Center for Spiritual Inquiry and Integral Education

R. Michael Fisher
Stopping Fear's Empire: Role of Critical Pedagogy
by R. Michael Fisher - Tuesday, September 15, 2015, 09:25 AM

From my journal writing the other morning, I came up with this sketch of what I see as a very important trajectory for critical pedagogy in the next decade or so. I won't give all the details of what this diagram below points to but you ought to see how it maps a territory of key important players (not the only important players, as I could add other sub-routes, e.g., bell hooks) to this map)... I say key players in dealing with FEAR & CRITICAL PEDAGOGY up front and center (more or less). I'm going to symbolically call this Figure 1 and use if for several years as a guiding map to what my work in education is going to focus on. Ultimately, my work is about trying to find the best critical pedagogy up to the postmodern task of stopping Fear's Empire (this latter term, I borrow from the sociologist Benjamin Barber)--or as I call it, the postmodern task of undermining the 'Fear' Matrix (aka Culture of Fear). Big project stuff... it requires vision, and this map is part of my vision for the task ahead...


First of all to say that the long tradition of critical pedagogy can be traced a long way back in history, including the critical adult education movements, but a sure fire starting point historically in order to make this handleable is to start with Paulo Freire's work or Freirean critical pedagogy (of the oppressed). My researching his work since the late 1970s, off and on, and back now to see how he uses "fear" in his critical theory and pedagogy is something I will be working to summarize soon. To say the least, he forefronts the problem of "fear of freedom" amongst the oppressed specifically in his theory. Now, I doubt I will find too much in depth discussion of fear (and none on fearlessness) in his work, but that's down the road. I am pretty convinced from what I have read that both Henry A. Giroux and Peter McLaren, two of Freire's North American leaders of critical theory and pedagpgy have not taken the fearanalysis very far either but they have a few important contributions. Point being, is that these main critical pedagogical leaders have not given us as humanity yet the philosophy, theory or practices to stop Fear's Empire--at best, they may help slow it down. That's where I come in as a theorist and pedagogue, and curriculum designer. I want the very best only, so as to stop Fear's Empire.

To create the very best approach I have been learning that I have to go beyond Freirean critical pedagogy to what I see as the next step forward, which is to integrate all of the above theorists and pedagogues... and especially those who work with the "culture of fear" construct and phenomena. I thought maybe Giroux and then Parker J. Palmer would come to the fore, but they tapered off nearly entirely from that analysis and trajectory--thus, fear is no longer very important in their work nor theorized in any profound way. Freire, Giroux, McLaren, Palmer (and hooks) tend to still fall back on the hope-courage formulations to help get us through oppression--that is, the culture of fear as a major contribution to oppressions of all kinds. And that's my point, they aren't strong enough, nor deep enough thinkers in the realm of the relationship of critical pedagogy to fear. Next, I turn to the map and see that my old friend and colleague Don Trent Jacobs (Four Arrows), who is one of the CSIIE Faculty among other amazing things he does in his life, is going to be the next in line of researching and integrating his work on fear and eductation and general human development. I have known of him and his work since 2007 and we've stayed in touch, all good. At times I have attempted to get him to work with me on the fear and fearlessness material further, especially developing his theories, and specifically his 1998 CAT-FAWN theory (1), which he continues to put out in his new publications now and then, but in such limited ways-- and fact is, no one I see is actually taking up his model Concentration Activated Transformation (CAT)--and Fear, Authority, Word(s), and Nature (FAWN). It certainly isn't getting press nor can be found in citations in publications in education. That is a fact. That is a tragedy. I can relate to the neglect of my own work by the field of education for example--all these years, and it is likely a sign that any model that really can undermine Fear's Empire in a big way is going to be by-passed and forgotten (i.e., the fearism-t, or toxic fearism ideology has so penetrated our world that it will undermine true liberational theories and wisdom). The more popular versions of fear and critical pedagogy, like Giroux, McLaren, Palmer (or hooks) are likely popular for a good reason--they don't yet cut deeply enough into the juglar vein of Fear's Empire. That's my working hypothesis anyways for this trajectory of my future research.

