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Introduction: A Little Intimate Intertext
'Intertext' reminds us that between the formal texts of curriculum is another kind of life, the life that mediates, announces, repudiates, or cajoles curriculum formalities. This is the life that lies 'in-between' explicit annunciations [and successes], and in terms of potential for shaping future directions and alternatives to what is presently at hand, it may be, by far, the more important influence. --Smith (2003, p. xv) Fear brings out the best and worst in human beings. --Dozier (1998, p. 13) The most central spiritual task of our time is working with fear [p. viii].... Fear contracts the soul. This contraction expresses itself as an inability to engage with others and with the world. --Sardello (1999, p. 3) Our general ignorance about human sexuality 100 years ago is where the current knowledge about fearuality is today. --from the author's website (1) Be afraid, the fear industry tells us: be very afraid. --Spencer (1999) (2) May we go to the places that scare us. May we lead the life of a warrior. --Chodron (2001, p. 123)
My life-partner and I went to a premier showing of a small budget film by a local independent activist-filmmaker last night. I have grown to appreciate this genre, and am inspired by the integration of art and activism that the filmmaker Michael Moore (3) exemplifies, especially in his courageous blockbuster films Bowling for Columbine (2002), and Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) which exposed and popularized the concept of "culture of fear" as a serious historical condition behind gun violence and war in much of the contemporary Western world crisis, especially in America. Moore's work corroborates my own research on 'fear' (e.g., Fisher, 1998, 2003, 2004, in press) and its complex culturally-mediated economic and political postmodern formations (cf. Massumi, 1993).
I am convinced that the topic fear, in whatever form, has to be put on the dialogical table of our current educational and political public agenda (universality implied). This is not likely to happen, to any significant degree, soon. In educational professional circles (K-12 on up), I have found the topic fear itself (and fearless (4)) seems to scare people, and at least it turns them off and they withdraw from serious dialogue, usually changing the topic completely or trivializing the topic to some particular individual fear(s) or joke(s) about how silly "all this fear" is today. Race, class, sex, or AIDS as public educational topics have been plagued with a similar problem of denial (on suppression of humanity's "fear problem" see Overstreet, 1951/70 and Rowe, 1990). There is not one systematic researcher in educational circles today who is publishing (ongoing) on the topic of fear with a critical interdisciplinary lens. This essay is a first for our field, albeit, building on some significant contributions to the topic by professional educators (e.g., Gillian, 2002, 2005; Giroux, 2003; hooks, 2000; Overstreet, 1951/70; Palmer, 1998; Sardello, 1999; Wolf et al., in press).
On the upside, in the past few years I have seen intriguing cross-disciplinary dialogical "fear conferences" offering post-9/11 "fear education" at a public level for adults, showing up in post-secondary learnings sites, for example, Inver Hills Community College, Minnesota (2004) and New School University, New York (2004); while other societies or organizations have done likewise (albeit, somewhat less cross-disciplinary) for example, the international conference "Law in a Frightened Society" (2004), "Be Not Afraid: Common Christian Witness in a Culture of Fear" (2004), and a planned conference "Climate of Fear / Commitment to Peace" (2006). One way or another, for good or for worse (e.g., the tv show "Fear Factor"), fear and how to best manage it is getting due attention lately. Unlike some uses by critics, I use fear education (analogous to sex education or driver's education) with no intended negative connotation that fear is necessarily being used oppressively to motivate and control change of values, attitudes or behaviors.
In contrast to Moore, the young filmmaker (Velcrow Ripper) last night was not hunting for corrupt figure-heads to blame for terror, hatred and violence; rather, he went on a five year personal soul quest, like the sacred warrior (5) must, seeking to understand global destruction, evil, and suffering in sites like Bhopal, Cambodia's "Killing Fields," Hiroshima, NY 9/11 "Ground Zero," girls and women in Afghanistan, and Israel's "Wall"--as curriculum of spiritual enlightenment. His camera lens focused on fear, dread, despair but also hope within stories of real people managing fear and coping with loss and trauma through rare local projects of resistance under oppressive conditions. I thought his film title was intriguing: Scared Sacred (6) (promo line: Unwrap the Darkness, Reveal the Light). He narrated the film himself, with a most humble attitude throughout, even while he was being shot at or his shoes, camera, and other belongings were stolen leaving him at the mercy of other's good will. His basic message was that one has to go into the sacred Dark and face the demons, crack open the guarded heart, and through crisis--eventually, comes the Light, inspiration, and acts of compassion.
