|Working title: ‘The Pursuit of Money’|
Happiness, happiness. The greatest gift that I possess? Ken Dodd, the noted pedagogue asked one of today’s most important metaphysical questions. But the Prophet of Doddyland brought us no closer to answering the ontological assumption that underpins his subliminal Socratic dialogue: what is happiness? Is it important?
Another reason I come back to this is because there are those in education who frequently return to the claim that the purpose of education is to make children happy. This is often expressed by the sentiment that lessons should be engaging and enjoyable, and if they are not, then the lesson is a bad one. This is a lovely thought. But it suffers from the paradox of the inane reversal: nobody is seriously claiming that lessons should be deliberately made boring or disengaging. You hope that ALL your lessons are interesting and switch the kids on.
|Sir Ken Robinson. ‘Happy’.|
But that simply can’t happen. The business of education intrinsically requires many actions that are, dare I breathe it, difficult. Learning is hard work; better learning is often very hard work indeed. Nobody became a Professor of Electronics by playing the Xbox. There are often fun ways of learning, and if you’re good at your job, you’ll be good at implementing them. But there is often the point where you concede, willingly, that in order to get anything done, then elbow grease must be applied. And while Mary Poppins assures us- correctly- that when you find the fun in the work then SNAP! The work’s a game, this is the exception. Incidentally, the answer to this conundrum isn’t to gamify lessons, or to transfer learning onto a virtual platform: the same principles of effort and concentration are necessary for learning to happen in any situation, traditional or radical. Just watch any IT lesson where kids stare at the screens like laboratory beagles if you don’t believe me. Just because it’s on a screen doesn’t make it fun or interesting. And if you don’t believe that, try reading the terms and conditions of your Smartphone online.
|Mr Happy. ‘Happy,’ allegedly.|
The meanest, least worthy form of happiness is mere sensual pleasure; not because it is worthless, but because, like the love of money, it is the root of many evils. The utilitarians like JS Mill, even though they based their entire philosophy on the pursuit of pleasure, knew that the mere pursuit of sensuality was a poison; that it would lead to a diminishing of the spirit, where all that mattered was feeling good. And if that’s all that matters, then you’ll do anything to achieve it. See: greed; addiction; selfishness, and a few other deadly sins. Pleasure is desired by all; but it doesn’t mean that pleasure SHOULD be desired by all, or that it was the only goal.
It is through knowing defeat that we understand winning. It is through suffering that we value the suffering of others, and learn to detest it. Happiness, pursued for its own sake, is the most miserable thing of all. Comfort is universally appreciated, but past a certain point where our basic needs are met, we must understand that comfort is not all there is to being human. The job of a government is, at least partially, to see that the community’s survival needs are met. The job of education is to teach children. We can’t teach them to be happy because you should only teach what you’re an expert in, and who amongst us is an expert in happiness? Or is happy? And what does it mean?
Let them work out what happy is.