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Education and Happiness

(93 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?

Magsie Sun 19-Jun-11 10:51:11

My older sister took me to the Library when I was a small child & like you crimson I found it changed my life. We had very few books at home as we were not well off. Going to the library meant that I could read as much as I wanted. It is amazing how much general knowledge you can pick up- even from fiction.

harrigran Sun 19-Jun-11 11:48:32

I agree crimson, the caring home environment makes a difference to a child's learning. We never had a TV and my mother made sure we had all the books we could read whether they were bought or we were taken to the library. I never got to grammar school but I read anything and everything which stood me in good stead when I went to college. I did very well at college and in my career and I can put that down to an interest in learning and bettering myself.

jackyann Sun 19-Jun-11 12:56:39

On the "ask a gran" thread about bribing for exam results, I wrote about how privileged I was to have a family who delighted in learning & to whom it never occurred that bribery was an option.
My 4 children are 7 years apart & all went through the same local school comprehensive system just as all the testing beloved of Thatcher was being introduced. The first had none & the last got them all, and I watched their delight in school decreasing as more tests & teaching to tests became the norm.
Although my education was very old-fashioned, testing was for us to see how we were getting on and to be helpful at a personal level, not to be published for outsiders to comment on.

A colleague of mine asked to withdraw her child from SATs as she was getting upset and they co-incided with the first anniversary of her sister's death. On being refused, mum allowed her to be "off sick" (not ideal). On returning to school she was put in a room and given the papers to do. She was of course, a clever child & they wanted her in their stats! On hearing this story, another colleague told me quietly that she had been asked to keep her (struggling) child off sick that week - she too was upset.
This school had a supposedly "good" reputation locally, and when I heard people talking about it, wished I could tell them, but could not of course tell tales told to me confidentially.

artygran Sun 19-Jun-11 13:14:53

I was lucky when I was at a secondary school in a fairly deprived urban area in the 1950's (failed 11 plus)! We had excellent, committed teachers, a wonderful headmaster and a house system that engendered both pride and competition. I do not know of more than a handful of people who actively disliked school - for the most part we were happy and did well from it. However, the one thing we did benefit hugely from was discipline in school. If we did wrong, we were fairly punished (not necessarily physically) and we accepted it - and what is more important, our parents backed up the teachers if the punishment was justified. Discipline in some schools is so poor that it can take a teacher half the lesson to get a class settled enough to teach them anything. Children who want to learn are prevented from doing so and are therefore fed up and unhappy. Punish a child and some parents are all over the teacher like a rash threatening retribution. Finding a way around this problem will, in my humble opinion, go a long way to making school a better, happier experience for all children.

jackyann Sun 19-Jun-11 22:14:10

I agree artygran - I was at school in a similar era, and there was no physical punishment, but the atmosphere was one of learning.

I wonder if there is something about taking things for granted?
For instance I often hear women say how aware they are of the suffragette movement that got us the vote so we shouldn't take it for granted - I rarely hear the same said about the Chartists because they have passed from oral memory. In another thread something similar is being said about infectious diseases & vaccination.

Most grans will have heard their own (great) grandparents talking about a time when education was not universal. One of my grandmothers was the first in her family to read & write, so we were aware of how privileged we were, and understood the consequences of ignorance.

harrigran Mon 20-Jun-11 00:08:31

My Grandmother was born in 1896 and probably did not go to school for that long but had the most beautiful handwriting. My grandfather was told he should stay at school and then go to university but his father would not allow it and he was made to work in a coal mine. Large families, mouths to feed.

Mamie Mon 20-Jun-11 07:11:02

Many of my friends (male and female) here in our village in France had to leave school at 14 to help on the farm. They were in a one teacher village school and the older children helped teach the younger ones. Apparently the big famililies used to let the children stay on until 16, because that way they kept the family allowance, which was very generous for big families.
Slightly off-topic, another friend has been able to retire in her mid-fifties because she had three children and that allows you to retire and take your pension early.

feeby2 Mon 20-Jun-11 11:38:24

Is my nineteen years old granddaughter being unreasonable to expect her not very affluent parents to pay all costs of an expensive wedding ? the young pair have a two year child. there are also two sisters younger to cater for.

artygran Mon 20-Jun-11 11:44:10

I am always puzzled when I hear that some people are leaving school unable to fulfil even the most basic skills of reading and writing. Why are we allowing illiteracy in a country that is supposed to be in the forefront of modern education? My parents both left school when they were 14 (my father was born in 1904). They could both read and write and do arithmetic. My father was an avid reader all his life and wrote letters in the most beautiful handwriting. No one left my secondary school in the 1950s unable to read, write a proper letter, have a good grasp of how the world and the country worked or with a good grounding in arithmetic (if not maths). We should be ashamed that there are children slipping under the net who are lost to the world of work and to precluded from the everyday pleasures that even basic education brings.

baggythecrust! Mon 20-Jun-11 12:38:18

feeby2, yes, your GD is being unreasonable. Very! Expensive weddings are not a necessity.

artygran, I wonder what the percentage of 'illiterate' school leavers really is. Intelligence and learning ability follow a standard 'normal' curve,
Iike nearly everything else. This means that if you use IQ as the measure of learning ability (it's not perfect but it's still a useful rough guide), there will be a certain proportion of people who have a very low IQ compared to the average. If this small proportion is the same as the percentage of 'illiterate' school leavers, then there is nothing surprising happening. There will always be some people who don't manage to achieve 'average' results. That is not a reflectiion on them or on teaching methods; it's just reality.

supernana Mon 20-Jun-11 13:17:21

feeby2...I believe that your granddaughter is perhaps somewhat immature to expect her parents to fully fund the short-lived "fripperies" of a very important day.

Mamie Mon 20-Jun-11 14:12:40

I don't believe that vast numbers of pupils are leaving school unable to read or write. As I posted before the government and the press seem to believe that a failure to achieve a Level 4 at eleven equals illiteracy. For anyone who knows what a Level 4 really looks like, this is complete nonsense. Of course, there is still a huge amount of work to be done, but we have a very good framework for the teaching of literacy and numeracy in our schools. Despite what you might read in the press and hear from the government, standards have risen since the introduction of the framework in the late nineties and teaching has improved. There are still too many children who do not achieve the expected levels and there are a huge number of programmes in place to support them, though many of these are now under threat from government cuts. There are many reasons for the fact that there are still children who struggle. One is poverty, another is a culture of low expectations in some parts of society. Raising standards is not easy, there are no quick fixes and our media does not support schools and teachers. Instead there is a culture of ignorance and blame from people who should know better. I have retired, but as you can tell, I still get really angry on behalf of our schools, our teachers and our children.

jackyann Mon 20-Jun-11 14:19:42

feeby2 - I think you might get a better run of answers if you re-post this as a thread on its own, as then people will be able to see it when they first go to the forum.
But to answer you: I am a bit unclear as to whether it is GD who as the 2 year-old or her parents, but anyway it's a subject for thrashing out as a family.
We have 4 children and we worked out what we could afford to give for different important things (education first!). They were then told "you can have £x for a wedding", knowing that for some it would pay for a family meal at the pub, for others it would be part of a big budget.
I suggest that all of the family say how delighted they are that the couple want to marry, and that they will either buy a wedding gift, or contribute that amount for the celebration. Bridesmaids for instance can say that they will buy their own dress.
The couple can then go away and work out their budget.
Suggestions to keep the cost down:
Charity shops / freecycle
hire the local hall as a venue, ask all guests to bring a contribution.

From the tone of your post, I wonder if you think GD is getting "above herself" - knowing her budget will help her decide!

harrigran Mon 20-Jun-11 16:06:55

feeby2 yes your GD is being unreasonable. The couple are still very young. One or two years down the line they may not be together, make sure the relationship is rock solid before shelling out.

JessM Mon 20-Jun-11 16:22:28

Re the literacy aspect of this thread, I am a governor in improving a school that serves a very deprived area. One of my contributions is to keep reminding school about literacy. We are moving forward but it is tough. We still get 11 year olds with virtually no reading. If you come from a poor home, where there are no books and your parents have limited literacy and then you go to a not very good primary, this can easily happen. Once they get to secondary the teachers are not reading orientated. Their training is in teaching their subject not teaching reading. Even though we have appointed a senior staff member with a literacy brief we have a long way to go. 16 year olds still struggle to fully understand things like Maths GCSE questions - they are not just sums these days but "real life" problems. Or in humanities if you "explain" when the question asks you to "decide" then you get no marks. It grieves my heart to admit that I think Gove is right about taking over failing primaries. If they have the children for all those years and have failed to teach reading then they deserve to be taken over. The last government, unfortunately gave primaries an easy ride. It is easier to focus on exam results than reading.

gangy5 Mon 20-Jun-11 16:23:29

I think we have wandered off course here. The poser was education and happiness. My favourite subjects were art, domestic science and games. This mean't that for the majority of school time I found the going a drudge. Despite this I do realise that it is essential to learn sufficient of the academic subjects to get one through life. I ended up being a chef/lecturer so as you can see I followed my heart.

baggythecrust! Mon 20-Jun-11 16:38:08

The last government did not give primary schools an easy ride. Nor did the government before that. And the current government looks set to continue the trend of demanding yet more changes. However, I agree, Jess, that children who still need help with reading at sixteen should jolly well get it.

Maths was always about problem-solving, by the way, it's just that it's the kind of problem-solving that (a) requires you to be able to read and understand the problem and (b) know what sums to do and how to do them.

As for explaining rather than deciding when you're answering an exam question, I doubt if it's bad reading as such that causes problems there but bad exam technique. Kids who are taught exam technique tend to do better in exams than those who aren't (always assuming they are willing; you can lead a horse to water, ...)

artygran Mon 20-Jun-11 21:14:58

JessM, your post was very thought provoking. I know there aren't vast numbers of people leaving school with no literacy skills, Mamie, but my point is that there shouldn't be any, no matter how disadvantaged they are. If we already have adults in society who have been failed by the education system, who then have children who are being failed by the same education system, that is potentially two generations lost to the labour market, unable to make a useful contribution to society and unable to enhance their own lives accordingly. If nothing else tells us that the system needs a shake-up, that should.

em Mon 20-Jun-11 22:17:21

But Artygran there has always been a small minority who cannot achieve at school. I recall one father whose son was really struggling despite being given as much support as we could give. Dad told me that he wasn't expecting miracles and knew his child was not a genius - all he wanted was that his boy should be 'getting the average in tests'. Just not possible, is it, for everyone to gain the average mark??

Mamie Tue 21-Jun-11 07:58:41

I think it depends on what you mean by "no literacy skills". Apart from pupils with severe special needs of one sort or another, I don't think I ever met a child without any literacy skills. Do you mean Level 1, 2, 3, or 4 at 16?
I have never believed in this golden age of literacy for all. There have always been people who struggled with basic literacy. As a teacher back in the seventies there were always letters from parents that were very badly written with very poor spelling and no punctuation. I have seen plenty of texts going back to the Victorian age, where people complain about the numeracy and literacy of the present generation.

Mamie Tue 21-Jun-11 08:50:07

An addition to above post. I am not saying that there isn't a problem in the attainment of some school leavers. Clearly there is and we need to improve the proportion leaving with five A-C grades as a priority. Why do we have this group who continue to fail to achieve as they should? Reasons include, poverty, poor parenting, a culture of low expectations, problems of recruitment and retention of teachers and senior managers, schools with high levels of pupils for whom English is not their first language. The list is endless.
What I do not accept is that we can wave a magic wand and "change the system". It certainly can't be done by calling a school an academy and buying a smarter uniform or by parachuting in a superhead. It takes time. When you look at Finland, whose education system is much admired, they say "we looked at what needed doing and we introduced reform carefully and consistently for forty years." We have had endless reform by successive governments, putting huge pressure on the schools. The vast majority of schools battle to do the best for their pupils.The press, the government and the public attack them without any real understanding of the complexity of the issues or any appreciation of the many, many schools who do great things in difficult circumstances.

Magsie Tue 21-Jun-11 09:15:42

Mamie you clearly know what you are talking about.
My husband works on a project with children who are in danger of becoming young offenders (identified by truancy, challenging behaviour etc). They all have poor literacy skills and their background is as you describe- poverty, chaotic home life plus behavioural problems such as ADHD. Often, no-one in their family has had a job for three generations and they don't expect to have one either. Many of them end up being excluded from school by the age of 12.
If he asks them about school, they don't like it and find it boring. Some of this he puts down to the lack of practical subjects like woodwork, metalwork etc. He has a background in teaching and can remember when the less academic children did a skill-based curriculum and picked up a lot of literacy & numeracy from that.

baggythecrust! Tue 21-Jun-11 09:38:14

Thank you, mamie. Well said.

Mamie Tue 21-Jun-11 09:39:48

Quite agree Magsie and at the time Design and Technology was introduced I was against the over-emphasis on design in practical subjects like cookery and woodwork. I remember seeing a brilliant project where teenage boys, like the ones your husband works with, were working with a teacher and a joiner to make useful things from wood in a proper workshop.
Sadly, I don't think many of those projects will survive the cuts.

artygran Tue 21-Jun-11 10:27:17

We have come full circle, Magsie; in my original post I advocated vocational courses for those who were not academic, and I still think it is the way to go. Give kids something that interests and engages them, and which gives them skills that may lead to employment and perhaps fewer of them would be excluded from school. Instead of employing all these retired plumbers and joiners (do plumbers and joiners ever retire?) at B & Q, perhaps we should be employing them in schools to teach our youngsters a trade.