More Layard on teaching happiness

In: Uncategorized

16 Jun 2007

Professor Richard Layard has elaborated on his views on teaching happiness in schools. Writing (PDF) in the summer 2007 edition of CentrePiece, a magazine from the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, he argues that schools should place great emphasis on developing good and happy people (see also 9 May 2007 post). The argument is firmly rooted in his book on happiness. His practical conclusions for schools include:

• It should be an explicit aim of every school to teach character and moral education.
• Each secondary school should have specialists in life skills.
• The movement must be grounded in science – specifically positive psychology.
• The curriculum should include managing feelings; loving and serving others; appreciating beauty; love, sex and parenting; work and money; a critical approach to media; political participation and moral philosophy.

The magazine also includes a link to a recent lecture (PDF) that Layard gave on the teaching of values.

Unfortunately the criticism of Layard has been limited. The Financial Times (FT) published a critical leader on 14 June but it did not go far enough. The FT’s reasons for objecting were mainly practical:

“The first problem is that happiness is not a teachable subject. It is famously elusive and may be unattainable. Pursuing it as an aim is difficult since it is more readily gained as a side-product of some other achievement or condition.

“Happiness is also too varied to teach: a single set of tools will not work for everyone. One pupil may derive great pleasure from being kind to others – another from being the person on the receiving end of that kindness. Where one child may be happily fulfilled taking on a tough challenge, another may find more happiness with a less driven approach.

“There is also the question of finding time. The national curriculum already includes provision for personal, social and health education, up to the age of 16, which takes pupils through issues such as forming relationships, taking part in activities with others and discovering what makes them tick.”

However, this fails to question the desirability of transforming education from imparting knowledge to a therapeutic attempt to manage the emotional life of schoolchildren. It is likely to encourage children to be self-obsessed while lowering educational standards at the same time. Frank Furedi has previously written on this topic for spiked.

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