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Fear & Love, Part I

July 9, 2015

This past year, my students had one thing in common. They had not passed so-called “end-of-course” tests for 9th and/or 10th grade English. These tests were two of the five EOC tests the state of Texas requires its students to pass in order to graduate high school. Last year’s seniors, the class of 2015, were the first to graduate under the new testing regime. An alarming number were poised not to do so at the beginning of the school year.

In the end, almost all did pass. How did they overcome an obstacle that had knocked many of them down four or five times already?

This is not the part where I arrogantly claim it was my exceptional teaching. My ego is in check.

The greatest contributing factor was the motivation they felt. That motivation stemmed from a singular source: fear. Fear of not hearing their name called, of not getting to walk across that stage and accept that rolled-up piece of paper that holds far more symbolic power than any single portrait of a dead president ever can. Fear of not participating in this rite of passage with their peers, their friends, with whom they had shared this journey for the past four years, perhaps even longer. Fear of the future, of the uncertainty that loomed over it if this crucial step could not be fulfilled.

I would argue that there are two dominant emotional forces that serve in tandem as our greatest motivators: fear and love. It is not a bad/good dichotomy, because we can achieve great things due to our fears, and do tremendously stupid things for love; but fear is indeed often used for evil ends, and love can overcome the worse of human impulses.

To be continued…

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