Center for Spiritual Inquiry and Integral Education

R. Michael Fisher
Educator's Questioning Curriculum: Post-Sandy Hook
by R. Michael Fisher - Wednesday, December 26, 2012, 08:43 AM

This post is not a finished essay on violence, guns, mass murders, and especially when they invade the 'normal' space of schools and learning, as they did a week ago at Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, CN. We have seen and heard of these horrid events before, and not just in schools. But when in schools, indeed with our youngest grade 1 children (20 killed by one gunman), we are more than morally outraged and saddened. The following is a curricularist's response to an American educator, Carl A. Grant, VP of Division B of the American Educational Research Association (Dec. 24, 2012). I thank my colleague who forwarded it to me. Here is the jist of Carl's email to all of Division B (that's probably a lot of thousands of professional educators and researchers in education):

There is sadness in places where there is usually much joy during this time of the season this  year; and rightly so. The sadness, as I speak with friends, neighbors and people who ring my door bell come mostly from how our children are being treated in our violent society. Regardless of where the conversation starts, or the  many things we may talk about, or who is participating before the conversation is over, sadness, confusion, anger, and wanting to do something about the violence our children are facing come up.  I too am sad, angry and wondering about what can I do to push back against the violence. As VP of Div.  B, I wonder about "Curriculum and Violence." I can't recall a recent study of same, if someone has one I would be interested in receiving it reading it and circulating it. We show know, shouldn't we????


I wonder about "Curriculum and Violence," says Carl-- this is where I'll pick up my thoughts this morning on what I'll share with all concerned about A CURRICULUM OF LOVE AND FEAR. My background on working with violence and education goes ways back, I'll save the bio. as you can find my CV and Publications lists on my websites(1), including on this website you are on now (click on "Instructors" on the home page). Since Sandy Hook, I have written specifically penned a few pieces analyzing the educational (and therapeutic) aspects, within the context of our sociocultural political and economic conditions (especially, in America, but not only). These initial pieces are downloadable under the following: (a) "School Shootings and Mass Murders: A Fear Problem & Preliminary Fearanalysis," (scroll to near bottom of the page Yellowpaper #7), (b) two posts on this same Founder's Forum (Dec. 17, 20), (c) an introduction to my Fearanalysis: A First Guidebook, at same location as (a). And, most all my writing on love and fear and fearlessness is all over these websites and/or a search at Goggle Scholar. Lastly, I have been a school teacher, an educational consultant, and many other things, but most important in understanding young people and their families and communities, has been my 10 yrs. as an art teacher and therapeutic consultant (case manager) at Quest Ranch, a 24-7 residential treatment program for youth offenders and their families, in Canada, (between 1983-93).

The young man who pulled the trigger, and there have been many of them in history, and ravaged the lifes of many people in Newtown, CN, and disturbed the lives of the rest of us who still feel compassion for these events, is a young man like any young man. He is a citizen like any citizen. And, he is not ideal. He has not met our wishes. He has not met the objectives of our 'good' school curriculum and societal mores. And so we search for "what went wrong?" That would be the first and easy road to analyze. Everyone will do that. I wish to do something a little different. As an educator, I don't want to only go down the familiar roads, where we see comfort in our "answers." I want to complicate the conversations, as curricularist Bill Pinar would say, and ask more questions--and yet, I'll offer some solutions too. So, let me start with the educational question addressing what seems a failure of this student to grasp our society's curriculum goals and ace them. I'll start with what his educational objectives are for us, in this event, that has obviously got our attention--he was a "good" teacher that way. He got our attention, and unfortunately, as is often the case in our schools too often, that attention was got by fear, not by love.

Thus, you can see love and fear play a big part in my framework of understanding motivation (meta-motivations), and love and fear are likely the biggest one. Oh, many will say the young gun man was full of hate, and Gandhi and his teaching of nonviolence, and fearlessness, had it right, because he knew hate was only a surface acting out of fear, and yes, call it terror. And yes, I call these gunmen pulling triggers "terror(ists"-- harbingers of the terror we all hate (oops, I mean we all fear). See that's where it will be difficult for us in this time, in this horrible time of crises and pain, to get below the surface of easy descriptions, analyses of problems and how to fix them. It is winter here, and time to incubate deeply on this Sandy Hook as a chain of now "regular" events (so my security expert friend Gavin de Becker calls it). I have studied them myself since Columbine High (1999), and especially what happened to a "culture of fear" that came about after it and after post-9/11 (see Michael Moore's documentary films). I am talking about how much easier it is to talk about a curriculum of love than a curriculum of fear in our society, and yet, we are bombarded daily in news media and elsewhere with how the world out there is growing more scary. And in our homes, in our prisons, in our streets, our schools. Fear is everywhere. And sure, so is love. The question of a curriculum of love and fear is to ask, but which is the most real everyday, and which is the stronger motivator, and which is the most used to gain conformity, to gain learning?

