Chapter 1: Learning from the Past of Fear
As a child, I hungered for power and influence, like I suppose many of the children in my impoverished hometown. I heard of children attempting to obtain such power through stealing and killing. But I knew that wasn’t the type of power I wanted. I dreamt of being like Oprah and I worked hard in school with that aspiration in mind. I viewed power as being intellectually better than my peers. But that thinking only stifled my learning and limited my power. I came to that realization during a course entitled “Empowering Learners” in which I created a video journal of coming to terms with my skin condition. I learned that learning is power, but in order to achieve that level of power, learners must not only acknowledge their fears in the classroom but also actively challenge them outside of the classroom.
I began to close the gap between my fears and my learning when I began my agency journal for “Empowering Learners.” I had written numerous entries about “waiting for the permission of people who only have the power [over my life] because I gave it to them” (“Wrap-up of Journal”). I recognized that I was limiting my influence because “I’m always so covered…so sheltered…so scared” (“Wrap-up of Journal”). Thus, through the encouragement of the professor, I felt the urgency to break free as my video project demonstrates. For a week, I wore only clothing that revealed the skin condition that I had hidden for most of my life. Furthermore, I interviewed students and professors in which I spoke to them about my skin condition and our perspectives on empowerment. I created a path in which my learning could flow into my daily life. Consequently, I felt so fulfilled, so tall, so empowered. I had obstructed that type of learning for many years because, as my class experiences below demonstrate, I believed learning was done in the classroom and had no bearing on my world.
In my freshman year, I found myself surrounded by incredibly intelligent students and professors that made me feel so small. I doubted everything I did and said, even on issues on which I had plenty of knowledge and experience. This doubt was clear when I took a class entitled “Critical Issues in Education.” Before taking this class, I had taught and volunteered in schools for several years. Even more significant is that I had been a student my entire life. But I had not considered those details important because I viewed the class as traditionally academic. In other words, I hadn’t thought very much about the place personal experience had in an academic setting.
I had to think on a personal level in my Peace and Conflict Studies course. Every other week I had to write a reflection on the readings or a concept and relate it to my life and observations. In my reflection on the role fear plays in conflict, I revealed that I “interpret the ordinary world and many ordinary people as dangerous because I have grown up in a constant state of fear” (“Fear”). I also acknowledged that “Fear prevents people from being at peace with others and with themselves, often because they do not trust some fraction of another person’s identity” (“Fear”). At first glance, it seems as though this may have been the crux of my transformation as a learner. However, at second glance, I realize that I attributed my fear to others. I suggested that I have very limited control over my fear due to others’ identities. I present myself as powerless because I was still trying to separate the world in which I was born and the one that I chose.
My learning took a slight turn when I began working as a Student Consultant in the Teaching and Learning Initiative. Through this work, I learned that students hold much more power over their education than they realize. I suggested that they ask themselves, “What is my role in this class?” and “What is my accountability?” Despite this realization of other students’ power, I continued to behave as if I were powerless, which I demonstrated in my Geology class. I thought it would be an easy class, and when it was not, I blamed everyone and everything but myself. I had countless excuses for not doing as well as desired. But the truth is that I felt intimidated and refused to make an effort to improve my experience in the class.
My world dramatically changed during sophomore year after beginning the agency project for “Empowering Learners.” I felt the difference the most in my first upper level Spanish class. Although Spanish is my major, I did not feel confident about my speaking skills and thus, was very silent. But because of the self-awareness I had gained from my agency journal, I began to force myself to speak at least once in each class session. I began to think more about what would make me feel more comfortable about being vocal in class. I subsequently acted on my newly-discovered power and shared my learning preferences with the professor. As a result, my participation and my relationship with the professor improved because “Empowering Learners” had made me face my fears and apply my learning to other aspects of my life.
Similarly, during my junior year in a class entitled “Black Religion and Liberation Theology,” the professor used the material to inspire personal growth. On the midterm, I wrote, “The course material has caused me to think a lot about my identity and even the ways in which I think about my identity. Even though I am black, I’ve never felt quite sure about what it means to be black.” Other African Americans did not consider me black because I spoke grammatically correct, went to private school, and had a white boyfriend. Therefore, I viewed those aspects of my life as impediments to my influence in the black community. But this course constantly forced me to face that concern and to actively challenge it. I talked to my pastor, my dad, and my students. I took the class home, challenged my concerns, and proved myself wrong.
I also defeated my fears in a singing class while studying abroad in Argentina last spring. I have a talent for singing but I had avoided taking classes due to my insecurity. But when I visited this singing class in Argentina, the professor asked that we share with the class our desires and fears about singing. After that moment of not only voicing my anxiety but also of hearing the professor’s promise to help me overcome it, I knew that that class would be worth-while. Within the first week of class, I sang for the first time in front of a group, in both English and Spanish. This class like many that I have taken at the college-level have been both personally demanding and rewarding because it pushed me to be active in my learning.
The word “active” is vital. I had plenty of professors who provided opportunity for me to make the connection between the content of the class and my own world, passions, and fears. But speaking or writing about that connection is not sufficient for me. It is imperative to my learning that I actively apply the in-class learning to my out-of-class living. That second step is where I feel myself grow. That is where I feel empowered. That is what makes me no longer want to intellectually outdo people but rather to use my power to help others overcome their fears and realize their own power.
Evans, Ivana R. “Fear and Conflict: A Vicious Cycle.” April 3, 2009
Evans, Ivana R. Midterm Exam of “Black Religion and Liberation Theology.” October 20, 2010.
Evans, Ivana R. “Wrap-up of Journal: The End of Waiting.” April 25, 2010.
Dewey, John. Experience & Education. New York: Touchstone, 1997.