The End of Communication: How Fear Finds Its Way Into the Classroom

The End of Communication: How Fear Finds Its Way Into the Classroom

By Andrew Robinson

I was away this weekend, visiting my soon to be in-laws in Austin, Texas. I returned home this afternoon to my dogs, a stack of mail and two dozen phone messages, most of which were misplaced calls to Best Buy (there is a typo on their receipts, lucky me) and robo calls letting me know that the warranty on my car is about to expire. After a brief romp with the dogs I powered up my computer to catch up on the latest news, blogs and happenings, which I try to do everyday. GM went bankrupt. Bruno did something to Eminem at the MTV Movie Awards, and a Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, Kansas was gunned down, while at church, by a pro-life extremist. 
That last story stopped me in my tracks.
You see, I’ve never heard the name George Tiller, nor did I know he was a doctor in Kansas, yet in almost every blog I follow there was mention of his name. So, in a few brief moments that turned to an hour or so I learned of Dr. Tiller. Now, just so we’re all on the same page, Dr. Tiller was a gynecologist in Kansas who, legally as part of his practice, would perform abortions, some even late term. Regardless of how you feel about topic what startled me was the almost equal number of people condemning Dr. Tiller’s death, as there were supporters of it. A few mouse clicks and site hopping revealed a wide array of emotions, feelings, hatred, etc. ranging from heartfelt to downright scary. For years this man was blasted in the media, given nicknames publicly, he’d even been attacked before; shot twice and had a bomb exploded on his property.
I’m not here to debate the merits of pro-choice or pro-life, republican or democrat for it’s irrelevant for this conversation. What needs to be addressed is how we communicate and what type of social environment is the result of that communication or should I say lack thereof.  For the nature of this illustration I’ll restrict my examples to more pertinent topics such as April Showers and today’s classrooms.
A few weeks ago, as a result of April Showers, I was asked to speak to a group of high school aged kids in Los Angeles about making movies, surviving Columbine and any other musings I could muster up out of thin air. However, like most of my lectures these days I spend little time talking to the students about the film and Columbine and more time talking with them about their lives. Why? I’m genuinely interested and also, I don’t think too many people are honestly taking the time to ask them about themselves.
If I were speaking to students tomorrow I’d want to know their opinions of Dr. Tiller, though I’m willing to bet most students, if not all, would even know who I was talking about. I wouldn’t want to know about their beliefs; just what their take was on the stories written on Dr. Tiller and the subsequent coverage on the news. To give you an example, I posed the question of Swine Flu (remember that) to the high school students in LA and was immediately met with fear and panic.
“It’s killing people, and it can wipe out, like, the planet,” one student shouted.
“It scares me,” said another student.
The students’ response was understandable, because for an entire week leading up to my visit with them that is all they were inundated with. SWINE FLU. Yet no one, not their parents, teachers, minister, baby sitter, etc. took the time to squash their fears or help them gain a knowledgeable understanding of just what it was they were afraid of.  I even asked them why that was and the response was of no surprise.
“My mother is terrified of it too.”
We’ve grown up on fear, we eat a steady diet of it everyday until it’s time to move onto the next dish. Think about it. We are motivated out of fear, yet what is fear?  The dictionary lists fear as:
“An unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that something or someone is dangerous, likely to cause pain or a threat.”
The two key words for me in the definition of fear are belief and emotion, for neither one has anything to do with facts or rationale. But let’s get back to what fear is for a moment and what it is that we fear? We fear the unknown. We fear the bad guy. We fear getting hurt. We fear death. We have a fear for almost anything and if we don’t, we make one up. What effect does that have on child? What effect does that have on a high school student?
I’ve gone on record, as saying violence, in many cases, is the result of poor communication and fear. In the case of students they often fear what they don’t understand, which in most cases takes the form of a student or group of students who are different from themselves. This fear manifests itself in a variety of ways all of which drive them further apart creating anxiety, backlash and isolation to name a few. In some cases it gets so bad that it manifests itself into violence and in the case of Columbine…a school shooting. Because it’s easier to fear something or someone and keep it at arms length than it is to address it and perhaps understand or even learn from them.
In the case of the Swine Flu, none of the students knew that the Swine Flu had happened before, or that the common flu kills thousands of people every year. Nor did they know that patient zero, the first person to contract the new form of the swine flu, didn’t even die from it. It was a child, and he made a full recovery. But you can’t really blame them can you? I can’t, for they are simply reacting to the environment we as adults create. It’s hard to look past the slick motion graphics of a 24 hour news cycle shouting “Killer Flu” or “Pandemic Rising” followed by a map of the US with nearly every state flashing blood red as if the whole country was infected. It’s not the media’s fault, well not entirely, because they are a direct reflection of the people, for if we didn’t watch it wouldn’t air.
As a society we perpetrate fear and when something truly awful happens we get to the one question we should be asking ourselves first and foremost…why. But all to often in asking why, our fears become justified and the cycle simply continues. I’m not sure at what point this phenomenon began, all I know is that we’re passing it to our children and seeing it manifest in the classrooms, just as we saw it manifest today in Wichita, Kansas.
I think we all want to see an end to school violence, yet what do we spend our time and money learning about after a school shooting occurs? We learn an awful lot about the perpetrators of these violent acts yet we only dive into the portion of their lives from where the fear began as if to justify it to ourselves. We don’t look back Johnny’s first t-ball game, or even his first day of high school where he left the safety of his parent’s SUV and ventured into a world unknown armed with the simple regurgitated saying that “these were to be the best years of his life.”
And if Johnny comes home upset, having had a rough day, what do we offer him but a simple explanation that he’ll get used to it? I’m not trying to take the responsibility off those who commit violent acts and place it solely on the parents and society. But it is a combination of things, a sequence of events that often take years, not days, to manifest as something outwardly violent. How do we protect our kids? Turn off the TV, or force them to watch countless hours of Leave it to Beaver where, despite the black and white film stock, you always know the sun is shining.
Communication, engage one another, engage your kids, your students, get them involved in the discussion about not only the world they inhabit but each other, and mean it. But it doesn’t stop there, we as adults need to do it as well. Justin Timberlake brought sexy back with an album, personally I didn’t think it had gone anywhere nor needed to be brought back if it did, but he did it. Can’t we bring communication back? Imagine what would happen if we replaced fear with reasonable, rational discourse, how different would our world be?
I’d venture to guess we might not even recognize it. 
  1. danmcclure Says:

    It is so true that fear has become a way of life. I hear people say that they don’t follow the news because it is nothing but gore and negativity. I think to myself how can you not keep up with current events. Then I turn on television and about two seconds in I’m already depressed or ready to go under cover. When they were pounding it in our heads that the Swine Flu was spreading across the world like a great tidal wave I could just feel the nausea building up inside. Certainly it is about time to send a message that there is another side to all this drama. Just as there is light and there is darkness there is always another side to every story. Some people just seem to get a big kick of adrenaline from making it all seem more terrible than it really is. Good idea, Andrew, to ask young people or
    anyone for that matter how’s it going. I think it’s an important point to get outside ourselves and see what’s going on with someone else once in awhile.

    By the way I enjoyed your explanation about the poster making process. I once worked as a color proofer for a Lithograph Company and have seen some of the hard work that artists, technicians and sales/marketing people go through to try and get it all to come together. It can be quite tedious at times. It seems like, in spite of the business/deadline end of the movie poster business, it could be a rewarding work to be involved in. Your April Showers Poster was wonderful and I have a couple sitting on my wall at home and at work. I also gave grandmother one since she is so proud of the film.

    As always, good job


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