I know what you’re thinking – a blog post entitled “happiness” must be about Gove going! Actually, no (“happiness” would not be strong enough for that anyway… “glee” or “ecstasy” would be better) – I’ll be returning to our dear departed Education Secretary later. This is about the proposal that we teach happiness in schools.
Of course I applaud the focus on considering the pupil as a whole person, rather than solely summing them up by a set of grades – helping young people develop as individuals and cope with what life throws at them is absolutely vital. I am also glad to see that better training for teachers on this is on the cards – I know that whenever I have occasion to deal with a troubled young person, I do feel I’m flying by the seat of my pants – I want to help them and I’ll do my best to, but I don’t really know what I’m doing.
The use of the term “happiness” worries me a little. I am, I think, a fairly well-balanced person with a decent life, and generally I am very content with it. Happiness seems a rather more fleeting state reserved for special occasions, and of its nature dependent on externals – I don’t think it’s realistic to expect anyone to be actively happy a high proportion of the time, though certainly we should hope for periods of real happiness. This may be mere semantic quibbling – possibly they mean by “happiness” what I mean by “contentment” – but if not, I think they need to modify their aims a little.
My other concern is the tendency to wish to assess everything that’s introduced into the curriculum. The prospect of endeavouring to measure the happiness/contentment of your class, and the progress they’ve made in it, is rather alarming, and in my opinion would render the whole exercise futile.
If it’s going to work, anyway, there needs to be a focus on finding out more on why children are not reasonably content, and why there’s been a rise in mental health issues and a decline in life satisfaction among children. I don’t buy the “modern society is more stressful” argument at all – pressure to achieve at school is hardly new, and nor is peer pressure. That suggests to me it’s about how pressures and unpleasant or unfortunate events are handled. We in schools certainly should try to help with this – but whilst some very stressed and miserable children have parents who are doing everything they can to help, there are a number of others whose parents make things worse, however well-intentioned they are. We need the parents as partners – they must have more knowledge of and influence on their child’s emotions than we do, surely?