For the most part no one likes to admit they are afraid. Even less, would they admit they cannot get their mind off the scary. I confess liking endarkenment more than enlightenment, the latter which seems to get most all the attention. I have a right to complain a little; for it is not a difficult decision for teachers if they have the choice to attend a pro-d seminar on "Fear & Education" (which I offer) or "Love & Education" (which the famed and much richer offer). It was revealing that a 30s excited woman in front of me in the theatre ticket queue was telling a stranger in line that she was going to see this awesome film called "Sacred Sacred." Amazing what one can so simply, repress.
Velcro Ripper (gotta love that name) apologized a few times in the film's narrative for perhaps being "too" attracted to the sites of crisis and "ground zeroes" of our world, even thinking at times he was sick-minded and morbid to want to spend so much time there. Instinctively I suppose, I too want to apologize for the vespertine narrative that follows but I would rather not because there is more than fear involved. Sardello (1999), a wise rare educator, believes "When we don't run from fear, or try to eradicate it, we discover ourselves anew.... as beings of love" (p. vii). Elsewhere (Fisher, 1997, 1997a), I have tracked out a long history of universal insight re: fear, from many spiritual and philosophical traditions that see only two great (metaphysical) "Forces" (also called archetypal emotions): Love vs. fear. (7) However, that inner discovery does not usually happen overnight or in one seminar or weekend retreat. In general, I agree with hooks (2000) that "In our society we [educators] make much of love and say little about fear" (p. 93).
I side with the writer Toni Morrison, whose fiction (pedagogy) is all about the struggle of "making a place for fear" as a prerequisite to controlling it in helpful ways (Miller, 2000, p. 68). But it has to be done with finesse. As a "fear educator," I take Sardello's ethical caveat for us all very seriously: "One of the great challenges in [teaching] writing about fear is to avoid generating more fear by doing so" (p. xvi). With the exception of Sardello, I have yet seen any author's book or article on the topic fear take such wise heed and probably because it is easier said than done. I am still learning this art but my 30+ years teaching tells me that invoking a sacred epistemology (8) is essential to good "fear education." This is in stark contrast to the plethora of popular cynical and sarcastic books on fear(s) today, like Muse's (2000) I'm Afraid, You're Afraid: 448 Things to Fear and Why. And more despicable, are ads that 'play' off our fear to sell brand identities/products, like Nike:
Nike finds a deceptive way of playing on women's fears of being overweight. [and sells their newest 'Healthwalker Plus' shoes with the following ad:] fear of failure fear of success fear of losing your health fear of losing your mind fear of being taken too seriously fear of not being taken seriously enough fear that you worry too much fear that you don't worry enough your mother's fear you'll never marry your father's fear that you will--Group therapy from Nike--Just do it! (cited in Anselmi & Gouliamos, 1998, pp. 103-104)
Readers may recognize the form of the Nike ad as an echo refrain from the ever popular Jeffers (1987) "feel the fear and do it anyway!" slogan of the 80s. Sure, we sometimes need to laugh at ourselves and our fear(s) but I do not see it as educational when the topic of fear is taken out of a critical indepth sociopolitical analysis, as these profane pop-psych books and ads do. However, artists/poets, the likes of Eduardo Galeano, can masterfully tread the line of the sacred and profane in describing our contemporary intertextual "hidden curriculum of fear" (Marshall et al., 1999). Galeano (2000) wrote,
Global Fear: Those who work are afraid they'll lose their jobs. Those who don't are afraid they'll never find one. Whoever doesn't fear hunger is afraid of eating. Drivers are afraid of walking and pedestrians are afraid of getting run over. Democracy is afraid of remembering and language is afraid of speaking. Civilians fear the military, the military fears a shortage of weapons, weapons fear a shortage of wars. It is a time of fear. Women's fear of violent men and men's fear of fearless women. Fear of theives, fear of the police. Fear of doors without locks, of time without watches, of children without television; fear of night without sleeping pills and day without pills to wake up. Fear of crowds, fear of solitude, fear of what was and what could be, fear of dying, fear of living. (p. 78)
Readers will choose (or not) the depth and direction to pursue the sacred Dark ('fear') as scared path of inquiry. Like Velcrow Ripper, I have found personal and collective crisis a great tranformational teaching and learning site. Felman (1992) asked:
Is there a relation between crisis and the very enterprise of education?.... Is there a relation between trauma and pedagogy? In a post-traumatic century, a century that has survived unthinkable historical catastrophes, is there anything that we have learned or that we should learn about education, that we did not know before? Can trauma instruct pedagogy, and can pedagogy shed light on the mystery of trauma? (p. 1)
For me, a passionate "yes" to all Felman's questions. Currently, my curricular research might ask somewhat similar questions but replace the word trauma with fear. To travel this journey with me and fear, I would ask you bracket all past learned associations that this word, concept, and phenomenon has (albeit, virtually impossible). I will offer some empirical, logical, rationale for that request later. I am asking us all to learn something new about fear and see what it can teach. For 16 years my research has led me to be more than a little critical of the way fear is boxed-in prematurely in people's thinking and theories to keep it familiar. The artist in me wants to show the familiar as unfamiliar and provoke new vision and questions.
