jiddu krishnamurti (1)

Right Kind of Education: Fear Education

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[note: should be May, not Nay, as author here]

1941

Two historical documents here, the first by May, an American psychologist (1891-1977), wrote a good deal about the psychological imperatives for "peace education" in the world and then penned this 1941 book on the nature of what education ought to be in a "World of Fear". I had not previously found this little 73pp book in all my decades of researching on fear and Education. So, I share this with delight of discovering an important historical thinker, who has importantly contributed, even if implicitly, to what I call (and Jiddu Krishnamurti) "appropriate education" or "right kind of education"  OR simply, "Fear Education" required for a world of peace, freedom and non-oppression--never mind, now it is so important to have such a right (ethical) education for ecological sanity and with the outcome of creating a true sustainable health for all beings for many generations. Life depends on this movement, reformation, and transformation of Education as we know it. 

Regarding May's book (published by Harvard University Press), and its opening sentence on p. 1, "The dominating emotion of the world today is fear." I would highly guess there is no other book on Education anywhere, dare I say in the world, across cultures, through time and history, that opens on its first page, first sentence, with that brutally honest and courageous statement of a declaration and indictment to the Modern World. One has to assume it is, more or less, a great truth that humans generally deny and do not like to face and/or write down on paper--and, especially in a book on Education.

I myself, specializing in fear education and leadership, have not been so bold and poignant in my own writing to nail this epithet like May did 80 years ago. And, so I wanted to honor him for doing so. And, may a great many other writers do the same from here on. I found one reference recently during COVID-19 pandemic by Gup (2020), talking about his experience in higher education and all the fear and trauma of what is happening to most everyone in his circles, and that he himself is questioning what is really core to being relevant right now to teach. He asked in this online article: "What is my goal as an educator?" And, then responded to himself: "In part, the answer may be what the late Mark May... declared in 1941, as the world faced the imminent prospect of war: "The task of education is to teach people how to manage their anxieties and hold them proportional to the realities of the danger." His [The Inglis Lecture] lecture turned book was entitled Education in a World of Fear, a fitting primer for today." [1] On my first look through the indexes, I could find only 4 book reviews done on May's book in the early 1940s, after that the book seems to have largely disappeared from view or at least no one was citing it with any enthusiasm. I'll continue to research to see if that is indeed the factual fate of this work by May.

Of course, it was in the midst of WW-II and all the big threats to democracy, to America and its allies (e.g., Nazism, fascism, pathological communism) that May was writing. Fears were abundant and spreading like a virus around most of the world, where people were directly involved in these toxic ideologies and the wars that accompanied them, and/or where people had global media access to listen to what was happening. Being informed in the times of WW-II (like WW-I) meant being fearful and anxious in an existential way that took its toll on everyone. Of course, it would take a psychologist, and specialist in educational psychology [2] as May was to name 'the dis-ease' (if not the inner 'enemy') to democracy, freedom, and a healthy world condition and good future. And, it was 1941 also that W. H. Auden penned his famous long poem "Age of Anxiety," which published in 1947, won a Pulitizer Prize for Poetry in 1948. It could just as well have been entitled "Age of Fear" or "World of Fear"--and so, one wonders if May had come across Auden's indictment or visa versa (?). Auden's poem, which is arguably a postmodern symptom arose because of a lament of the Modern Age which indeed seemed to be plagued by fears and anxieties, which Auden linked in the poem to increasing loss of cultural and family traditions, loss of religious/spiritual and moral compass, loss of basic sociality of trust and replacement of mistrust--leading to increasing human isolation. How indeed, could a social species (Homo sapiens) last under such conditions of decay? 

From my point of view, a social species that does not have a thorough, creative and progressive Fear Education (curriculum, pedagogy, awareness, and commitment), like say sex education or peace education, etc., is a species that just won't make it far towards reaching its potential, and worse, it will likely deconstruct and enter extinction very rapidly in evolutionary time. Yet, why is it, I cannot find such a curriculum of a good, a right, an appropriate "fear education" to this day. Humans have avoided nailing it down, and May, is one amongst some other insightful and wise people, named it in his education book 80 years ago. But a lot of silence followed after his first sentence, first page, and his first book on setting the context for the field of education--that is, "a world of fear." The context is everything, for designing an appropriate education for the era we live in. I think nothing has changed since 1941 and yes, as Gup (2020) wrote in his article, mentioned above, such a context that May had named is "a fitting primer for today." Problem is, we need more than May's primer. We need a research agenda that acknowledges the nature and role of fear, across the board. We need it now. And, I have been working on this project since late 1989, and unfortunately, with little 'up-take' from the Education circles or from society in general. So, let me turn now to a most powerful voice, again, not one that is acknowledged generally in academia or the field of Education (at least, certainly not in the W. world)--J. Krishnamurti, a great philosopher of Indian background, who broke out and talked to the world in the 1930s-80s, at least to those that would listen, about many things--and liberational Education was always on his agenda. 

