How Schools Can Cultivate Courage in the Face of Fear

Recently in Getting Smart, Tyler Thigpen wrote a piece on fear in the classroom, offering educators some insight into the debilitating anxiety that some students experience. Excerpts from the piece appear below:

What if by understanding where fears stem from, educators could design the learning environment for optimal courage? Courage is not about avoiding fear. It’s about understanding it and moving forward in its presence.

In 2012, researcher and consultant Dr. Karl Albrecht put forth a hierarchy of fear, in pyramid form, claiming “there are only five basic fears, out of which almost all of our other so-called fears are manufactured.” They are, in order of most fundamental to most evolved:

  • Fear of extinction
  • Fear of mutilation
  • Fear of loss of autonomy
  • Fear of separation, and
  • Fear of ego death

If you look at Albrecht’s pyramid in the same way you might look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, fears of extinction and mutilation are the most fundamental. Put simply, these are, respectively, a fear of death and a fear of harm. 

The fear of loss of autonomy is that of being restricted, overwhelmed, or controlled by an outside force. As we acknowledge this fear, how can we address it in a way that allows students to tap into their courage?

A fear of separation refers to an emotional and psychological fear of rejection and abandonment, of not being wanted. How might we thread caring relationships throughout the learning experience in a way that helps ease this fear?

Lastly, fear of ego death is the fear of humiliation, shame, and of losing yourself. How does a school make sure that every learner knows that at a fundamental level they have value?

It’s not enough to create a school environment where kids are ‘not afraid.’ Kids deserve the opportunity to thrive and flourish in an education system that encourages and emboldens them to believe in themselves and take risks. This cultivates courageous, unafraid students.

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