Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Our need for more dialog in the face of fear

When the Columbine school shootings happened in 1999 I was teaching at Rush Elementary school in Lubbock, Texas. I remember the next day I was working with a class of first graders, and their teacher remarked to me that the students didn’t really understand where Columbine High School or Colorado was in relation to Lubbock, but they knew some people had been shot at school the previous day and they were scared. For me, this was a dramatic example of the dark side of the global village. Communication technologies have enabled us to do many positive things and remain closer in touch, but they have also served as amplifiers for dark, evil acts that are frequently brought right into our living rooms and classrooms, whether we chose to “let in these visitors” or not.

I am dismayed to read in the news about the recent string of three school shootings across the United States, and my heart goes out to both families, friends, and co-workers directly affected– and also those around our nation living with a greater sense of worry and fear because of these attacks. I do not have the answers, but I know that all humans (regardless of age) need and want safe places to live and work where they can share both their greatest fears and greatest dreams– and be supported and affirmed through that dialog. I sense that in many classrooms today, teachers and students may not be making time for dialog. Stephen Glenn and Jane Nelson noted years ago that “dialog” (a meaningful exchange of perceptions in a non-threatening environment) was in dramatically short-supply throughout our culture, and this is likely a major contributor to the self-destructive behaviors we frequently see in people both young and old.

As we watch the news, read the headlines, and (depending on where we live and who we know) reach out to help those hurt by these senseless acts of violence, perhaps one of the best things we can do is engage in REAL DIALOG with each other: with children, and with adults. We can ask, we can listen, we can respond and we can reflect. Answers to these problems are out there, but like other complex phenomena a single “silver bullet” solution is not out there. It is up to us as educators, parents, and caring adults to help the young people in our care and others around us deal with the fears we must face– and hopefully cultivate home and school environments which are as safe, supportive, and open to dialog as they can be.

We don’t need more fear and stress in our schools. In fact, we need to work hard to REDUCE the fear and stress in many of our classrooms made worse by high stakes testing mandates, along with other factors. Most of these things are out of our personal sphere of control to outright change, but thankfully we do have choices about how we choose to engage those within our care and “sphere of influence” when it comes to talking about these issues. Should students be allowed to blog on a classroom blog about these kinds of things? This raises an interesting question, about what is appropriate for “public blogging” and what should be reserved for private journaling. I’m inclined to say yes. This reminds me of the “We’re Not Afraid” campaign of student voices, which was a response to acts of terrorism around the world. This latest string of school shootings by adults strikes me as at least having effects similar to overt acts of terror. Perhaps our responses should be similar as well.

We can choose to live in fear, or we can choose to join together and say in a loud voice, “We’re not afraid.” Events are facts that happen and we may not be able to change, but fear is a perception and has its basis not only in objective events but also in subjective choices about perceptions and attitudes. Are you afraid? There certainly are many reasons to be afraid today– but what era of human history has ever been different? When have there been no reasons for fear, no reasons to worry, no reasons to despair?

Let us remember the bold words of Margaret Meade, who said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Each conversation we have each day has the potential to change perceptions and thereby change the world. We need to make more time for dialog with each other, today and every day.