Fear and Learning

Fear is not generally a part of Amherst students’ philosophy of education. We often hear that we’re supposed t o feel uncomfortable with our education — that’s how we know we’re learning.

We come to Amherst because we want push ourselves beyond our own self-created intellectual boundaries. Why, then, are Amherst students so afraid to challenge themselves in the classroom?

A lot of students have great ideas but don’t actually speak up in class. There are many reasons: the worry about being judged by other students, the fear of being wrong, or the misguided belief that an idea must be perfectly worded before it can be expressed.

We’ve all been in a situation in which a professor asks students a question, only to be greeted by blank stares. But this shouldn’t happen. Amherst students are smart, inquisitive and opinionated people who (usually) do the reading. Often, students are quiet in class not because they don’t have an answer, but because they’re afraid to say it.

This problem extends to office hours too. Many Amherst students are embarrassed to admit to our professors that we don’t understand a concept, even outside the sometimes pressure-filled environment of the classroom.

This is a larger cultural issue. After all, from day one Amherst students are bombarded with the message that we are a cut above the rest, that we are somehow special.

So, many of us think, we should know the perfect answer or we should keep quiet. Students, in short, are suffering from an idea that we should not fail in any tangible way and, therefore, cannot push themselves too far.

The editorial board would like to push back against this culture of timidity. We would like to caution against becoming so wrapped up in your own inhibitions that you forget to be engaged in the class.

In other words, that means we should challenge ourselves to be uncomfortable and, most courageously, to be wrong in front of our peers. Yes, we’ll probably embarrass ourselves sometimes, we may really crash and burn, but we’ll grow in a way that will prove invaluable for our Amherst educations as well as our future careers.