Happiness and Education

Happiness and Education

Happiness and Education

Happiness and Education

Synopsis

When parents are asked what they want for their children, they usually answer that they want their children to be happy. Why, then, is happiness rarely mentioned as an aim of education? This book explores what we might teach if we were to take happiness seriously as an aim of education. It asks, first, what it means to be happy and, second, how we can help children to understand what happiness is. It notes that, to be truly happy, we have to develop a capacity for unhappiness and a willingness to alleviate the suffering of others. Criticizing the present almost exclusive emphasis on economic well-being and pleasure, it discusses the contributions of making a home, parenting, cherishing a place, development of character, interpersonal growth, finding work that one loves, and participating in a democratic way of life. Finally, it explores ways in which to make schools and classrooms happy places.

Excerpt

In the past few months, when I have told people that I'm writing a book on happiness and education, more than one has responded with some puzzlement, “But they don't go together!” Indeed, the fact that the two seem increasingly opposed these days is one motive for tackling the topic. Happiness and education are, properly, intimately related: Happiness should be an aim of education, and a good education should contribute significantly to personal and collective happiness.

An interest in biography has increased my concern about the connections among happiness, misery, boredom, and schooling. Why is it that so many bright, creative people have hated school? Observing this well-documented misery, why do we continue to justify it with the old excuse, “Some day you'll thank me for this”? Parents and educators are sustained in this attitude, in part, because so many adult children do thank us for their perceived success – a success, sometimes questionable, that they credit to their earlier misery. And so, they are ready, even eager, to inflict a new round of misery on others. Indeed, many parents and teachers are afraid not to do this, fearing that children will be spoiled, unprepared, undisciplined, unsuccessful, and ultimately unhappy.

Another motivating factor has been disappointment with my Christian upbringing. I have developed an aversion to the glorification of suffering that pervades Christian doctrine, to the fear-based admonitions to be good, and to the habit of deferring happiness to some later date. Some readers will be quick to point out that formal religions – even Christianity – also bring happiness to many lives and that the concept of joy is central to religious life. In the . . .

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