Why don’t we have schools that make kids happy?
Please comment below. Challenge the question. Take issue with its premise. Share the ennobling and uplifting work of which you and your kids are part.
Maybe we’re on the hard path already, all of us who are by any measure complicit in our schools and the incumbent frustrations thereof – the inequities we perpetuate and pass off on one another each day – the endless relay race of blame run by students, parents, politicians, and ourselves.
Why don’t we have schools that make people happy? That asks too much of any institution and I think society has as much right to the place of primacy in education as young people do. There is ephemeral pleasure and then there is the life well lived. We build for the future ever mindful that the quality of the present should not be sacrificed. We have our excuses for the strictures and narrowness of the schools we work in. Some of them are very good. Despite our earnest intentions we may not unravel the knot and create a coherent system of learning that satisfies the need for happiness we all have. Yet we need to remain critically reflective. The question must always be, “whose interests are being served by this?” When we become complacent with the status quo or argue vigorously for radical change, the question remains the same. The answer will not be simple because educating a generation is complex. We know this.
Kirsten Olson is spot on with her comment about explicit limits. Too much of the educational industrial complex is structured around a scarcity of educational resources. What is making this enduring structure tremble is the transformation of information access. There is no scarcity and the commodity is being traded freely. For those with access, learning has become viral. The predictable response is to see the open sources as cancerous and the resulting learning suspect. The “real” knowledge, the “safe” knowledge and modes of learning remain controlled and limited. The dispensing or management of information remains the province of specialists. The independent learning of young people (and the rest of us) is patronized as extracurricular or marginal. There are too many who do not learn but the connected learning around us is phenomenal now. It defies our careful, well considered curriculum and measuring the resulting learning moves us out of our comfort zones. We don’t always know what we are seeing. Easier to narrow the visible spectrum with standardized assessments. Those assessments speak of benchmarks rather than normative curves but always manage to maintain the all too useful ranking. Elitism and merit are rewarded by the result.
Society does have a stake in education. It is a stronger, healthier society if the outcome of education was whole people approaching their potential. Happiness comes from having our needs met. It is not simply “fun”. We need our physical needs met, security, empowerment (achievement? power?), a sense of belonging and a chance to be who we think we should be. Old ideas now, but I think if we keep this in mind, the young people may reflect back on their school experience as happy.