Melanie, Charter School Staffing and Recruiting Officer, AZ
“If happiness was easily measurable, I wonder if that would become more prioritized in the classroom. It’s the most important thing of all.”
Imagine your child (or one you care about deeply) is now in their 30s – out of school and starting into adult life. What do you hope for them about their life? What would make it a ‘good’ life?
I think there’s going to be a lot of differences with what happiness would look like specifically for each individual. What job they have, their relationships, the number of relationships—all those things will be very different. So it might look different from the outside. But something on the inside that might not be as openly apparent is the actual essence that makes them happy. Happiness is having a delight for the world around them. They are excited about all sorts of different things, whether it’s a physical activity or reading a book or playing an instrument—they have the desire to interact with the world around them. And there’s one more element—while they want to interact, how they interact will allow them to perpetuate a happy lifestyle, especially in human relationships. They will have to be comfortable with themselves as human beings. A happy person can be patient and assume positive intent. Having that outlook on life—that it’s a positive thing.
Do you think everyone agrees with you about what a good life is?
I don’t think everybody would. I think there might be a knee-jerk reaction about what happiness look like. We are visual people—we think visually. Those intrinsic feelings and perspectives and philosophies about happiness are not something we can easily visualize, so we naturally go with thing we can see more easily. A big house, lot of money—those might be the things we visualize. But upon more reflection, more people would agree than disagree that having happy, rich relationships and a desire to interact wit the world are critical.
What role do you think schooling should play in achieving that ideal good life?
The role of education in helping a student to be happy is helping that student understand the world around him. Experiencing different characters through literature, seeing how they interact with their mistakes, and discussing them. In science, learning to observe and understand life. And this is not for application’s sake; it’s for understanding the world around us. Setting up a deep, rich understanding and having the ability to reflect and problem solve will allow for the student to grow beyond the classroom. We’re setting them up to be themselves and live a good life. They’ll be prepared to experience life for themselves.
Do you think schools are currently playing that role/doing what they should (for you/your child and for everyone)?
I would say that Great Hearts Schools—the ones I have the most experience with—are doing a really great job moving that direction by shifting the priority. It’s a rigorous curriculum, but it’s about being intellectually, aesthetically and morally alive.
[On American public education as a whole:] What I hear most with the language, especially from other friends that are teachers—suggests they are not playing the role they should. The worries and concerns are more about testing. There’s almost a fear in the classroom—“my students have to do well in order for me to keep working.” But what doing well means is a very simplified, quantifiable data set that doesn’t really represent a whole person. The fact that students are assessed in such a black and white numerical fashion—and this is coming from a scientist—I find that there is no way to really have a good ongoing developmental process for a student over multiple years. It’s hard for teachers to maintain relationships across years.
How can the state address the growth of a human being? Because they can’t test that (or maybe they can!), all the focus goes to test scores and biases the way the rest of the class is being taught. If happiness was easily measurable, I wonder if that would become more prioritized in the classroom. It’s the most important thing of all.