Let's start this invoking of a new Fear Studies program upon the poetic knife of the artist-philosopher Albert Camus, written during WWII in a French underground newspaper, and his indictment of arrogant Modernism and its "higher" educational agenda:
The 17th century was the century of mathematics, the 18th century was of physical sciences, and the 19th century biology. Our 20th century is the century of fear. [And the 21st is the century of terror]. (9)
Camus's vision certainly challenges the often accepted modernist idea that "education" (the great civilizing force) is "the cure" for ignorance, fear, and superstition; and "all we need is love" (or "hope")10 to overcome fear and its more horrid productions. Neither of these boxed-in wrapped-up premises will be held too dearly in this essay. It's time to smash the educator's 'ark.'
'Fear' Is Not What It Used To Be
"Fear is a very similar [generally unpleasant] feeling [like anxiety] that arises as a normal response to realistic [or imagined] danger or threat. Timidity indicates a lasting tendency to show fear easily" (Marks, 1980, p. 15). If you are rigidly attached to believing that fear is an emotion controlled by the amygdala of the brain (e.g., Le Doux, 1994), your scientifically-biased view will be challenged, not rejected, here. My proposal for Fear Studies, as a program that critiques extant pat definitions like Marks, challenges the types of "fear studies" that dominate our 'fear' imaginary. (11) Fear Studies is based on the premise that typical studies on fear remain rigidly complacent as to the way fear is conceptualized and usually defined, that is, fear is an "emotion or feeling," etc. Every dictionary or encyclopedia confirms what we already know about "what fear is" (and what prescription for coping with fear is best), right? It took an anthropologist to note that psychology alone has dominated the discourse on the subject of fear for a very long time and the social sciences are just barely beginning to catch-up (Scruton, 1986, p. 11). Yet, when put under a scrutinizing lens, even the psychologist Kagan (1998), of eminent repute, has found a great deal of unclarity, confusion, and contradiction in how fear is ascribed in psychology research.
In what context (with what lens) does one normally define fear? Who gets to control that definition (lens)? How does that impact dominating methods of fear management/ education? These are complex questions addressed briefly in this essay later on, especially with discussion of discourses of fear and fearism. I favor the cultural critic Massumi's (1993a) charge that "low-grade fear" has so saturated social space today, that it has become the ground for the formation of self/identity, thus, he says that fear cannot simply be an "emotion" but "It is the mode of being of every image and commodity" and "condition of possibility" (p. 12). He, like this author, wonders if there is any "I" left that can distinguish itself from "fear" in order to resist the "organized fear trade" (Massumi, 1993, viii). Fruedi (2005) wrote, "Fear ... is no longer simply an emotion ... it has become a cultural idiom ..." (p. 1). See Seaton (2001) for an excellent scholarly review of the "commodification of fear," and Ahmed (2003, 2004, 2005) for a brilliant and original analysis of the affective politics of fear. Our 'fear' imaginary and cultural politics needs to be challenged from within a postmodern context, and critical pedagogue McLaren (1995) has been the first educator to articulate that "... we are witnessing the hyperreal formation of an entirely new species of fear" (p. 148). Readers ought to note that most of this writing is all well before 9/11. Our 'fear' situation is a lot worse now.
Elsewhere (Fisher, 1995, 1998a, 2001, 2003a, 2003b) I have discussed in detail the problem of defining and cataloguing 'fear.' Fisher (1995a, 2001a) explored the necessity of a general critical integral (a la Ken Wilber (12)) fear theory to help resolve some of these reductionist and hegemonic problems with the epistemology of 'fear.' (13) Readers may note that I have often used 'fear' with inverted commas in this essay. This indicates the term is under deconstruction and eventual reconstruction. This means no privileged definition that is a norm or common sense meaning from …