Happy, Happy Happy

Dubai has created a role of Minister for Happiness. The head of the main Dubai education regulatory body says his first priority is happy schools. And, as this article reveals, happy schools is a theme in many places with UNESCO taking a leading profile:

The Nation – High Hopes for Happy Learning

As a reaction to some of what’s been wrong in k-12 education for way too long, this is all perhaps understandable. However, it carries with it rather too big a whiff of faddishness and ‘flavour of the moment’ for my liking. It seems like a massively over-simplistic reaction that could be counter-productive in the long run.

Happiness is at the core of Positive Psychology and the work of people like Marty Seligman, Tal Ben Shahar or Shawn Achor. I completely believe that there is a place for their work to fundamentally shape the kinds of schools we develop, the learning experiences of children and the values that shape our education systems. However, this has to happen from the big picture and is about something far more sophisticated than simply suggesting that children should do less work, have more fun and be happy.

Positive psychology is also about pursuit of meaningful lives. If students are pursuing learning about which they are passionate in ways that suit them individually and that have real meaning and purpose for them, then there is no such thing as working too hard. The idea should not be to somehow turn schools in to leisure camps where having fun and being happy for its own sake take precedence over the purpose of school. Learning and preparation to live a great life should be the cause of passion, happiness and enthusiasm in the individual child because it becomes a pull process – something they do for themselves driven by intrinsic motivation. Our problem today is that too much of what passes for education is “done to” children, making them passive recipients.

I fear that under the new enforced happiness regimes, too many teachers will now believe they must “do happiness” to the children. Showing the children to be ‘happy’ will be a key requirement when inspectors visit the school, but the rest of the time little will really have changed. Happiness and positive healthy relationships, approaches to learning and school climate can’t be simply mandated. They have to flow through the training and professional development of teachers, inspired by common shared vision flowing from leaders and key figures in education (such as school promoters). Parents and teachers are crucial in all of this. We have to work to help them to understand the benefits of a truly holistic education approach.

Old wine in new bottles (with a smiley face on the label) will not serve our children well.


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