Happy Students: Fear is one of the biggest motivation killers for our youth

Charles Jackard
Charles Jackard

By Charles Jackard, EdD

The public may feel that school security is so important that the additional expenditures are necessary. However, multiple studies have found that the additional school security measures do not substantially increase school safety and on the contrary often make students feel less safe at school (Bachman, Randolph, Brown, 2011; Gastic, 2011; Hankin, Hertz, & Simon, 2011; Petrosino, Guckenburg, & Fronius, 2012). When school funds are diverted to security, there is less funding available for teachers, mental health professionals, and prevention services. Educators should question whether they should sacrifice student support and prevention services in order to fund security measures of questionable value. A strong administrator who makes sure the school staff implements all policies and procedures would be much more efficient and cost effective.

Despite compelling evidence to the contrary, many teachers still believe that fear — fear of failure, fear of an unwanted call home, fear of the teacher, fear of ridicule, or fear of an unpleasant consequence — is a prime motivator for students to do high-quality work. The intentional creation of fear in the classroom remains one of the most widely used strategies for managing student behavior and encouraging academic achievement.

But fear compromises our ability to learn.

Fear is an emotion that can be downright crippling, totally paralyzing a logical mind and functioning body. Fear causes a person to retreat into him/herself and move away from society at large, and resort to compulsive and ritualistic behavior to ward off danger. Or even worse it can cause panic and loss of all control.

Certainly there are times we are confronted with real, frightening situations. With all the security in a school, our youth are always worrying about the possibility of an armed person entering the school and shooting innocent people. But very often anxiety attacks set in when the cause is not known consciously. The recollection of a bad situation listed in the media subconsciously makes a person afraid and not motivated to function at a high level. Some fears reside deep in the psyche due to all the negative press regarding all forms of violence in our schools and society.

Strategies to assist youth in reducing fear in their lives

Only by facing fear directly in the face on all levels can we learn to recognize and overcome the perceived dangers, whether real or imagined.
Keep in mind that research has shown that bravado is not the answer to fear. The stiff upper lip is just another form of denial, and that does no good whatsoever. Simply list the worst things that can result if you walk straight into the face of fear, you might be surprised at how often the worst thing is not fraught with terrible consequences.

When I look at the youth of today, my heart hurts. And it’s not for reasons that many of you will suspect. It’s not because so many are getting into drugs, immorality, following the wrong crowd and throwing away their life. It’s because very few young people today have a powerful voice speaking into their lives, blowing fresh wind from heaven onto their future. My stomach starts to hurt when I think of the creative genius youth of this generation who are turning to alternative things with their talent simply because no one cared enough to speak life and believe in them.

Listen carefully to what youth say. In response avoid lecturing and moralizing. Research substantiates that listening has been under- emphasized as a powerful tool for enhancing effective communication between two or more humans. In keeping with this theme of parenting and teaching with empathy, the good listener who truly hears, that is acknowledges and legitimizes what another person says, with empathy and compassion, is more valued and appreciated than merely the good talker and using fear as a motivator of youth.

Every student should have the opportunity to talk with someone who cares and believes every human being is important. This can and should be done through some form of group counseling or advisory group. Research supports this concept and most schools only provide lip service to the concept. Both students and staff don’t like either program because they are forced to follow some type of pre-planned (canned) program. To be successful and meet the needs of students, reduce the fear factor, content should be obtained from student input. Unfortunately, those making the decisions continue to do the same thing over and over. Doing the same thing over and over provides the same results. A fearful environment makes learning more difficult!

Leawood resident Charles Jackard is an education expert and the former principal of Horizons Academy in northeast Johnson County. You can read more of his work on his website here.

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