My first lesson idea is inspired by a new podcast from NPR called Invisibilia. The Invisibilia podcast investigates the invisible forces that act on our lives and control our behaviour, such as ideas, emotions, assumptions etc. The episode I will be exploring delves into the wonders of fear.
Many (surprisingly not all) of us feel fear. It happens inexplicably, and is often a difficult emotion to understand. It was the TED Radio Hour podcast entitled “What We Fear” that describes this emotion in a way that really struck a cord with me.
The speaker was explaining a scenario where you are walking through the jungle at night and hear a rustle in the bushes; you jump back and begin to run. It could be the wind playing tricks on you, but there is also the deadly possibility that it is a hungry creature waiting to pounce. It is your initial, fearful reaction that enables you to survive. In other words, fear has evolved with us to allow us to survive as a species.
Fear is often stigmatized; a person who is fearful is frequently seen as weak or pitiable. Explaining fear as an evolutionary trait can help relieve the fearful from feelings of shame. Fear isn’t always negative – being afraid of snakes or the dark may, in fact keep you alive (if the snake is poisonous or there is a murderer lurking in the dark). Though fearing too much can be debilitating. Here sits my first idea for bringing this podcast into the classroom. Part one of the podcast looks into a young woman’s world with no fear, and can help fuel this discussion. Ask questions that lead to a philosophical debate – which would have a more negative effect on your life, fearing too much, or fearing too little? Each would exhibit its own unique consequences – but which one is worse? You could also use this as an opportunity for a writing activity – “What I would do if I couldn’t feel fear.”
Fear can be extremely debilitating and can take control over our lives. I’ve been trying to think of some of the most common fears in a classroom setting, such as public speaking, math exams, or rejection from peers. These are events that happen everyday in school and may be having a larger effect on your students than you realize. Bringing these ideas out into the open can help students acknowledge them and then try and move past their most draining fears. This discussion could turn into a writing exercise. Have students write from the perspective of their deepest fear – maybe a poem or a short story.
For science, you could study the part of the brain that enables you to feel fear – the amygdala. This could also lead nicely into a lesson on stress and the fight-or-flight response.
Another idea I had was to do a book or novel study on a text with fear as a key motif. For example, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Witches, Hamlet, Life of Pi etc. explore fear in a variety of ways. I’m sure there are many picture books that explore this as well.
Here are some of the resources I used to come up with these ideas: