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Education and Happiness

(92 Posts)
Sue61 Thu 16-Jun-11 15:59:55

I have been a teacher and teacher educator for 35 years and firmly believe that happiness should be an aim of education. Why is it that so many bright, creative people have hated school. Why do so many of us believe that children are miserable at school 'for their own good'. Why do so many people fear that children will be spoiled, unprepared, undisciplined, unsuccessful and ultimately unhappy if we don't make them conform at school? My experience as a teacher and mother and now grandmother tells me that learning is natural - a baby who didn't want to learn would be a cause for concern. And children learn best when they are happy. Of course this begs the question of what it means to be happy. I think learning makes me happy and I see it regularly making my little grandson happy - his delight in achieving things is a joy to behold - no one would doubt his achievements make him happy. I think learning should make us happy our whole lives. Unfortunately much time is spent in school trying to make children learn things that don't interest them. This produces unmotivated, uninterested, bored children. They may 'learn' enough to pass exams but then promptly forget it - that's not learning. What is the purpose of school? We have a system that sees education as largely having an economic purpose - what about happiness? Cameron is concerned to measure levels of happiness in adults. But what about children? Should an aim of education be happy children? And what would that look like in the classroom? I think the development of our personal capacities and interpersonal relationships are a key component of happiness - does school contribute to this in any meaningful way for all our children, or just some who happen to be motivated by what's on offer? My work has always made me happy and I want everyone to experience happiness in their work - how can schools help in this quest? What do others think?

doranch Thu 16-Jun-11 16:42:39

What can I say? I didn't like school at all and yet I did well academically. I believe we all learn most about the things that interest us most and in order to discover what they are we need a wide variety of opportunities presented to us. Not all parents can provide this and schools may be the answer. I don't think a "one size fits all" approach works - and I'd hate to have to go back to school!

em Thu 16-Jun-11 20:19:11

I'd hate to go back to school too - I'm enjoying my retirement as grandmother and ex-teacher! Wholeheartedly agree with Sue61. The lessons where children felt engaged and happy were the ones I remember with pleasure - because I enjoyed them too. The day-to-day basics where huge numbers of boxes had to be ticked whether or not the lesson had been a success (according to my criteria) were instantly forgettable. If that's how I felt then how must it have been for the 10 yr-olds in my class. Don't get me wrong - basics are necessary - I was sneakily teaching grammar when it was unfashionable - but most lessons can be presented in a way that is not appallingly boring!! Times tables can be a bucketful of giggles but at the same time, a very successful learning experience.

mamanC Thu 16-Jun-11 21:15:14

It's the age-old question of what is education for. Surely it's to develop the whole person ,and it goes on all your life as I am very fortunate to have experienced. The best teachers talk about the character of their children and have the gift of perceiving what makes a child tick. Sadly many teachers have been forced in recent years to become masters of the ticky box, using the language of the statitician to categorize their charges, constantly checking their position in the league tables and shopping around, at Secondary School level at least, for the soft subjects with their easier route to the coveted A to C grade.

Teenagers will tell you that when they ask a question in class, it's quite normal to be told, "You don't need to know that for the exam."

Some Scandinavian countries don't test children....does it work I wonder???

gangy5 Thu 16-Jun-11 21:54:58

Sue 61 has summed me up - (I like to think) Bright and creative and hated school. I am of the opinion that school stiffles the creative in children. Too much emphasis is placed on academic learning and not enough time is spent ensuring that schools produce well rounded adults.
MamanC quotes many of the ills in todays schools. These methods hinder any hope of freedom of expression in young people.

harrigran Fri 17-Jun-11 00:05:50

All I can say is thank heaven I don't have children at school now.

artygran Fri 17-Jun-11 08:51:43

I think children would be happier at school if they were not all herded into following academic courses. It is time we included vocational course with enough of the necessary English, arithmetical and science-based skills to complement them for children who are practical and not academic (you can't be a plumber, a bricklayer, a mechanic or joiner without them). I am not certain but I think they do this in Germany. Children respond best to things they are interested in and, more importantly, can see a point to. My son loved the humanities subjects and did well at school, but was never any good at maths until he left school and went into the RAF where he took up a successful career based on accountancy and procurement! He hated building things (Meccano was a non-starter!) My sisters boys were practical like their father and now run successful businesses in building and plumbing but they did not learn these skills at school, which they hated - they were taught them by their father, even the paper-based elements. Not all children are this lucky, and we are failing them by boring them to tears at a time when we should be engaging them.

gangy5 Fri 17-Jun-11 10:38:34

Well said artygran. All children can be high achievers in a field that they enjoy and are capable of applying themselves to. Where have all the Technical Colleges gone? One of my sons progressed extremely well from one. As you say though, they should be allowed to do more vocational subjects at school so that those leaning in that direction can be encouraged to progress.

FlicketyB Fri 17-Jun-11 20:53:41

Yes, but....... Genius - and - creativity is 1% inspiration, 99 % perspiration. If you are going to achieve anything you need to put the hours in to get the skills. Professional musicians get there because they spend hours a day practicing. Medical researchers spend hours in the lab repeating and slightly varying experiments that may, after years, find a cure for what is currently incurable. Children need to learn basic skills to function in this world and one of those skills is applying themselves to learning things even if it isnt very interesting because it is the key to the interesting work. They also need to be able to read, write and spell well and confidently numerate


One size fits all education crushes children, particularly when it leads only to one size fits all exams, which leads only to one type fits all further education, ie a degree and where the success of schools is measured only by exam success. This leads to creative and practical subjects like music, art, drama, needlework, and woodwork being marginalised and excluded from schools and to creative children and those at the top and bottom of the ability range being failed.

If I was having children now I would home educate them.

Mamie Sat 18-Jun-11 08:49:05

I don't think our education system is based on "one size fits all". I think there is plenty of good, creative teaching in our schools, where children enjoy their learning and make good progress. I think our schools suffer from negative comments from politicians and the press, which are based on ignorance and a desire to make political capital. How often do we read about pupils leaving school at eleven "unable to read and write". I presume that this refers to the 20% of pupils who leave at 11 without achieving a Level 4 in English and Maths. Do any of these people know what a Level 4 means? If they do, do they really think that Level 3 equals illiteracy? I get really fed up with these sweeping, ignorant comments from people who should know better. As a teacher, adviser and inspector for over 30 years I know how good the majority of our schools, especially our primary schools, really are.

baggythecrust! Sat 18-Jun-11 09:03:39

My three daughters are all different. Two of them have grown up into happy and well-balanced adults after being at state schools in Oxfordshire; the third is still at a primary school in western Scotland where her creativity, her academic talents, her physical fitness, and her social skills are all enhanced by the wonderful school ethos. So far I have heard only positive comments from the people who have kids at the local academy (in Scotland an academy is an ordinary, 'normal' secondary school) that DD3 will go to in autumn 2012. I find it hard to believe that my kids have been extraordinarily lucky in attending ordinarily good schools. As it happens my regional council recently tried to close a third of all its rural primary schools. People fought like blazes over the last eight months to keep them open, and we won! (There is no need for me to go into the political details on this thread). Seems to me that most people love their local school and, certainly in my experience, schools are not repressive machines. In any case, it has been proved over and over again that a child's success has more to do with parental attitudes than anything else. I speak as both a parent and a teacher.

Joan Sat 18-Jun-11 10:07:15

I remember telling my two lads to plan on a career based on what they like doing, not on how much money they would make. In Australia just about every job pays enough to live a decent life anyway.

So they did their university courses based on what they liked - biogical science for one, history and philosophy for the other, and they both work in jobs they enjoy, and which, luckily enough, pay reasonably well.

I fail to see the logic of having a career that pays a lot but you don't like. Our income is supposed to provide a happy life, so what is the point of being miserable at work. better to have a lower wage and a happy working life.

As for school and university - I agree that education is to develop the whole person. It is not just to train them like monkeys to perform in some job. Obviously they have to have the necessary skills to make them work-ready, but their education should teach them to think, analyse and have a wide world view.

Yes, I agree that happiness is paramount.

Mamie Sat 18-Jun-11 10:15:15

Would add from my experience as an inspector, that having observed hundreds of lessons in the course of my career, I have never seen an unhappy class where the teaching is consistently good.

gangy5 Sat 18-Jun-11 11:50:17

I would like to know what proportion of pupils who learn Latin, make use of it in later life. I'm sure it could be replaced with something generally much more useful to them. This is only one relatively useless subject - there must be more.
I agree with joan that enjoyment of your occupation outweighs finanacial renumeration. Let's face it - this takes up a large proportion of our lives. This is now going to apply for longer as the age of retirement is set further into the distance!!

baggythecrust! Sat 18-Jun-11 12:32:15

I learned Latin (only to 'O' level) and I use it every day because so many of the words I read come from Latin. I find it fascinating. My very basic Latin also gave me a much deeper appreciation of grammar which has stood me in good stead. My husband is a scientist and wishes he had learned Latin at school. Scientific names are often in Latin. I understand that Latin is now becoming more popular as an optional subject.

In spite of my finding Latin 'useful' I think is that it isn't what you learn at school that is most important. What is important is that you learn how to learn. That's a skill you can apply to anything, anytime, anywhere.

Mamie Sat 18-Jun-11 13:12:53

I also enjoyed Latin at school and find it helpful for French and Spanish, but I don't think (personal opinion) that it is sufficiently useful to be part of the curriculum for every child. I think it is quite unusual these days outside of public schools and grammar schools, though some schools offer short courses. The problem is that the curriculum is so full and it is a question of what you leave out. Information Technology / Design Technology? Art / Music / P.E.? Personal, Social and Health Education? Modern Foreign Languages? It is a real problem for schools to implement a broad and balanced curriculum and in some parts of the country to find good, qualified staff for every subject.
I totally agree that "learning to learn" is essential and I think our increased understanding of different learning styles has been a great leap forward in recent years.

Joan Sat 18-Jun-11 13:34:17

Latin is very hard, which is why most pupils would not want to bother, and many schools would not want to risk a high failure rate. I agree it is not for every child, by any means.However, as Baggy said, it helps in many ways. For me, it enabled me to understand grammar, to see the links between languages, to appreciate ancient literature and history, to understand many new words I encounter, and much more. It was my favourite subject at grammar school and I got a decent O level pass in it. I'm pretty sure it helped my French and German too - German grammar is very much like Latin grammar, but a bit easier, and French is derived directly from Latin.

I do understand why many people would see it as a wasted subject, but to me it was essential, as I have a lifelong interest in linguistics. I suppose, in a way, I fell in love with the whole Ancient Roman thing, and to this day I love it when Time Team dig up ancient Roman remains. The fact we had a great teacher helped, too.

Joan Sat 18-Jun-11 13:36:02

PS I think JK Rowling did Latin at school - it certainly influences her writing and character naming. I've read that the Harry Potter books, which I love, have inspired a lot of children to request Latin courses at their schools.

Magsie Sat 18-Jun-11 13:38:45

A few years ago, my husband was asked to teach Latin as an extra subject in a local junior school. As well as a limited amount of Latin itself, he uses it as a basis to teach English grammar, the Latin origins of our language, the Greek and Roman classical world and how our civilisation developed from them. The kids love it and a lot say it is their favourite subject. I think that is because everything is made relevant to today's world and the kids know why they are studying it. I remember doing physics but not really knowing what use it was. Luckily, as this is an extra subject, he is not bound by national curriculum and can follow up anything the kids show an interest in.

absentgrana Sat 18-Jun-11 14:03:44

What a lovely husband you have Magsie.

Magsie Sat 18-Jun-11 15:00:51

Thank you absentgrana! I think so too but then I'm biased. I think he is a great teacher because he loves the subject and passes his enthusiasm on to the children. Nearly everything we do now has a basis in the Ancient World so he is as likely to be talking about ethics or citizenship as nouns and verbs. They always end up with a story, usually a Greek or Roman myth.
As I said before, I think it is because he is not tied to a set syllabus and can just "go with the flow".

jangly Sat 18-Jun-11 15:52:44

I think a well educated adult is more likely to be a happy and productive person than someone whose education was neglected. I think the main objective of school is to teach the children. Sure, you want children to be happy, but one thing needn't necessaily exclude the other. And the education is the most important thing during school hours.

It should be pointed out to children that they need to learn in order to be happy in the future. The more children learn, the more they will be able to learn. It isn't only about the immediate lesson. Its about learning to learn.

harrigran Sat 18-Jun-11 22:19:54

gangy5, every person I know that took latin at school has made use of the knowledge. Medicine and other sciences make full use of the language.
Those that opt out of subjects because they are difficult are not prepared to put in the effort.

Rosannie Sat 18-Jun-11 23:01:39

My daughter has just finished a Classical Studies degree, she says it has been above all the 'joy of learning', her understanding of language and the knowledge of the roots of all culture. She is hoping in next year to use her knowledge as a guide on tours of classical sites in Greece, Italy and other historical Med locations.

After this she is intending to pursue a career in Law and her Classics degree will give her a good basis for this work.

I can see the benefits of classical myths and Shakespeare definitely could!

crimson Sun 19-Jun-11 09:32:19

Small things, education wise, shaped me as a person. Being taken to a library when I was at primary school; an afternoon outing that changed my life [I chose a Jack London book, either White Fang or The Call of the Wild]. And being taken to Stratford to see a Shakesperian play when I was at grammar school. So pleased that I studied French [badly]. When I see French words and know how to pronounce them or understand vaguely what they mean makes me feel a little bit happy inside. However, I did have a mother who encouraged me to read and learn; poor as we were she was always buying me books to read and taking me to the cinema and sometimes the theatre.