Facing Fear in the Classroom
- Friday, October 07, 2005
As a Christian attending a secular college, I have from time to time found myself doing battle with an enemy named fear. When a classroom conversation slants markedly to the left and you realize you may be the only one in the group leaning right, fear can be nearly paralyzing. Your heart quickens, you feel flushed, and you desperately hope there is just one other person who will side with you. The fear grows so thick you can almost see it and smell it.
What’s to fear? Plenty. The first thing to fear is a grade. I always wonder if speaking up is going to cost me academically. Does the professor have an appetite for vengeance? How battered do I want my GPA to be? And to be quite honest, and borderline opportunistic, the chances I’m going to change a professor’s mind are probably zero to none, so is it worth the risk?
I also fear a certain amount of rejection among my peers. My fellow classmates may hear what I have to say and unfairly label me close-minded, a bigot, intolerant or a homophobe.
A good deal of fear is generated by professors because of their position of authority. The professor always has the upper hand – more experience, more wisdom, more letters behind the last name. The professor rules the class. If professors want to eat you for lunch, they can. They write the menu.
In my freshman English class, the professor liked controversy. But since most of the students would either agree with him, or didn’t care to speak out, I became the one who most often held the opposing view. The professor would present an anti-Christian topic in class, give his opinion on it, then pause to see if anyone would speak up. He would try to make eye contact with a student and frequently find that no one wanted to debate him. He’d then look at me to see if I would oblige. Evidently we’d developed something of a routine. Even if I didn’t want to engage in a debate, it somehow became a responsibility, sort of like an unwritten job description.
By being called on repeatedly, this fear began to diminish somewhat, but there were still times when being singled out grew wearisome.
My friend Angela was singled out in her speech class when she gave a presentation in defense of the Second Amendment. During the in-class student evaluations, her classmates ripped her apart. Student after student criticized her stance on the topic.
Later, Angela was talking to a friend that had been in that class with her. She found out that he had agreed with her stance, but since he didn’t speak up, Angela had assumed he held the same hostile opinion as the rest of the class. When Angela found out he had shared her views, she was deeply hurt. She felt he had betrayed her. The truth is, he had been paralyzed with fear. He saw the way the class reacted to Angela and he simply didn’t want to offer himself up as the next living sacrifice. So he kept his mouth shut and his head low. But to this day, he deeply regrets not speaking up in class.
Paul wrote that as Christians our attitudes are not to be a spirit of fear. "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline," 2 Timothy 1:7.
Fear may be the instinctive response to intimidation in the classroom, but it’s not how God wants us to live. I Peter 3:14 is quite specific about fear. "If you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame."
Sitting silently when truth, liberty, free speech and tenets of Christianity are attacked is the result of fear. I understand the fear, but I also understand the need for courage. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s acting in spite of fear.
When you are confronted with fear, it may be helpful to remember the following:
Just do it
You’re sitting there in class thinking someone should say something, somebody should try to stop this runaway train, and yet the words stay in your mouth. When that happens, ask yourself this: If not me, then who? Speak up. Go Nike -- Just do it. The more you do, the more natural speaking up becomes.
Be true to your convictions
2 Corinthians 10:15 says, "Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will grow greatly . . . " Part of growing in faith involves developing your own convictions. Having convictions means being willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of an idea or a principle.
Rub a dub dub
When faced with fear and the possibility of being embroiled in a heated discussion, remember the words of theologian G.K. Chesterton: "I believe in getting into hot water. It keeps you clean."
This article is adapted from Fish Out of Water: Surviving and Thriving as a Christian on a Secular Campus by Abby Nye, (New Leaf Press). Copyright © 2005 by Abby Nye. Used with permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.
Abby Nye is currently a student at Butler University, and will complete her program of study in Spring 2006. On campus, she has been active with Campus Crusade and was co-founder of Veritas, a collegiate think tank that invites non-Christians to open forums featuring speakers on controversial issues that stimulate campus-wide discussion in the pursuit of truth. Abby has been published in WORLD magazine and has been a two-year participant in the Indiana Student Leadership Forum sponsored by Congressman Mike Pence. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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