Friday, December 09, 2005

Fear Pressure

In 1999, I was bewildered by my 8:00 o'clock freshman composition class. For the first time in fifteen years of college teaching, I couldn't get the class comfortable enough with each other and with me to readily participate in class discussion.

If I made a joke that other classes found funny, they cast surreptitious glances at each other and smiled politely at me. If I asked questions that in other classes led to long, meaty discussions, they either gazed at me with faintly puzzled looks or buried their noses in their books to avoid eye contact. When a student was more or less coerced into saying something, it was barely audible, the others looking sideways at each other with expressionless faces.

I realized that one problem was that over half the class was made up of high school seniors, taking the course for dual credit. I had had seniors many times before, but never more than four in a class; they had always melded readily into the college class environment and started acting like "college students," at least while they were there. Peer pressure seemed to be the main obstacle here--defined in my mind as an intense desire of members of a group to be alike.

Near the end of the semester, I realized that I had spent little time praying for them . . . well, none, actually. As they worked on a writing assignment that day, I prayed for their sense of independence and confidence and that they would find peace and comfort with each other.

Suddenly, God helped me realize that peer pressure is not an intense desire to be like others; instead, it is an almost paralyzing fear of being different from others. This realization led me to feel keenly the extent of this fear--and of the pain and loneliness it fosters. I began to care about them as broken and hurting people and to pray often for them.

To be continued!

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