Saturday, February 28, 2009

"What do you most want for your children?"

Image courtesy of lepiaf.geo

That's the question that Positive Psychology pioneer Martin Seligman asks his audiences. Usually, the answers are things like happiness, health, fulfillment, and love.

Here's the punchline: Then he asks them, "What do schools teach?"

So the real question is, when are we going to create an educational system that teaches our children the truly important things?

Or, even better, how do we create an educational system that lets our children learn what's truly important?


Addie said...

Mr. Seligman's punchline is irrelevant. I wouldn't want schools teaching their concept of subjective things like happiness, love etc... Since when did family abandon that role?
Schools should be limited to educating students about reading, writing, and arithmetic and about how to apply those skills so they can be productive members of society. The rest should be learned from family and life experience.

Chris said...


Parents certainly shouldn't abdicate their responsibilities to the schools. On the other hand, why waste those 6-8 hours per day?

There's no way to effectively educate children "just" about reading, writing, and arithmetic. Teaching skills in isolation, without consideration of their broader impact or what children really want produces little benefit.

Scott said...

I would love to see our education system change. Other than a few small changes here and there we are still using the same system from the 1950s and maybe earlier than that!

Slam 30-40 kids into a room, find the lowest performing kid and set that as the baseline... Don't try to overachieve, because you wouldn't want the other kids to feel that they aren't doing well.

When I was in HS one kid turned his homework in late for every assignment in every class... and while his GPA wasn't great hew as able to graduate and walk with the rest of the class... Out of the 9 months of school he probably missed 3 of them and was still able graduate.

How do you think that made those of us who followed the rules feel?

Addie said...

Chris and Scott you both are right.

Chris, I was just referring to the obligation of school to educate students about the bare minimum of a wide variety of subjects. How else would a child know what he/she want's unless he/she is exposed to literature, hard sciences, etc.

Scott, It wasn't until I got to law school that there was a mandatory curve imposed on the class. I wish it were that way all along so that school would mirror reality where you're graded on actual performance compared to your peers and not your perceived work ethic or self-esteem. I'm a strong believe that the concept that "college is for everyone" does nothing for society except devalue a college education for those who really belong in higher education. What's wrong with vocational schools in America?

Dan Erwin said...

Chris: You've asked two profoundly difficult questions that do not lend themselves to a silver bullet. For our kids, who grewup in a strongly homogeneous middle class system, the answer is less nuanced.

If your kids grow up in a strongly heterogenous school system like Minneapolis, where my wife consulted for years, the answers are much more nuanced.

Both systems had unique and non-overlapping strengths. We both viewed the homogenous culture as way too hothouse to prepare kids for today's world. At the same time, we viewed the immensely deprived problems of many Minneapolis school children as profoundly difficult to teach to, much less achieve measurable objectives.

I'll admit that the best place to start in answering the question is with a mission statement--all the while recognizing that the methods of achievement for the same mission will vary based on the community, the teaching staff, the resources, and the student constituency.

Here's our mission--it's as elitist as hell, and possible because of our graduate background.

We think that the purpose of the schools is to enable a student to make an informed decision in scientific, technological, humanistic and behavioral settings.

Much as I appreciate Seligman--and my appreciation of his work is profound--I never was thrilled about happiness being the fundamental objective of an education.

Over the long haul, I believe that a dose of "nationalization" will be required to resolve our local school problems.

Foobarista said...

Short answer: no way I want a state-run school having an explicit program to teach this stuff. Before a curriculum could be crafted, you'd have to define happiness, love, etc. You'd then design modules with standardized tests showing that the kids "mastered the material".

Nope - let your kids learn it from you. If you need others to help, send 'em to Sunday school or your equivalent.

After all, schools try to teach art, literature, etc - ie, the areas where these sorts of touchy-feely concepts are best presented - and for the most part suck the life completely out of it and turn books that have inspired people for centuries into dry, dusty tomes that nobody reads because they were forced to endure them in high school.

Sparks said...

Chris, it would be silly to "waste those 6-8 hours per day". But why do you think that schools are wasting them.

I learned a lot of science, math, writing, etc and I found it very "fulfilling". I had teachers that were often caring and friends that I loved.

I had parents that nurtured love and happiness. I learned about health from my grandparents especially.

Sure, these things can still be weaved in and around a curriculum, but let's not expect too much from schools. Besides, the teachers are too busy having to stick to standard curricula, teaching to the state tests and not child left behind. Aren't teachers currently pretty frustrated with the state of education? Haven't parents already abdicated too many of their responsibilities to the educational system?