This is the third of three posts examining social context, interpersonal relationships, and emotional well-being and the extent to which they are important to learning. This is #15 in the series on the Top 20 Principles From Psychology for Teaching and Learning: “Emotional well-being influences educational performance, learning, and development.”
What’s more important, well-being or academic outcomes? For most people the answer is a no-brainer: almost everyone values happiness mostly highly. This leads, inexorably to a second question, should schools teach well-being as well academic subjects? Intuitively we might think the answer’s obvious, but maybe it isn’t. What if happiness can’t be taught? What if time spent on SEAL (Social & Emotional Aspects of Learning) turned out to be a waste of everyone’s time? Well, we don’t really have to wonder about that: most schools have shuffled, whistling nervously, away from this failed attempt to bolster students’ self-esteem. But did we just get it wrong? Are there programmes out that genuinely make kids happier? And if so, shouldn’t we prioritise them because there would seem to be fairly clear correlation between happiness and success. In Happiness by Design, Paul Dolan tells us that happiness isn’t just about feeling good, it’s also about having a sense of purpose. Bucking down to demanding tasks which seem important may be more important than the feeling of enjoyment. He calls this the ‘pleasure-purpose principle’.
Unfortunately, a lot of the research on this issue is marred by assumptions. Seligman et al (2009) introduce their paper thusly:
First, a quiz: In two words or less, what do you most want for your children? If you are like the hundreds of parents I’ve asked, you responded, ‘Happiness’, ‘Confidence’, ‘Contentment’, ‘Balance’, ‘Good Stuff’, ‘Kindness’, ‘Health’, ‘Satisfaction’, and the like. In short, you most want well-being for your children. In two words or less, what do schools teach? If you are like other parents, you responded, ‘Achievement’, ‘Thinking Skills’, ‘Success’, ‘Conformity’, ‘Literacy’, ‘Mathematics’, ‘Discipline’ and the like. In short schools teach the tools of accomplishment. Notice that there is almost no overlap between the two lists. The schooling of children has, for more than a century, been about accomplishment, the boulevard into the world of adult work. I am all for accomplishment, success, literacy, and discipline; but imagine if schools could, without compromising either, teach both the skills of well-being and the skills of achievement. Imagine Positive Education.
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? But what if they’ve got it back to front? What if accomplishment, success, literacy and discipline were what made people happier?
References cited by the report
- CASEL: Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (2012). CASEL Guide: Effective social and emotional learning programs. [2013 edition]
- Hagelskamp, C., Brackett, M. A., Rivers, S. E., & Salovey, P. (2013). Improving classroom quality with the RULER approach to social and emotional learning: Proximal and distal outcome
- Jain, S., Buka, S. L., Subramanian, S. V., & Molnar, B. E. (2012). Protective factors for youth exposed to violence: Role of developmental assets in building emotional resilience[behind paywall]
- Jones, S. M., Aber, J. L., & Brown, J. L. (2011). Two-year impacts of a universal school-based social-emotional and literacy intervention: An experiment in translational developmental research[behind paywall]
- Seligman, M. E. P., Ernst, R. M., Gillham, J., Reivich, K., & Linkins, M. (2009). Positive education: Positive psychology and classroom interventions
from @learning spy