The Moral Explosion

The trigger pulling young man at Sandy Hook (and I am not after fine details of his bio. here), is 'our young man' on the streets, but one who erupted like a volcano under pressures from beneath the surface that no one saw (apparently). But let's get beyond the physical volcano (vomit) metaphor, and to the emotional explosion, and to the cognitive explosion, and finally, I think most important of all, the moral explosion. I say this, because we are all so easily going to go down the moral righteous and indignant rage of our own hate toward such an event. Toward violence in young people. Toward violence and terrorism. So, are we going to be violent ourselves in our hate (really our fear-based motivation) to "get rid of these" symptoms--these blemishes on our society, these embarrassments of our curriculum? What is a nonviolent approach? Are we responsible for it all? I mean all. I mean everything in our society? That's a hard pill to swallow, to be so compassionate, so responsible, and yet, I am not asking us to blame anyone. I am asking us to ask complicated and difficult and fearful questions. Why has our love and fear curriculum with these trigger pulling young men failed us and them? You see, we all fail, we are all victims. The curriculum seems "off." Not bad. Not okay. It seems off. And that is because, as far as my decades of research show, we are not teaching our children a good balanced curriculum, a holistic curriculum, and honest curriculum, that balances (if that is possible) the attention on love as a motivator of human kind, and fear as a motivator of human kind, and they are, by my accounts, 50:50 pretty much (give or take a little). And when a human being, anyone, flips slightly to the fear-side (51) with a diminishing love-side (49), then there is going to be trouble. The further it slips, the further and deeper the trouble.

And if I watch for this, really carefully, as I have trained myself to do, both in me and outside of me, then I can tell the energy of a person who has slipped to the 51+ of the fear-side. Oh, yeah, you feel their anxiety. You get their sadness, and despair, poking out, more or less, or you watch them really try hard to cover it up and fake that smile and be "normal" or even try harder and harder to be good and loving, but you and they know, it keeps sliding away because the tilt of the teeter-totter of their emotional and moral life is tilting in the side of fear inevitably. Sure, sometimes we can get the tilt to flip back, and that's great. But I know a lot of people, including myself at times, who can't get it back. That's the lesson our trigger pulling young men are showing us, and they are supposed to be "men" (in a hyper-masculine way, right?)... they are teaching our society the lesson, that they are struggling with and have failed to negotiate, and that is the effective fear management they were'nt taught and/or didn't learn. At least, not well enough, when the pressure really builds. And if you think of pressure building, anxiety, depression, and despair, and that dread of feeling threatened as a whole system (think of 9/11), then you can watch not only young trigger pulling youth in our civil society act in explosions, you can watch entire nations do the same (and I am not looking only at America post-9/11). Wars, and terror(ism), and fear(ism) are everywhere, symptoms of the tilt, of the slip, of the slide down the moral scale. But oh, how when on the 51+ fear-side you'll see them most righteous moral explosions in nations, groups, parents, teachers, and kids.

Why the moral explosion (not to forget, the physical, emotional, cognitive as well)? Because, it is absolutely ethical territory, as I have found in all the wisdom traditions, E-W., sacred and secular, that Love and Fear are the two only meta-motivations (some call the big emotions). They are the lenses upon which we look at the world. They are found in Erik Erikson's affective developmental stage challenges: Trust vs. Mistrust (i.e., Love vs. Fear)--the teeter-totter, of how we will lead our life by which of these affective, moral and worldview orientations. The first, Love (Trust) is nonviolent, and what we'd all like, ideally. The second, Fear (Mistrust) is violent, and what we all experience, but run away from. And that's why if we let Fear run us, and take us down the railroad track as familiar and simplistic, if not absolutistic, in this time of post-Sandy Hook, you can bet it will run us away from the lesson this young trigger pulling man is teaching us. We will not be the best learners. We will be in resistance (in fear) to learning anything really new, that might not just reform us, but transform us, and the way we lead our lives, the way we design our curriculum and implement our pedagogies. I have called for a pedagogy of fearlessness (2) not just for these horrendous events and their follow up, but as a wide-scale, deep therapia, cura, and educational transformation. I'm not the only one who's ushered these words, but if F. D. Roosevelt said anything really important in his inaugural address in 1933, he said (how famous we mouth his words): "our only fear now is the fear of fear itself."

We'll miss improving the fear management education we offer our students, as the young man in Newtown is telling us. He didn't know how to look down the barrel of his own volcano and fear, terror, and ultimately wounded soul. He'd rather look down the barrel of a gun for the answer, to a question he didn't even likely know how to form. That's where our education on fear and its management is really on shortfall. Sure, we like to teach lots about love, and not much about fear (as bell hooks, the critical black feminist educator has written). I could give hundreds of quotes from educators, and others who are "teachers" and leaders, but that's not the point. Again, my own websites are loaded with information. But what good is more information about this ethical and moral dilemma of Love and Fear, if we are too busy in flight from fear itself (what I call 'fear', and what many critics have called a pattern of a "culture of fear" that is in denial). We want to grieve. We want to heal, post-Sandy Hook. And that's good. Yet, that won't alter our fundamental knowledge-base on fear. The tilt has already happened. That's what I see after everyone of these horrendous events, and I see people of best intentions, educators included, running away from fear, not facing into it, to really learn deeply what is missing in our fear management/education (3).

This again, is not a finished essay, there is so more to dialogue on, to reflect on, about the nature and role of fear ('fear') in our society, and what lessons these fearists (more accurately they ought to be called) are trying to teach us all. We really have to look, at times like this, about where our moral compass is in terms of "normal" or "healthy" and "peaceful" and "loving." Once, we are out of denial a bit, just a whee bit, then we have a chance to learn and re-evaluate those good norms, and our discourses, our rhetoric and the inconsistencies with our practices. Oh, if I were to write more, I would want to really go deeply into the mind of the young trigger pulling man, men, youth in rebellion. I for one, have learned so much from them in my career. I trust, I've learned some of what they wanted to teach me. I'm going to pass it on to others.



1. The most up-to-date CV is @, which is my consulting company.

2. Go to (scroll to near bottom of the page under "Other Resources" (critical pedagogy of fearlessness paper).

3. My extensive arguments in my new book, The World's Fearlessness Teachings: A Critical Integral Approach to Fear Management/Education for the 21st Century. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.