Jiddu Krishnamurti (1885-1986)

I wish to briefly introduce another thinker (from India, also lived in USA), outside of the field of Education proper, who has more than one lecture or book that is "a fitting primer for today." Although I met JK in my own snooping and advancing my educational philosophy studies c. 1980s-90s, I have not published much on him, and I intend to change that. One of his small books Education and the Significance of Life (1953) [3]of which I copied the cover and placed it with May's first page (above image), is truly the most important book I know of relevant to education in a world of fear. If I had my say in how teachers today were to be "trained" --at least, in their first educational philosophy class, they would read this gem of a book. Frankly, I do not know of any one professor of education anywhere who is utilizing this book as a core reader for pre-service teachers. Of course, it is not only for those entering the profession of education but for all educators any time in their careers or beyond their careers. It is a necessary book to 'set priorities' on "What is my goal as an educator?" Governments, parent groups, and leaders of all kinds, ought to ask that question and, at least, explore what this philosopher JK has to say about the "right kind of education." 

There is far too many quotes in this little book I would love to share, but in the spirit of this short blog post, and my juxtapositioning with May's book, I'll settle for one I picked at random this morning from JK's 1953 text, and to remember, my interpretation is that JK also, implicitly, is calling for a better "fear education" for humanity everywhere: 

....without love no human problem can be solved. If the teacher is of the right kind, [s]he will not depend on a method, but will sstudy each individual pupil....The child is the result of both the past and the present and is therefore already conditioned. If we transmit our background to the child, we perpetuate both his and our own conditioning. There is radical transformation only when we understand our own conditioning and are free of it. To discuss what should be the right kind of education while we ourselves are conditioned is utterly futile....[unfortunately too often] We seek to fulfil ourselves in our children [students], to perpetuate ourselves through them." (p. 27)

[JK is talking about the (mis-)use of education, learning, teaching, as a grounds for perpetuating 'adult' needs and projections on children but keep in mind he is well aware that as parents/teachers/educators of all kinds, if we are unaware of our conditioning, then we are more or less mere 'agents' reproducing the agenda of the culture, society, religion, etc. within which all this socialization and education is taking place. Now, if you add May's point, and JK would not have likely disagreed, education is taking place ongoing, since at least 1941 (to pick an arbitrary date and era), then education is taking place in a "culture of fear" by any other name [4]. For brevity, I would argue the "conditioning" conceptualization here is truly radical and part of any good critical philosophy and pedagogy--but to be clear, JK arguably, is talking about fear-conditioning. Any serious investigation into theories of learning, has to start with the often accepted notion that what humans have learned about learning is that it can be "tested" and "inculcated" by psychological conditioning--of which, famously is done by "shock" (i.e., fear-conditioning)--because it is so overt, obvious, and incredibly effective. Thus, starts our basis for a critical literacy on the nature and role of fear--that is, "fear education" 101.]

If we would help the child to be free from the ways of the [conditioned] self, which cause so much suffering [fearfulness], then each one of us should set about altering deeply his attitude and relationship to the child. Parents and educators, by their own thought and conduct, can help the child to be free and to flower in love and goodness. Education as it is at present in no way encourages the understanding of the inherited [cultural] tendencies and environmental influences which [fear-] condition the mind and heart and sustain fear, and therefore it does not help us to break through these conditionings and bring about an integrated human being. Any form of education that concerns itself with a part and not with the whole [and context] of man [sic] inevitably leads to increasing conflict and suffering. It is only in individual freedom [from fear] that love and goodness can flower; and the right kind of education alone can offer this freedom. Neither conformity to the present society nor the promise of a future Utopia can ever give the individual that insight without which [s]he is constantly creating problems. (pp. 28-9).

