“Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them…”
—Charles Dickens, Hard Times
In “Joy: A Subject Schools Lack” (The Atlantic; Jan 2015), Susan Engel – a mother, teacher, and developmental psychologist – points out the troubling truth that, for many schools, the last thing they’re concerned with nowadays is “what it feels like to be a child, or what makes childhood an important and valuable stage of life in its own right.” Thus, we now see many elementary and high schools (and even some colleges) focusing on the needs and wants of parents rather than students, pitching buzzwords and slogans about getting kids prepped for college and high-stakes careers rather than for adulthood, lifelong learning, and – I don’t know – their upcoming grade level. Or, as Engel puts it, “This may explain why so many schools that I visit seem more like something out of a Dickens novel than anything else.”
As a kid, my husband attended a private elementary school in Ft. Worth for his K-8 – a school that’s principal was often fond of telling parents, Third grade is the best preparation for fourth grade, fourth grade is the best preparation for fifth grade, and so on. In other words, a child’s education should really be just that: an education for children that takes one step at a time, not an education for future college students or CEOs that constantly leaps forward without regard to the here-and-now. What’s more, it seems to me that instilling and focusing on the joys of learning for students would be a tremendous means of also increasing and enhancing the joys of teaching.
As feminist philosopher and writer Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés wrote in Women Who Run With the Wolves, people’s
“psyches and souls…have their own cycles and seasons of doing and solitude, running and staying, being involved and being removed, questing and resting, creating and incubating, being of the world and returning to the soul-place. When we are children … the instinctive nature notices all these phases and cycles. … Children are the wildish nature, and without being told to, they prepare for the coming of these times, greeting them, living with them, and keeping from those times recuerdos, mementos, for remembering ….” (pg 276-277)
What joys might we all better experience and live with now – not simply remember – if we’d allowed ourselves to learn and grow with these instinctive, wildish, soul-fulfilling cycles, rather than elbowing our way out of them in some abstract desire to one day be “successful”? How much more successful and joyful might we all be if we’d let ourselves continue to love and enjoy learning, if we’d been encouraged to experience and embrace feelings of awe and wonderment rather than to push constantly ahead, constantly faster, and to act “cool” and unimpressed with the world, ourselves, and each other?
Engel inspired and started us off in this post, so I’ll let her end it as well:
“Before you brush this argument aside as sentimental fluff, or think of joy as an unaffordable luxury in a nation where there is dire poverty, low academic achievement, and high dropout rates, think again. The more dire the school circumstances, the more important pleasure is to achieving any educational success. … The more difficult a child’s life circumstances, the more important it is for that child to find joy in his or her classroom.”
Further Readings & Videos:
- Susan Engel, “Joy: A Subject Schools Lack,” The Atlantic
- Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves, A Ballantine Book, 1995
- Check out this clip of Oprah’s interview with Stephen Colbert wherein they discuss the value of “joy” over the fantasy of “happiness”