Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Shouldn't We Be Teaching Children to Be Themselves?

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Shouldn't We Be Teaching Children to Be Themselves?

Article excerpt

Byline: Tony Bennett

" IF you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours" read the school 'happiness award', haphazardly stuck to the fridge. There's no doubt Anna is a happy and friendly girl of eight years, and very deserving of the award, but the idea of an award for happiness left me feeling slightly disturbed.

Have children become so miserable and anxious that smiling is now a rare occurrence? Is this where the endless homework, tests and exams have led us? Picture a playground with rows of smiling children, hands clasped above their heads - arrow-shaped - pointing to the sky, signifying 'A' for ambition. On cue, a rhythmic chanting begins: "Happy is good and sad is bad". Jackbooted Ofsted officers marching back and forth, clipboards in hand, doing a tick-box roll-call. Suddenly, a scuffle and a child is dragged out, unsmilinglike the dystopian worlds of Zamyatin, Huxley, Orwell et al, I exaggerate. But there is some truth in the idea.

A translator - living under the ruthless dictator the Shah of Iran - was "elated" after managing to get a poem published that included the seditious line "Now is the time of sorrow, of darkest night." Elated because, "in this country where everything is supposed to inspire optimism, blossoming, smiles - suddenly 'the time of sorrow'!" Think of North Korea and the hordes of flag-waving, smiling 'supporters' of Kim Jong-un. This is not to equate educational practice with North Korea or an Orwellian nightmare, but there is something oppressive about enforced happiness, regardless of how gently it is done. If smiling is deserving of reward, then by implication, not smiling is something to be frowned upon (with a smile, of course).

Look at job adverts. Candidates are expected to be 'enthusiastic', 'positive', and 'bubbly'; it is not enough to be doing the work, it has to be done with the 'right' emotions. …

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