Are We Making Students Happy?

by Don Berg
(Portland, OR, USA)

Does making students happy help them learn? In this TED Talk author Dan Gilbert talks about how what makes us uniquely human is our ability to simulate the future consequences of our actions. What he has found is that we are very bad at making accurate predictions about will make us happy. Thus, it is important in education to acknowledge that we are not good at knowing what will make us happy. The criticism of progressive education that it is about letting kids pursue their own ideas about what will make them happy to the exclusion of important things that adults know are important.


In light of Gilbert and Seligman's presentations the question seems to me to be to what degree do we enforce our agenda as adults to the exclusion of our student's agenda?

I believe the key insights to this balance are based on the idea of the three different kinds of happy lives that Seligman points out in combination with Gilbert's insight into our inability to accurately anticipate what will make us happy.

The critics of progressive education would be correct in their view if the form of happiness being pursued in schools is the shallowest happiness of the pleasurable life (also known as hedonic happiness.) When schools are organized to pursue the good life and the meaningful life, then the critics are wrong.

What Gilbert's insight emphasizes is the fact that we need to be very careful about how we organize the school situation in which our student's are forming their lifelong habits for pursuing happiness. I wrote Education Policy for Malia and Sasha Obama to explore the foundations of an attitude first movement.

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