your reality, be sure you are creating a positive one for yourself. 

Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom. ~ Bertrand Russell

Reframing Fear into Respect

Ancient cultures have believed that fear has no value and help their children outgrow the sentiment.  They believe that fear should be replaced with a feeling of respect.  Elders argue that fear is damaging and paralyzing.  Respecting all life eases the egoic mind as the soul knows that we are all connected.  They give the interconnectedness of all life reverence, which reduces the ego’s fearful state of being.      

These wise people don’t suppress their children’s feelings but help them transform them into respect and other beneficial forms.  They do this by helping their youth feel safe and relaxed in frightening circumstances.  These elders also teach kids to interpret these situations morally.  During a thunderstorm, parents allow the children to be in bed with them when they are fearful.  They also provide an alternative explanation that respects the rights of the storm to have time for its own expression, like it’s the thunder’s turn to play. 

There is research that shows fostering respect creates a positive interaction between groups.  It also shows that it facilitates cooperation and resolves disharmony.  Respecting allows us to embrace our differences and support our connection to one another.  Fear is reactive and impedes practical thinking. Respect is conscious and caring, which gives way to candidness and curiosity about the opportunities for a resolution. 

Fear is only as deep as the mind allows. ~ Japanese Proverb

Approaching with Curiosity

When we move toward a situation with respect, we see more clearly.  The fog of fear lifts, and we perceive others differently.  It allows us to increase opportunities to be helpful and understand the truth of the circumstances.  Now we can let our curiosity to spur us on. 

When we are curious, we can overcome any anxiety about moving forward, growing, and learning.  This boldness occurs because when we are inquisitive, we’re also inspired.  We’re “in spirit,” and in a flow state.  When we’re connected to Spirit, love is present, and fear cannot be in the same space as love. 

So approaching all circumstances with curiosity transcends any anxiety we may have without us realizing that it is happening.  And us being interested in the topic we want to learn about means that there is excitement in the discovery process.  There also is a desire and passion for gaining new knowledge.  This hunger for further information gives you a sense of purpose, which drives you to complete the endeavor while enjoying the learning process.  All this positive energy dissolves the negativity that the egoic mind brings. 

Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will. ~ James Stephens

Moving Forward

Human beings have a high capacity to adapt to the ever-changing environment and circumstance we find ourselves.  We all have overcome obstacles in our lives, and we’ve learned through the process.  Building confidence results from coming out on the other side of change despite any fear we have. 

When we are learning through curiosity, we retain the information because we allow inspiration to release the egoic mind’s control of our imagination to see a negative outcome.  This release will enable us to notice how we feel, and we can reframe the fear into respect. Respecting the situation allows us to approach the circumstances with curiosity that put us into a flow state and inspired to learn. 

My favorite quote about overcoming fear is from Frank Herbert in the book Dune

I must not fear.  Fear is the mind-killer.  Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.  I will face my fear.  I will permit it to pass over me and through me.  And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path.  Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing.  Only I will remain.

In its crux, there’s the realization that any form of distress isn’t a part of our true self.  Our soul is connected to Spirit, and it has no fear. Any anxiety we have can easily be transcended because, at our core, the love that we are dissipates all fear. 

There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life. ~ John Lennon

As you become more conscious, that fear is an incompetent teacher, and realize the need to be inspired to learn; you can change your life.

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