So much more could be said about JK and the education of freedom from fear which is a central thread that ties everything his philosophy is about and creates. No wonder it has long attracted me. I would call it an education of fearlessness, or a fearlessness education, no matter what it is. I see in these quotes alone, the deeper issue of JK's persistence to draw our attention to the global Fear Problem. Meaning, we have not adequately named and/or undermined this Fear Problem. And, until we do, and we face our complicit participation in it (e.g., compliance with the "culture of fear" dynamic everywhere)--then, any 'education' is actually being done to reproduce the very problem we may think we want to solve. I am convinced after 32 years researching on fear, fearlessness, education, leadership, that rare is it to find anyone who wil fully admit the Fear Problem on the scale that May, JK or myself are demanding. We have a choice here. We are not mere victims to this Fear Problem. Albeit, it is immense, because we are so fear-conditioned--operating in the 'Fear' Matrix as I have called it [5] and cannot even sense sometimes what 'water it is we are swimming in'--and so it becomes hard to imagine there is anything different, alternative--or actually freeing. As Erich Fromm and so many others have said, and JK included, 'humans are afraid to be free' --at least, within the conditioning of several millenium and in the Modern Age onward. My task as an educational designer? Design a "fear education" that builds the essential emancipatory critical literacy for such a project--I call it In Search of Fearlessness Project--but it could have other names too. 

Recently at an online conference, hosted in Canada and connected with India and an international audience, entitled "J. Krishnamurti and the Contemporary World Crisis"--I asked the panel after their presentations the following, based on how often I heard the host and panel members mention the word "fear":

I have always found Krishnamurti's analysis of knowledge and self as dependent upon analysis of fear. Do we need a better "fear education" where, fear is not merely an emotion like all others.?" 

The host and presenters did respond kindly and sincerely but I found their understanding of my question unsatisfactory. They clearly could not address the second part of it. Maybe there was not time to, or maybe they really have no idea what a "fear education" means--certainly, if they have not read my work, they will not likely have enough to go on to even engage a rich dialogue on the topic. That's not their fault, it is that humanity has not done much since May's calling 80 years ago. Education as a whole is way behind the exacerbated viral fear-conditioning of the everyday--even though, no doubt there are improvements and some alternative education curriculum (e.g., private schools) that are going further along the road of emancipatory holistic and integral education. Even with the 'best' of those, however, I have discovered they are resistant still to talking about fear at the depths of what I propose they may want to consider in their curriculum and pedagogy. It's sad to watch these great school systems still being caught, or blind, to what JK, myself and others have pointed to--re: fear. 

If we look at May's first page and first sentence again now, his third word is "emotion"--and that is where he locates "fear." That assumption, reasonable as it is based on W. (highly conditioned) thought (e.g., disciplinary philosophy and psychology)--it is very problematic to a good emancipatory "fear education" of the kind that JK or myself are asking for. To think that fear is just another emotion like all others, more or less, is a great illusion--and part of the problem of suffering. But, I won't go further in making that argument, though you can read Krishnamurti's book on education (1953) and you will definitely see how fear is by far something more than any other emotion he talks about in his philosophy. OK. Enough. 

Let's continue the dialogue [r.michaelfisher52@gmail.com], and give "fear education" its due. I for one am pursuing this for the rest of my years on this planet--and, specifically, my newest book just starting is entitled: The Fear Problematique: Role of Philosophy of Education in Speaking Truths to Powers in a Culture of Fear (Information Age Publ.). 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes

1. Gup, T. (2020). Rewriting the syllabus. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/04/15/professors-will-be-returning-different-reality-their-classrooms-fall-opinion

2. May had a Ph.D., professor of educational psychology and long-time director of the Institute of Human Relations, Yale University. He was author of several other books and a highly respected scholar and humanitarian in his days of service.  

3. Krishnamurit, J. (1953/81). Education and the significance of life. Harper & Row. 

4. Since the early 1980s, in the W. world, many scholars and some educators, have been naming the "culture of fear" per se as the context by which we all are living, more or less. No longer is it merely a group of "fears" or "anxieties" that we face together, as May is referring to--but, in the postmodern condition, arguably, the entire fabric of culture itself is fear-based, fear-shaped, fear-addicted, and so on. Now, under that condition, which I start my own educational philosophy, we have to ask "What is my goal as an educator?" Wow. That's a massive and heavy starting place. Of course, many, I have found, will conveniently answer that by saying, "My goal is to love them" (the children). Anyways, that's a huge contentious topic and answer that I find incredibly insufficient, as I believe JK or May would also have critiqued. Not to say, 'love' is not something incredibly important in the world and in educational happenings, but JK may mention loves pivotal role, as in the quote I chose above, but he says so much more about fear than most of my colleagues would who have taken on the love-mantra as "the" solution. These colleagues promote, more or less, a "love education" and have little to no patience for a "fear education." Frankly, I find that attitude alone, and the lack of curiosity that accompanies it, evidence for just how much fear is motivating their 'love' agenda. I do not trust it for one moment. JK would have a lot to say about that hidden motivation as well, part of our "conditioning." 

5. E.g., Fisher, R. M. (2003). Fearless leadership in and out of the 'Fear' Matrix. Unpubl. dissertation. The University of British Columbia.

 

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