Fear is not the Enemy: It is our Friend


Yesterday, I made a five year old girl cry because I forced her to keep climbing when she was very frightened. I was trying to figure out the source of the tears because if she fell, it was only 2 feet and then onto a soft mat. So she cried and was sitting there stuck in her fear, but I made her keep climbing to the end of the wall not letting her get off. When she finished, I asked her to do it again. She had the same reaction, but she made it to the end again.


I had another student who has had a constant battle while climbing as if there were two voices in her head at the same time, the voice of fear and the voice of courage. The courage was always strong on the way to a task. She could make it to the end, but on the way back she would suddenly be filled with fear and then start yelling at everyone very loudly. It was quite amusing. Everyday that she came to the wall she would ask if she had to do the task and everyday I said yes and everyday the voice of anger connected to the fear diminished a small amount. Finally, yesterday, the last day of climbing the yelling voice left altogether on her very last climb.

What I have learned to do is to make friends with their fears instead of avoiding them or getting mad at them. The students are sometimes angry with me for making them stay in their fears when they are climbing, but usually when they are finished, they feel really excited. It is always a judgment on my part about how much fear I can allow, but if the fall is only a couple of feet rather than a few meters, I keep them in the fear. Eventually the fear is like the caterpillar becoming a butterfly. Each day there is less fear and more courage until the fear is gone. Then we go for a higher challenge that evokes more fear.


The fear is the guide for the curriculum. This is why traditional lesson planning that is content oriented is often so silly. The fear tells me where I can go and also how far.

A few students do something quite remarkable. They leave the realm of fear completely, that is they become almost completely fearless. So then I just have to invent one challenge after another which increases their skill, endurance, problem solving, and strength.

I am certain that they same thing exists in all subjects. Math may be more about overcoming fear than anything else.


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