So, as of today, in published form, (and for CSIIE to take a good look at in the future)--I present what is to be called Jacobsian Critical Pedagogy as the next evolution beyond Freirean Critical Pedagogy. I have no doubt that a big part of Freire's success, among other factors, in spreading critical pedagogy was that he was drawing heavily upon Liberation Theology (and pedagogy of the oppressed) which had a long tradition (especially in Latin America)--and it fit his initiates in Brazil and from there. Freire is Christian (even if somewhat marxist), and he is a humanist in the Eurocentric tradition and has the Catholic background to spread rapidly over the decades. I don't know enough history of critical pedagogy or Freire to say more, but one could argue, his liberation is still colonialist, and I am not the only one to critique that--but it also makes it a palatable liberation work for large numbers of Catholics and marxists, and European folks and in Latin America especially. It is now internationally successful and has been modified by many. Again, my point, is that his successful model is likely due to him not refining a very powerful model of fear and education that would undermine Fear's Empire. It has not worked to do so. But then, no model of pedagogy has either. That said, there is still room to improve it and bring Fear's Empire to a stop. That latter project is going to come in movements of thought and theories like Don Trent Jacobs's work (aka Four Arrows). He offers what Freire and his followers could not--and that is, a complete dip out of the colonialist (Spanish-Portugeues-European-Catholic Christian) narrative and imaginaries. Jacobs is a mixed blood Cherokee and European and has long taken the path to integrate more and more of the Indigenous (and shamanic) ways of traditional knowledge into his work. He is recognized, albeit, controversial, as an Indigeneous educator of some renown, albeit, not popular by any means. His CAT-FAWN theory even less popular. He is not known by anyone writing about fear today (other than myself) for his contribution to the field of knowledge about fear and how to manage and transform it. Jacobs's unique experiences deserve book length documentation and I have been working on a manuscript and potential documentary film on his work off and on for the past three years. I want to foreground his work on fear and fearlessness, of which no one else has to date. That's a tragedy as I am convinced the Jacobsian Critical Pedagogy is much more powerful than Freirean Critical Pedagogy and its variants, especially when it comes to the project of stopping Fear's Empire.

There is no doubt in my mind that in Four Arrows (2013) (see EN 1.), he set forth an agenda that is still likely stunning or invisible to the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities re: education for the future. He articulates (with other writers of his choice) a way to "Indigenize" all curriculum but specifically mainstream curriculum. This is a very progressive and risky leap, for a lot of different reasons. Most radical, from my fearological perspective is that he set up in that book 12 chapters to deal with the early history of anti-Indianism (Eurocentric colonialism) in education (in the West), and then proceeds to bring in most all subject matters in schools (e.g., math, music, geography, literature, science) and shows how they can be somewhat "Indigenized" to improve them--and then, he brings in Chapter 13 with the title: "From Fear to Fearlessness (Religion/Psychology and Spirituality)." There is no curriculum I know of anywhere that has set that topic area aside under that initiative/project, which is to move our youth and our entire societies "From Fear to Fearlessness" (of which he argues, Courage is a major step on the way but not the ultimate goal). This is the signature of a great mind and visionary working to put the proper forces and words on the educational map. This is educational in and of itself to see that so labeled in a curriculum (again, other than my own work, which is even less known than Four Arrow's)-- this is powerful medicine! But the downside of that Chapter 13 is that it requires a book in of itself to adequately develop a Jacobsian Critical Pedagogy (at least, that's my view; he may not agree).

The next years need to build this Jacobsian Critical Pedagogy and show how it is a 'bridge' (complementary) to Freirean Critical Pedagogy. I certainly feel up to the task and I also invite others to assist and support this. Once that work is down, I'll bring in my own perspective and work on fear and fearlessness, perhaps one day adding another 'bridge' (complemenary) to Fisherian Critical Pedagogy. You can see in the mapping of Figure 1 that I am the most broad in my incorporation of a lot of movements of liberational thought and especially the Fearlessness Movement--as well, I am unique of all the critical pedagogues above in that I have been synthesizing all their work on fear for many years, of which none of them have taken on that large of project todate. Okay, I trust this will give you a 'big picture' of where I am focusing my work ... and yes, the recent connection with the philosophy of fearism (Desh Subba et al. in the East) is going to bring in exciting dimensions to this project of undermining Fear's Empire. I'll keep you informed of new developments (2).



1. He first introduced this CAT-FAWN model and its evolution through his autobiographical (largely shamanic-type) experiences in the 1980-90s. He published this 'story' and 'theory' in Jacobs, D. T. (1998). Primal Awareness. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions. Then he has mentioned it in part, insignificantly, in a few publications but most recently and with some detail in Four Arrows (Don Trent Jacobs) et. al. (2013). Teaching Truly: A Curriculum to Indigenize Mainstream Education. NY: Peter Lang.

2. I have just submitted the book ms. Fisher, R. M. & Subba, D. (forthcoming). Philosophy of fearism: A first East-West dialogue. Australia: Xlibris. As well, I have just submitted a major article "Educators, We Have a Culture of Fear Problem!"  to the international Journal of Critical Education and Social Policy. These recent works are important in setting up my current agenda for Figure 1.