Pilar, Mother, 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?

A really good life is if they can be fully engaged in what they are doing. If they just feel committed to things, if they feel enlivened by what they are doing and by the people around them – I think that is the sign of a really good life. I also feel like, in general, low levels of stress are important. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be periods of life where you undergo stress, but there should be a real ebb and flow to that. I wouldn’t want stress to be a prominent ongoing feature of their life. And also a real sense of joy and love is what I really want in my life and what I want for my kids.

When have you seen joy in your children?

Kind of all the time. A lot of it in our house has to do with laughter but its interesting I mean this is a bit temperament too, but particularly my daughter, I just remember thinking it is pretty remarkable that she approaches everything, maybe a little bit more when she was younger, every moment, every day, she approaches from a stance of joy and what have you got for me now? And that only changes when there is a cause for it to change. Rather than approaching life from a more negative stance she just approaches life from a joyful stance. What’s interesting actually now that I’m saying this, is I feel like the change started to happen when she started formal schooling. There is less of that exuberance now.

Do you think everyone agrees with you about what a good life is?

Probably not. I mean I didn’t mention finances at all. That is certainly a huge factor to an extent but if you have your basic needs met in a way that is not stressful than beyond that, after a certain point, more money doesn’t contribute to your happiness. But absolutely having no or little financial stress is an important factor. It’s not the first thing that comes to mind to me because we are in a place where we don’t have huge financial stress so it is not at the forefront of my mind. I experienced that more as a kid so I can see how that could be more central for some families to think about with their kids.  Also, I suspect that a lot of people would think about achievement – doing something important, doing something with status – that may be something important to families that is not as important to me because of the way I grew up.

What role do you think schooling should play in achieving that ideal good life?

The piece that I go to is engagement, exuberance, enlivening. You know, providing exposure to experiences that do that for kids. And showing kids what that feeling can be like. It’s very different from entertainment or making it fun – that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about making it feel like something you feel you need to be doing. Something you are intrinsically motivated to do. But I really feel that joy is the very first thing to leave a classroom, because of other pressures. Somehow, our system, our mindsets, our requirements, the demands – everything about how our school system works, pushes joy out the door first and I have certainly experienced that as a teacher.

How did that tension feel as a teacher?

Well, its hard to operate in so much negativity. I end up feeling just ashamed that I’m not engaging with the kids in a joyful way. That’s really my consistent struggle: when I feel that joy is leaving what I’m doing.  

Do you think everyone agrees with you about the role of schooling within that?

I don’t know, not outwardly – or I imagine a lot of other people would say things about skills more prominently: like the role of schooling is to build capacity within students to have a successful job or you know to give kids the practical skills they need. But I think if you get beneath that and ask them why, why, why, why, why, then there might be more commonality than we think. So while I think this conversation would sound differently with a lot of people, when we dig in underneath and ask why do you want these skills for your kids? We would come back to: we want our kids to be happy.  

What is the purpose of education?

Well I actually think it goes back to what I said before about offering opportunities to kids to find what engages them, to find what they are good at, to find out what they are capable of. And also to push themselves and to understand how to be a learner –  to understand how to be a citizen in the sense of how our country works, what we need to question, and how we can make change. I mean its totally goofy but our schooling has this incredible role in developing the people who shape our world. So in my mind, I want these people to be joyful, creative, interesting, self-possessed people who want to work for a better world and I want that to be accessible to everyone in our education system.

Alyssa CorriganComment