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Thursday, 28 July 2011

School and Happiness

When I first entered the arena of schooling for my children I had some ideas on what they should learn but mostly I was content to sit back and let the teachers do their jobs.  Of course it wasn't all perfect.  The value of some of the things taught was questionable but I still thought that this was the way it was supposed to be.  Disquiet set in as I found myself unteaching the children after school and helping them learn how to tell the valuable from the garbage.  More and more of our home time was spent on things that I had (naively) assumed would be taught during class.   I started volunteering in their classrooms, had a few strategic visits with the principal, and began asking myself the purpose of education. 

That is a tricky question.  There are many purposes from creating productive citizens to teaching life skills, from preparing for higher education to training for a job, from developing academic skills and literacies to realizing potential.  These are all valid and worthwhile.  Many seemed to be, at least, an intent of what was going on in class.  And yet my uneasiness grew.  Why?  Because my children were not happy.  It was that simple.

I know that I cannot create a Utopia for my children.  They have to live in the real world and it is not all sunshine, kindness and happiness.  But we are not talking about being upset because they have to do homework instead of playing, or worried because a friend may be mad at them.  We are talking about deep down unhappiness.  Children crying after school.  Children not wanting to be there.  This is wrong - just completely wrong.

I will not go into the reasons for their unhappiness.  It was at the time irrelevant.  I could not, as a parent, just sit back and let my children be unhappy.  Whatever childhood is, it should not be that.  So I acted.  I found another (private) school.  We tightened our belts ( a whole lot), and we moved the children.  They not only were happy, they were learning, and that love of learning has stayed with all of them even as the adults that they now are. 

Despite being the principal of a private school, I thoroughly support the public system.  I believe that public education is one of the greatest gifts we can give our society and our children.  In fact, I have just completed my Masters in Education researching how to change the public system.  I do not advocate any particular teaching style or goal for education.  What I propose is a system which allows flexibility equal to the variety of children and families who use it.  I propose a system where children can be happy while learning.  We are not talking fun and games.  We are talking about seeing each child as an individual and respecting that when we, as teachers and administrators, guide them through the curriculum.  Children, and adults, feel happiness when they have some say in their lives and they are respected.  Shouldn't be hard to achieve. 

So, is your child happy?

Sharon Holzscherer

Mississippi School for the Arts

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