The Fear Factor

The greatest obstacle to transforming our current school system and to doing away with coercive, compulsory schooling is fear.

Fear of change, fear of failure, fear of retribution and even fear of each other.

The first three are no surprise.  Bad as our educational system is, it is what most of us grew up with.  It is the “devil that we know.”     Fear of change and fear of failure go hand in hand.  What if we change the system and the result is even worse?  What if we change the system and we fail to make things better?

I get it.

Fear of retribution is a big one, as well.  Teachers fear for their jobs, parents fear for their ability to take their kids out of the system.

All of this I understand, even if I think it should not rule our actions.

It’s the last one that took me a bit by surprise over the last few days – the fear that we have of each other.

Turns out that it’s not just kids who fear teachers; many teachers fear the kids and their parents.   Or rather, they fear what might happen if a child or a parent complains about them, which of course then becomes the whole fear of retribution thing.   There is also fear among and between people of differing educational philosophies; unschoolers are seen as too radical, possibly dangerous by almost everyone, sometimes even by other homeschooling families.   And on and on it goes.

The bottom line is that if we are going to make the necessary progress to do away with the school system in its’ current incarnation, we are going to need to move past our fears.

Any transformation of public education in this country is going to impact the children more than anyone, so we need to get past the fear of working side by side with them.  We need to refrain from insisting that students should form groups (aided by their parents, of course!) separately from the teachers/administrators, in order to keep everyone “safe”.     Teachers are afraid that joining forces with their students will be seen as inappropriate and will open them up to lawsuits or loss of employment.   And I guess there are parents out there who believe all teachers are predators. (?!)  But imagine if the people who marched for Civil Rights in the south in the 1960’s had insisted that blacks and whites march separately out of fear of what might happen if they marched together.  In fact they knowingly broke laws by sitting together, marching together and protesting the injustice of the system together.

They moved beyond their fear.   It was that important.

Here is another fear to consider: the fear that after all the comments and debates on Facebook are done and the reporters have moved on to the next news story of the moment, nothing will happen.  Fear will stagnate the Badass Teachers movement, and others like it, and keep it from taking the next step.   Students and teachers will remain “separate but equal” and the system will keep churning out (chewing up?) uninspired kids.

Right now there is a groundswell, but unless everyone – and everyone includes the student voices – join forces and refuse to back down in the face of adversity?   Then it’s all just talk.   The number of unschoolers will continue to grow, but the system as a whole probably won’t change.

Maybe by the time my kids have children of their own….

4 comments on “The Fear Factor

  1. Kelly says:

    Great post, Amy. I completely agree, fear is an obstacle … one that is capable of stopping this movement cold. The other is a lack of trust, which I guess is one of the results of fear. Another is getting stuck in the venting phase of coming together.

    Any movement which involves great change will bring with it risks and require great amounts of time and energy and a coming together of sorts as mentioned in your last post.

    Any movement that hopes to create change for a certain group needs to have at the core of it’s mission and action plan the people it hopes to create change for … in this case young people. Their voices must be included and heard. Perhaps that idea is just too radical at the moment. There was a time most people thought women shouldn’t have a voice. Things have improved on that front in many places, my hope is that things will one day change for young people too.

  2. Scott Bartow says:

    Great article Amy.

    I think part of the problem is that thoughts (in this case people feeling that something is terribly wrong with the current school system), are private. As a group we need to make these thoughts public so that people can realize that we’re all feeling the same thing.

    For example the type of car a person drives is seen by all their neighbors (so it’s public) but the type of toothpaste they use, no one knows about (so it’s private).

    One of the biggest fears most people have is to be viewed as a non-conformist. If everyone was able see publicly that we are all feeling the same (about school system failing our kids), that it would eliminate the fear of not following the satus quo, because it would become the status quo.

    The question is, how do we make it public for all to see?

    • Amy says:

      Hi Scott,

      Thanks for the comment. Interesting. I always feared being a conformist! (But I guess that goes a long way in explaining why I chose to unschool…) I think the BTA is trying to achieve publicizing the depth of the discontent and giving people a public place in which to vent those feelings. It remains to be seen if it will succeed (and by success I mean ultimate change of the educational system).


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