Steph, Graduate Student, Former Teacher, CA
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 am thinking of my nephew who is this adorable, quirky, only child and I guess when he is in his 30s, what I would want for him is to be able to have the choice to do what he wants to do and not have to worry about economic factors of working and choosing a career. But I also think I want him to feel empowered and see how he connects to making the world a better place in some way. I want him to understand that he is a part of this ecosystem and he and others need to be able to improve on the different problems going on in the world – social, economic, environmental. This also means understanding that part of being a human should be having a mission and having some type of drive in what you do in your life. I think also not having to worry about some of the stressors that make people choose other careers instead of the ones they are passionate about and just really being happy in doing that.
How do you define happiness?
For me happiness is being able to wake up and now that what I’m doing is making a difference. Generally, as a teacher and as an educator knowing that that lesson or that skill that I am teaching or using that day is hopefully going to help my students be ready to take on the issues of the world and understand whats going on in the world and understand how they are important in changing that.
Do you think everyone agrees with you about what a good life is?
No, I think a lot of people would base it in the financial aspect. They think that having the comforts of money and all those things is the end goal for a person in having a good life. But I don’t think that that is necessarily right or that you should have to worry about those things. I think it is a systemic issue because we do rank and order things and create a hierarchy where some people get more than others. I think that is a problem and leads to a lot of the unhappiness that you see. The competition based economy is a problem and no one can ever really achieve happiness through that.
How did you develop your definition of a good life?
I can’t say I always felt that way but for me its more about mission. What is your mission and what is your purpose – and I realize that, to me, brings more happiness than economic factors.
What role do you think schooling should play in achieving that ideal good life?
I think schools should teach children about the issues that are happening in our world. I think there should be a social justice lens integrated into the school day. In addition to learning academic skills, students should also be learning social emotional skills. I think students should know about real world problem solving - about how they are applying these academic and social skills into the real world and knowing what that actually means for them before they get out into the real world so they can understand the gravity of the situation and hopefully use that to make choices that are best for everyone.
Do you think everyone agrees with you about the role of schooling within that?
No I think a lot of people would say, since it is the big buzz term now, college and career ready. I think the reason I don’t use that is because it is still grounded in competition because in order for this group to be college and career ready and to get there, that means someone else isn’t just based on the way the system works and the selection process. I am trying not to use those terms for that reason. The idea behind it is great but what it has come to mean in the US is problematic. It is looking specifically only at academic skills and at creativity and innovation for the sake of having it and for the sake of being successful in society the way it is now. So it ties back to economic success - having a job and career that allows you to compete against other people and get a piece of the pie that someone else can’t have. To me, that’s just not the way it should be.
Do you think schools are currently playing that role/doing what they should (for you/your child and for everyone)?
No – I think to an extent yes – I think a lot of schools are trying to do at least the interpersonal and the academic skills. Some schools are talking about real world problem solving and are trying to teach those things but I think there are still a lot of places where that is not happening, where none of those pieces are happening, let alone the real world problem solving aspect of that. I think there are still people who think that certain groups of people can’t do it and that’s a problem. I think there are also some people who just think it is too hard to be able to do all of those things within a school and to partner with communities in order to do all of those things within a school because its not easy.
How do we get past that barrier?
I think at first there needs to be a shift in mindset where we understand what it takes for everyone to succeed. We keep saying that, but we haven’t changed any systems to really allow that to happen. I think the selection criteria for universities would need to change because I think that will be the driving force for primary and secondary schools to change. I think also there needs to be more avenues for people to be successful and changing what successful means in the U.S. because it shouldn’t just be tied to money. I think schools also are going to have to partner with communities and understand what the students of that community need in order to realize their potential. People also need to be willing to give up some of the privileges they have. I think that has to happen. You can’t continue to raise wages for all people and still close a gap –that doesn’t make sense - you can’t do both. If the ceiling continues to rise, the gap wont ever be closed.
What is the purpose of education?
The purpose of education is to give people the opportunity to explore and understand what is important to them and how what they value fits into improving the world and the environment that they are in – I think it is also a place where students can take the risk to try different things while learning and also figure out what their mission is and what role they want to play in improving the world.