Risky Business | Alden Blodget | 8 Min Read

March 15, 2023

Of all the claims that schools make, perhaps the most ubiquitous is the assertion that “our students learn to take risks.” Risk-taking is meant to suggest that students are able to “move out of their comfort zones” by trying new things—like befriending classmates from other cultures or leaping into new activities or, especially, engaging with new ideas, trying new courses, and thinking independently. By claiming that they encourage risk-taking, schools imply that students feel safe enough to take a chance. Educators certainly want to believe their schools are safe, so they claim they are and convince themselves of their own mythology.

However, although many young people may take some social risks or try new activities (motivated by colleges, which encourage resume-building), my experience is that the vast majority resist scholastic risk. During the decades I spent overseeing students’ programs of study, caution and fear tended to dominate their decisions about whether to challenge themselves or not. Students interested in honors physics or a difficult literature elective frequently opted for the less demanding, less personally engaging course in which they knew they could get an A or B. Fear that the speed bump of a C (or…

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Alden Blodget

Veteran teacher and administrator Alden S. "Denny" Blodget is the author of "Learning, Schooling and the Brain: New Research vs. Old Assumptions." He also helped create the Annenberg Foundation's Neuroscience & the Classroom. He is the editor for TeensParentsTeachers.org, a free online resource focusing on issues affecting young people and the adults who work with them.