Sunday, May 4, 2008

Layer 28 The Happiness Debate

The Guardian is a brilliant newspaper, and recently won another award as the world’s best daily paper. Its so-called News Room is currently staging an exhibition of the work of Chris Riddell, one of the world’s best political cartoonists and commentators on contemporary life, who has been with the Observer for more than 12 years. His artwork is superb, especially up close in the exhibition, and his wit is laugh-out-loud funny. As Andrew Rawnsley says in his introduction, he can say in an instant, in a single cartoon, the brutal and excoriating truths that even excellent writers can’t express as well in a whole page of prose.

Which is more than you could say of the participants and the organisers of the debate at the News Room. “Can We Teach Happiness?”

Duh! NO! Let’s go home.

Much as I admire Dr Anthony Seldon who believes that his school Wellington College is successfully teaching happiness to its pupils (and staff) I find it hard to believe that he agreed to propose this crackpot notion in a debate. Though he was eventually honest enough to agree with my challenge that he’s doing the cause (of better education) a disservice by insisting that we can teach happiness, when it’s obvious that it’s not even possible to learn to be happy. Who has ever done that? Or would ever want to! By not avoiding unhappiness and its causes, through needing to understand and come to terms with confusion, misery and suffering, we progress along the path of spiritual enrichment and enlightenment, which is a far worthier goal than seeking after individual ‘happiness’.

Let’s promote other people’s happiness by all means, but teach people how to be happy - never! Dr Seldon also agreed with my point that we need to talk about learning rather than teaching, and we should stress that what we’re setting out to do is enable young people to learn how to develop all of their intelligences - IQ, EQ and SQ - in order to be better prepared for life in a complex world, and better able to cope well with life’s challenges, and therefore more likely to avoid life’s more obvious pitfalls and various causes of unhappiness.

What’s so hard about all this? I hated the smart-arse little twit of a girlie, the self-styled Director of the ‘Think Tank’ that was promoting the debate, who chaired it in an obtrusive and irritating manner, but I hated even more the Chair of her wank tank who stood up and railed on about teaching the basics of reading and writing instead of bothering with liberal nonsense like teaching happiness and creativity. Arrghhh! I had an urgent need to punch his dim little fascist philistine lights out.

How did the Guardian, liberal newspaper par excellence, get involved with this crew? Who let them in? It’s not just what they say, it’s how the bastards say it. I hate that special clever-class way of speaking that they cultivate to set them apart from non-clever people. Only in England eh? - a special ‘intellectual think tank’ accent and attitude.

I once visited the offices of Demos, in Tooley Street, and had a look around, bought some of their booklets. We need to know more about think tanks and what they think - that’s what I think. We need to consider how these special thinking classes have influence over our national affairs. We need to know who funds them, who uses them, and what sort of bangs the funders expect to get for their bucks. Maybe all that time and intellectual effort and money is doing some good. Who knows?

The opponent of the motion, Professor Frank Furedi, thinks he knows everything, when it’s clear that he knows very little about education in schools. But like most people who have been to school, especially if they have kids at school themselves, they think they know everything. Let’s put it this way, pal. You’re a professor of sociology. I don’t tell you what’s what about sociology. If I have a view on it I’m entitled to express it with a degree of humility and in the expectation of being put right on its deficiencies. So don’t barge into a debate about education and start telling the pros what’s what! In your ex-(?)Stalinist intolerant supercilious manner.

This professor actually believes that there’s no such thing as emotional intelligence and spiritual intelligence. Duh! Pretty much what you’d expect from a rationalist and a Stalinist. Clearly he has none, he can’t see what these things might be, and he doesn’t value them. He seems to think that kids should come to regard learning as something important in its own right (fine so far) but then promotes the notion that only academic success and intellectual advancement are of any importance. How far away is this from Gradgrindism? “Give these children facts. Facts alone are wanted in life.”

Give this man a good slap. That’s what Zen would recommend.

These poor little hobby horses of mine. Ride them to death, don’t I?

The conclusion of the “debate” was interesting. Actually it wasn’t a debate, in any sense that I understand the term. The ‘audience’ was only allowed to ask questions of the speakers, not bring their own thoughts and insights to the chamber. The chair asked us to raise our hands to indicate support for the motion. Not to raise one’s hand showed support for Prof. Furedi. But to raise a hand showed support for the notion that we can teach happiness. Abstain? Allow Furedi to have the benefit of an abstention and thereby affirm his obnoxious views? No - Dr Seldon had recanted on the possibility of teaching happiness, and therefore he deserved support. What he’s actually doing at his school - in practice - deserves support. Forget the semantics - lets all get behind the notion that through our teaching and pedagogy we can help young people to avoid a lot of unnecessary misery in life. We can and should be helping them travel a path towards greater enlightenment. This is the most worthy aim of education.
Happiness - Lessons From A New Science, is a book written by Richard Layard. Buy it. Read it. Think about it.,,2257832,00.html,,2238638,00.html,,2247375,00.html,,1444290,00.html

You can read Hard Times on Google Books. It's well worth re-reading the first 2 or 3 chapters from time to time to remind ourselves of Dickens' wonderful insight into how a utilitarian view of how schools should work just crushes the spirit out of children (Mchoakumchild) as its deadens their minds and imaginations -

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave a comment