Happy Scared | Hooray for Monday

November 1, 2021

By Aleta Margolis, Founder and President, Center for Inspired Teaching

Hooray for Monday is a weekly blog filled with questions, ideas, reflections, and actions we can all take to remodel the school experience for students. 


As I drove around the DC region this past week, I loved seeing the variety of Halloween decorations in people’s yards. Ghouls and goblins flashed their eyes, as limbs from disembodied skeletons reached out of the ground. Illuminated pumpkins, nearly as tall as the homes they perched in front of, with jagged eyes and mouths, swayed beneath strings of purple lights. At one point, my moving car triggered a gut-wrenching scream from the motion sensor on a giant blood orange ghost with green eyes!

People will go to a lot of trouble to be scary. As early as August, Fortune Magazine predicted an increased demand, and increased prices for Halloween decorations this season. Indeed people had to wait longer and pay more this year to obtain their spooky yard décor.

I got to wondering…why do we voluntarily place creepy creatures in our front yards? Beyond yard décor, why do we pay money to walk through dimly lit dilapidated barns while teenagers with fake blood dripping down their faces jump out at us in the dark? Why do we tell ghost stories? Or sit in our living rooms with eyes glued to the TV while the protagonists are haunted, murdered, or possessed?

My dear friend and mentor, Judy White, once explained this to me. Watching a scary movie is like riding a rollercoaster. Both can be joyful because you get to choose to indulge in the excitement of being scared, while knowing that you are, in fact, completely safe. Judy recently explained, “These actions may be enjoyable to us because we choose them; we’re in control — of whether and when and why and how long. We briefly have control over an experience which, in real life, is unpredictable.”

In a time when day-to-day life contains many real things that are legitimately scary, it can be cathartic, stress-relieving, even joy- and laughter-inducing to scare ourselves on purpose. Halloween is a great time to experience the fun of being scared.

Consider asking your students today, the day after Halloween…

  • Have you ever chosen to feel scared, or to be scary, on purpose?

  • If so, what was fun or enjoyable about the experience?

  • If not, can you imagine feeling happy and scared at the same time?

  • What’s the difference between feeling afraid on purpose and feeling afraid when you don’t want to feel that way?

Examining these questions with students can show them we value their creative thinking and their wellbeing. And they can spark conversations, art projects, and creative writing for students of all ages. For older students, these questions could mark the start of investigations into neuroscience, psychology, or empathy – understanding, of course, that there are those of us for whom scary movies are not delightful!

Could scaring ourselves on purpose help us navigate those times when fear shows up uninvited? This question, and the others your students will devise if you let them, can fuel all kinds of joyful and important learning.

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