In my previous post, I argued a firm case that – overall – school SHOULD be fun, and that we have a moral duty to our children to give such a ring-fenced positive first stage to their lives in the areas that we can control. Indeed, as with ‘safety’ for example, I think it should be an given aim for a developed education system in a modern society.
I could have been more nuanced and worded my argument to be about school life being ‘joyous’ or even simply ‘positive’, but I wanted to make a perhaps overly blunt point that – as with safety – a school-life where enjoyment is seen as an optional by-product (rather than an essential one) is serving an arguable purpose in the overall justification for a person’s existence.
Nevertheless, I think that we really should keep it in mind though that fun, joy, & enjoyment are not the actual purpose of schools – any more than “to keep children safe” is their purpose.
Our purpose of course is education, and this is not just for satisfaction in the here and now, but also for life. Part of this education involves a moral duty within our schooling system to ensure that we also gift to our children the best chance to be able to sustain the ‘good life’ into their future.
Time for tough love then…
For all this to be successful, it must mean that children are prepared fully to be able to square-up to the ‘World of Necessity’, to recognise and grasp the ‘World of Opportunity’, and to be able to engage perceptively and sensitively with the (hopefully joyous) ‘World of Experience’.
- Children do desperately need to learn how to sometimes do without fun, and to still feel optimistic.
- Children need to recognise that there are some goals – including pleasure and myriad forms of deeper satisfaction, joy and happiness – which come in direct proportion to what you have put-in to get there.
- And sometimes – as responsible adults – we have to force children through a situation which we believe will get them to a place where they will genuinely prefer to be in the long run – whether or not we can help them see this.
This last point is the most contentious, and I have avoided saying “…to a place that will be better for them” because I think it is essential that the people we are forcing onwards are ultimately the ones who make the subjective call about the value of where they have got to. But when? How far down the line should our educational strong-arming and forecasting really go? “You’ll thank me for it one day…!” Sounds reassuring to ourselves, but how much do we really want to bet on that? We must be moderate in our moral forecasting I believe.
It does, nevertheless, sometimes seem hard for some people to intuitively stomach the idea of us even fleetingly forcing people through a situation that they don’t want to go through – irrespective of the well-intentioned and wise judgements we are using to call the situation. Ultimately though, this is the situation I think that we must confidently embrace as teachers.
Those of us who have the time and can be bothered to prepare fresh ingredients in order to cook a wholesome recipe will know that it always tastes better compared to a convenience food equivalent stuck in the microwave. Part of this is genuinely the quality of the food which emerges (hopefully!), but also some of it is what’s known now as the ‘Ikea Effect’, whereby we feel more positively towards something which we have put the time and effort into creating ourselves.
“You’re beautiful, but you’re empty…One couldn’t die for you. Of course, an ordinary passerby would think my rose looked just like you. But my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together, since she’s the one I’ve watered. Since she’s the one I put under glass, since she’s the one I sheltered behind the screen. Since she’s the one for whom I killed the caterpillars (except the two or three butterflies). Since she’s the one I listened to when she complained, or when she boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing at all. Since she’s my rose.”
If the lives we have forced upon children are to stand a chance of being worth living for them personally, then they do need to recognise this entry route to a whole domain of positive affect which is hard to unlock otherwise, and we as educators should tool them up to be able to make full use of it as they see fit.
Rarely though do many of us actually enjoy chopping the veg that can lead to the pleasure of cooking and eating; rarely do many of us enjoy practicing the scales for hours on end that can lead to us being able to joyously play along to whatever we hear; rarely do we enjoy the cleaning, tidying, mowing, weeding, mending which can gift us a home we take pleasure in relaxing in; and rarely as adults do we enjoy every part of everything which we are required to do in order to get the money to be able to live the life we want.
But we learn that delaying gratification, putting-in the effort, gritting our teeth and just getting-on with what needs to be done, is essential for being able to reach some of the higher fruits of both carnal pleasures and deeper feelings of self-worth and purpose. And in the process, we greatly increase the chances that our lives overall will be positive for us personally, and ultimately give moral worth to our parents’ act of conceiving us.
So life can’t always be fun, and not every moment can be joyous (without the heights of mysticism), but an acceptance of this, and a studious application to doing what needs to be done can lead to a life which is still highly joyous and pleasurable overall – not to mention ‘fulfilling’ in some hard to define way.
Returning to my previous post though, I don’t believe that any of the above should ever be used as an excuse for ignoring the overall happiness level of children during their school-life, but I also don’t believe that a determined fixation on achieving that should stop us from guiding children through times where the immediate positive affect is hard for them to feel.