Publication Date

1999

Abstract

The process of learning about social justice issues, undoubtedly, triggers a full range of emotional responses in individuals. This research focuses specifically on the emotion of fear given its power to paralyze that process and prevent deeper dialogue within a group. A closer inquiry is made as to how the sources of fear, in broaching these sensitive issues, vary from both a marginalized and privileged "social group membership" lens. The author proposes challenge education as a more effective approach to moving individuals through their fears based on core working principles that include: trust building, risk taking, a holistic approach, adventure and learning through metaphors. For the purposes of this research, challenge education is limited to various structured group initiatives and simulations, high and low ropes courses, and cooperative games in both indoor and outdoor settings. By interviewing six practitioners in the fields of challenge and social justice education, the author incorporates their insight and experience in determining how appropriate challenge education is in addressing these fears. Crucial to this research is the perspective gained on the field of challenge education by examining it through a social justice lens, this vantage is provided by four of the interviewees with experience in marrying the challenge education approach with social justice issues. The author concludes that the primary strategies for moving through fear are the creation of a safe, trusting learning environment and the expansion of one's comfort zone through risk taking. Challenge education succeeds in eloquently creating both of these elements when designed and facilitated appropriately. Unfortunately, weak facilitation skills, historical roots as a privileged industry, and certain perceptions of the field can undermine the learning potential and even be detrimental to creating a safe environment, so crucial for its participants. There currently appear to be few facilitators who can successfully manage all of these dynamics. The conclusions drawn here have direct relevance for social justice educators as well as challenge education practitioners incorporating a social justice focus into their programs.

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