Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Smart or Happy: Do We Have to Choose?

 With the new school year having just started, I got my usual picture of the granddaughters posing by their front door on the morning of the first day of school holding signs such as one can purchase at the store, with places to fill in the student’s name, the date, what grade she is entering, teacher’s name, etc.  But I was especially amused at this year’s photo showing one of the granddaughter’s chosen future profession: ice cream taster.

Leaving aside for now my disappointment at not having thought of that for my own career choice many years ago, the picture launched me into deeper thought on the subject of education.  But it was not just the picture but the fact that at the time I was reading Susan Engel’s book, The End of the Rainbow: How Educating for Happiness (not money) Would Transform Our Schools.  Ms. Engel’s thesis is that our schools have just become job training institutions, and she argues persuasively that this is not the true and highest purpose of education and does not foster a love for learning in our children.  The rhetoric from the politicians, and even the professional educators, gives her argument some credibility.  How often have you heard them say, “we have to prepare our children for the jobs of the future” or something along those lines?  Even our community colleges trend more towards being job skills enhancement labs.

Engel insists children need more free time, or play opportunities.  She laments the ever-growing list of skills and knowledge sets that must be taught in the schools.  And the list grows ever longer as educators are asked to incorporate curricula on anti-bullying, diversity, inclusion, anti-racism, and a host of other cultural issues into their teaching time.  When I worked in the field of organ donation, there was even a push to have a mandatory lesson in schools promoting organ and tissue donation.  (I wrote to my state senator thanking him for opposing the legislation.  He, too, argued there was already too much on teachers’ plates.) 

What is this push to “educate” our children actually accomplishing?  A headline in the Wall Street Journal last week proclaimed, “Schools spend billions on training so every child can succeed.  They don’t know if it works.”  Maybe what I heard in my car yesterday on the public radio station gives a hint:  in my home state the vast majority of the school districts had LOWER scores this year on the standards of learning tests.

But this blog is about money, so let me come back to the title of Engel’s book; education at its best should not be about money.  Yes, we all need a certain amount of money to survive in this world; living in poverty is not conducive to happiness.  Engel, only half in jest, suggested in her book that we are overwhelming and even boring our kids in school to train them for the overwork and boredom they will experience in the work world.  But what if our children learned to love reading and to love learning?  What if they learned how to learn without an instructor always over their shoulder?  In other words, what if we showed them the path to happiness through their own passion for learning instead of channeling them to a certain career because of how much money they could make at it?  With more and more surveys showing that Americans measure their well-being by other metrics than money, perhaps we need to align our educational efforts accordingly.  If my granddaughter can become an ice cream taster, learns all she can about the frozen dessert, and is still passionate, fulfilled, and happy doing it as an adult, even her Pop Pop will be happier.

Money is not everything.

Until next time,

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” I Corinthians 12:4-6 NIV*

*Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission.  All rights reserved worldwide.