School should be fun.
That statement might strike you either as trivially obvious, or as a worryingly subversive thing to say.
For those in the latter camp, your resistance might be due to one or more of the following beliefs:
- “Life in general isn’t supposed to be fun – it’s something that we need to get through to have fun in the next life.”
- “Fun is a shallow proxy for deeper, more meaningful routes to happiness, so yes – school should be ‘happy’, but fun is a distraction.”
- “Fun is something that comes once you’ve put in the work. At school you earn the right to have fun later in life.”
- “A focus on fun can divert schools from the real business of ‘learning’, so it’s best not to point out its importance.”
- “My school years weren’t fun, so why should anybody else’s be? Life is a grind and you need to get used to it.”
If you believe number 1, then there isn’t much I can do to change your mind. Indeed I’ve spent a fair amount of my life with a similar martyr’s view of just getting through to the other side.
I have some sympathy with number 2. As with foods, there are some pleasures in life which seem to last longer and be more satisfying than others, and I think it is worth trying to educate children about that. However, it’s quite easy to slip into a puritanical moralising on this matter to the point that it’s considered better to have no pleasure rather than the shallow kind.
Numbers 3 and 4 also contain grains of truth which I will reflect-upon in my subsequent blogs, but my overall rejection of them is covered in my consideration of number 5, which to me is the most worrying belief.
Essentially, number 5 is just emotionally bitter. If we just believe that life simply is ‘tough’ and “who ever said that life should be fun?” then I wonder why we consider the human race as something worth perpetuating. I’ve been prompted recently to reflect on the philosophy of Antinatalism, which effectively posits that ‘not-existing’ is neither good nor bad, but that human existence is predominantly unpleasant, therefore it is immoral to have children and force another person to have to go through the misery of existence. Consequently, we should stop having children and let the race die-out…
This seems as extreme as a human philosophy could get, but such is the seriousness with which it is currently entertained, that philosopher Thomas Metzinger has recently mused about the possibility of a future artificial super-intelligence benevolently putting the human race out of its misery – purely for our own good.
Whatever your take on the antinatalist thesis, I think we should recognise that there really is no moral value in forcing children to grit their teeth as a whole through childhood, and ‘delay gratification’ until they are free to choose their own path. Additionally, it’s not enough to just pass the buck that fun is something they should be having at home, or just during the play-times. Effectively, school-children are prisoners in lives which they have very little choice over. We have a moral duty to ensure that whilst their lives are being force-fed to them by us in school – these lives are actually experienced as being joyous and worth living in the present.
There simply is no justification for denying them fun on the basis that that’s not the purpose of school, any more than we should be denying them safety and hygiene in schools.
Is fun necessary for learning? No. Is it sufficient for learning? No. Can or should every moment of schooling be fun? No.
But overall, school should be fun – and that includes lessons. It should create a guaranteed and ring-fenced positive first stage to human life (a “welcome gift” from an advanced society) which is joyous, pleasurable, and worth living in itself. Or else we really should be questioning what moral value there is to us bringing a new generation to life in the first place.
If ‘fun’ still sounds somehow wrong to you, replace it everywhere you see it above with either ‘joy‘ or ‘joyous‘ and see if you still reject it…