Sunday, June 1, 2014

Fear and Learning

I think about fear a lot.  I think fear explains our lives a lot more than we let it.

I teach public speaking; tomorrow night my class is giving their first speeches and I have gotten the anxious emails about it.  One thing I am good at is making a comfortable atmosphere; however, I think there is also something to be said for just throwing them into the water and letting them sink or swim.  They almost always swim; it might not be a pretty breaststroke that will get them the gold medal, but they make it.

Some learning theorists encourage that viewpoint.  Even Vygotsky's zone of proximal development is somewhat along that line. 

I am now reading Parker Palmer's and Arthur Zajonc's book The Heart of Higher Education, which is partially a defense of integrative education.  What is that?  It's trying to get away from classroom-based, textbook-based, banking model (I call it tea pitcher model) type of education.  One argument against these methods is that it is messy.

I don't like messy but I can't seem to avoid it.  My dissertation is messy:  the methodology of action research is messy, the subject matter is messy (and somewhat dynamic), my participants have messy live.  I try to clean my house and not live in squalor but messy just happens.

Yes, messy just happens.  Entropy, perhaps?

Back to the point, in public speaking they read out of the book and take online quizzes and such, but they have to come face to face with the thing they hate.  Some disciplines do that more than others;  I remember dissecting a frog in high school, and I think of my colleagues who work with snakes!  (There was a black snake in my yard two days ago, minding its own business, but like Emily Dickinson, I still get zero in the bone when I see snakes).  Students have to touch and come face to face with the "other," "the hated," in some disciplines, and that is one of our greatest fears.  No wonder people fear learning.  But it is the only way, really.  If we stay in our comfort zones, we do not learn--we just get solidified and entrenched in what we (think we) already know.

Good speaker on TTBOOK.org today talked about belief and fear.  He suggested that the next time you are confronted with an idea you disagree with, see how it's affecting your bodily emotions.  That may mean the disagreement is coming from someplace other than rationality,purely thought of.  

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