15 Strategies to Mitigate Worldview Threat

Cathryn van Kessel

The Big Idea

Identifying the problem of worldview threat is important, but equally important is thinking about how we might mitigate at least the worst of it. Below are some strategies (and as the mobilization of this research continues, strategies may be added, so check back periodically!)

Strategy 1: Conceptualizing Worldview Threat

Conceptualize worldview threat (and associated self-esteem threat) when initially building classroom community, and remind each other during threatening situations. This strategy is the hope of anticipating a threatening situation as well as being metacognitive during. By developing a common language for emotions and defensive reactions, we can help us understand the reactions we (and others) have.

Strategy 2: Remember Shared Values

Immediate before an anticipated threatening situation, prime students with helpful shared values from the worldviews present in the classroom (e.g., kindness and grace). Importantly, though, this action requires tapping into helpful aspects that not only students might have but also those of whomever you might be talking about.

Potential Strategies

  • Mention quotations from the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) about gentleness and mercy, as well as sympathy for those who have been persecuted. Teachers could also engage with a Hadith from the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), such as “kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever is not kind has no faith” (Sahih Muslim).
  • Prime students with what might boost their self-esteem (e.g., having students privately list things that they have done that they are proud of). Self-esteem helps buffer our existential anxiety.

Strategy 3: Start from a Distance

Start threatening conversations at a distance from the problem (e.g., the same issue somewhere else, or here but in the past) and then work your way toward talking about the problem today, here, with us.

Strategy 4: Use Humour

Use humour (carefully). Laughter can help us relieve all sorts of anxieties, but be careful not to derogate others or cause further worldview threat. Sigmund Freud (1905) argued that humour is a defence mechanism: “(Humour) scorns to withdraw the ideational content bearing the distressing affect from conscious attention as repression does, and thus surmounts the automatism of defence” (p. 169). Neil Elgee (2003) has written on humour as a defence against death, allowing us to release tension.


Suggestions for Further Study


Harvell-Bowman, L., Dunn., S., Angle, K., & Montwill, P. (2021, October 29). Episode 5: Terror in the classroom with Dr. Cathryn van Kessel. Scared to Death: A Terror Management Lab Production [Podcast]. https://open.spotify.com/episode/3uKpeyofMQEw2dVHENM45u?si=fnzjSsvcSzKAFHedZKzk9A or https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/scared-to-death-episode-5-terror-in-pedagogy/id1586459891?i=1000540165404

Kendrick, A., & Scott, D. (Producers). (2022, February 22). How can we approach teaching the climate crisis and other challenging topics with Dr. Cathryn van Kessel, Ana Mejicano Greenberg, & Anna Ronak. Ed Students in Conversation [Podcast]. https://www.spreaker.com/user/voicedradio/how-can-we-approach-teaching-the-climate

Open-Access Articles

van Kessel, C. (2020, October 7). Consider this: How terror management theory helps us understand the pandemic. The Quad.

van Kessel, C. (2020). Teaching the climate crisis: Existential considerations. Journal of Curriculum Studies Research, 2(1), 129–145. https://doi.org/10.46303/jcsr.02.01.8

van Kessel, C., Jacobs, N., Catena, F., & Edmondson, K. (2022). Responding to worldview threats in the classroom: An exploratory study of preservice teachers. Journal of Teacher Education, 73(1), 97–109. https://doi.org/10.1177/00224871211051991

van Kessel, C., & Saleh, M. (2020). Fighting the plague: “Difficult” knowledge as sirens’ song in teacher education. Journal of Curriculum Studies Research, 2(2), 1–20. https://doi.org/10.46303/jcsr.2020.7

Other Articles

Burke, K., & van Kessel, C. (2021). Thinking educational controversies through evil and prophetic indictment: Conversation versus conversion. Educational Philosophy and Theory 53(1), 90–100. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131857.2020.1767072

Deschenes, S., & van Kessel, C. (2023). Moral distress and nursing education: Curricular and pedagogical strategies for a complex phenomenon. Health Care Analysis. Advanced Online Publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10728-023-00468-6

Jacobs, N., van Kessel, C., & Varga, B. A. (2021). Existential considerations to disrupt rigid thinking in social studies classrooms. Taboo: The Journal of Culture and Education, 20(1), 51–65. https://digitalscholarship.unlv.edu/taboo/vol20/iss1/4/

van Kessel, C., den Heyer, K., & Schimel, J. (2020). Terror management theory and the educational situation. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 52(3), 428–442. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220272.2019.1659416


van Kessel, C. (2020, December 5). Considering the emotionality of antiracist education [Webinar]. Alberta Teachers’ Association Diversity, Equity & Human Rights Speaker Series, Edmonton, AB, Canada. https://sched.co/fQaN

van Kessel, C., Fairlamb, S., & McQueen, M. (Participants) & Harvell-Bowman, L. (Moderator). (2022, November 16). Ernest Becker and Education [Webinar]. Ernest Becker Foundation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y–l1EzNYJM


(Created by C. van Kessel, 2023)


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

The Grim Educator Copyright © 2019 by Cathryn van Kessel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book