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Fear: A luxury we can’t afford

Arguably it started with the election of the current president. Students worried about whether or not their families were now in danger because “he” was president. Then it built with the passing of one of our beloved seniors just a couple short weeks after his graduation.

Fast forward two and a half months before the beginning of the school year when the alt-right decides to host a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Armed with weapons and Tiki torches, they demand that they have their country back. Leaving one person dead and several others injured, after one man chose to weaponize his vehicle and plow his car into the crowd protesting the alt-right’s protest. And it grew even more.

Then a couple weeks later, the president ends the DACA program. A program that dozens of students within our schools and thousands of students and people depend on across our country. And it grew even larger.

Fast forward another couple weeks and we lose another student. 16 years old, and no longer with us. And it just continued to grow. Culminating with a racially charged football game hosted at our school that left students not only living with it but angry, too. What is it? It is fear, and it is unfortunately a luxury my students and I cannot afford.

In helping my students navigate the “scary” world that they see themselves living in, a world where they see the actions of its leaders saying, “We do not care about you.” That they see them as rapists, drug dealers, and aliens. A world where the friends that you know and love today can be gone tomorrow, with no warning and no goodbyes. I have had to have conversations with my students about what fear can do to us.

Fear freezes us up. Fear makes us stay home. Fear makes us say that it is not worth trying. Fear can push people, any person, into paralysis. Which is why fear is a tactic so often used against people that are oppressed, disenfranchised, marginalized, and counted out. The hope by those who use fear this way is that the scared will bow and say fighting is not worth it.

Fear allows people—gives people—the luxury to be neutral in a fight in which all hands must be on deck.

But I need my students and anyone feeling afraid of the changes that are happening in this country, the world, and in their lives to know that fear is a luxury.

Luxury is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a condition of abundance or great ease and comfort”, or, “something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary.” I believe fear falls into this category for people interested in combating the ills of our world.

As a fighter, being afraid of the world around us becomes an unnecessary pleasure. Being able to say that I am too scared of (fill in the blank) only allows for problems to persist and thrive. As Link and Gallo (2015) stated, “We believe that to be neutral is to take a (subconscious) stance of being in support of the status quo.” Fear allows people—gives people—the luxury to be neutral in a fight in which all hands must be on deck.

Day in and day out, I have to tell my students that we do not get to watch from the sidelines. We do not get to watch as others dictate what our lives will be. We have to work twice as hard, we have to sacrifice twice as much, all in order to make sure we are helping to create the world that we want to live in. They tell me all the time, “Mr. A, that’s not fair. Why do we have to work so hard? Life is already hard enough, why do we have to be the ones that change everything?” And that’s a wonderful point.

Paolo Freire discusses the burden that the oppressed to have to bring their oppression to the light of the oppressor: “It is necessary that the weakness of the powerless is transformed into a force capable of announcing justice. For this to happen, a total denouncement of fatalism is necessary. We are transformative beings and not beings for accommodation.”

I want my students to know that they are the ones who have to change the world. I need my students to know that they have too many people counting on them, watching them, and looking up to them for them to be afraid. 

We cannot afford to be afraid, to allow fear to keep us from doing what is right and fighting to change the world.           

I tell my students we are on free and reduced lunch here. And if we cannot afford lunch, we cannot afford to be afraid. They have to share their voices and their experiences. They have to be the first in their families. First to graduate high school, first to go to college, first to graduate from college. They have to show the adults around them that they have power and a voice as well. They are the ones that have to pave the way, not only for the young people behind them but for the adults that watch them, too. We do not know how much time we have in this world; therefore, we have to take advantage of the time that we are given.

But the responsibility is not just on the students. Teachers, administrators, community members, and all who are not satisfied with the current state of (fill in the blank). We cannot afford to be afraid, to allow fear to keep us from doing what is right and fighting to change the world.

As Freire said, “The radical, committed to human liberation, does not become the prisoner of a 'circle of certainty' within which reality is also imprisoned. On the contrary, the more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can better transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.”


Barnett Berry commented on October 13, 2017 at 6:34am:

thank you

Thank you Will - and all who have contributed to the conversation on equity and social justice in education. You remind us the purpose of public education - more than preparing young people for the economy and the workplace and more than ensuring that they can pass a standardized test. You and your teaching colleagues do so but in ways to ensure your students "have power and a voice as well." You put the public good in public education in a time when our nation has forgotten much about its importance. I retain hope as 2 in 3 American have trust and confidence in public school teachers - we just need to find ways for them to hear you and your students.  



Renee Moore commented on October 13, 2017 at 12:11pm:

Refuse to Fear

Thank you, thank you, Will for this timely truth. So well put: "Fear is a luxury we cannot afford."  Only the privileged believe they have the option to cover their heads, turn away, or ignore what is happening to millions of people in this country right now. 

I also appreciate that you voiced what I hear so often from my students, my family, and others around me, that "it's not fair." And, of course, they're right. As Fannie Lou Hamer famously said, "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired." But, as she also showed us, the wrongness of it all is even more reason to fight it and to expose the truth. The antidote to fear is faith.

How have your students responded to your encouragements and to the events they have faced? Are they organizing?

William Anderson William Anderson commented on October 15, 2017 at 3:18pm:

@Rennee & @Barnett

Thank you both so much for taking the time to read and respond to my piece.  Mr. Barnett, you make a great point that, in spite of the sometimes controversial attitudes towards education, the attitudes towards teacher by the public remains. They trust us, and I believe that that trust is critical to us building an atmosphere within our communities, and schools, that is not rooted in fear.  Mrs. Renee my student's and I have had numerous conversation about eliminating the fear from their lives, and they are about the work. They have spoken up and out about how, when we remove fear, we have the power to control our power. It has been a blessing to see students move from a place of fear to a place of action. We just have to keep pushing. PS: shout out to you for quoting Queen Fannie Lou Hamer.

Tricia Ebner commented on October 20, 2017 at 6:46am:


Will, I read through this whole piece nodding my head. We need to move past the fear ourselves. How do we help those around us to do the same? How do we get them to see that neutrality really isn't neutral?


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