Education: Happy, healthy children = Happy, healthy world?


I have a question – how can we educate our children in ways that will help to grow a happier, healthier, more peaceful and loving world? Instead of putting them through factory-style schooling that serves only to mould them into cogs for the gigantic capitalist machine, maybe we could start by finding out what a child needs to be healthy and happy? And then work with them to understand how they, and we, can identify and meet those needs?

I have just re-watched the RSA Animates “Changing Paradigms” short film by Ken Robinson, and it has just reaffirmed a knowing within me. He presents an easy, accessible yet completely spot-on summary of the unsustainable and dysfunctional assumptions and habits that make up our current mainstream education system.

Ken reminds us that we need a radical rethink on the nature of human capacity – that our ideas around what is academic, non-academic, abstract, theoretical, vocational, are all actually myths; in that they are all the product of a certain way of thinking, and not absolute truths. He feels that we must recognise that great learning actually happens in groups, and so the extreme focus we put on individual ‘results’, removed from the learning context, is preventing many other, possibly more beneficial and fruitful, ways of learning to occur. Lasting he feels that it is crucial that we examine the habits that our educational institutions embody and occupy. He thinks that our current system of education is modelled on the interest and image of industrialism. I agree and add to that scientism, capitalism, and its offspring, conspicuous consumerism.

As I am passionate about our need to focus on our direct sense perception of the world, in order to become fully alive and more fully human – and so I love his reference to aesthetics. He notes that in the Arts we focus on aesthetic experience, and that this is when:

– Our senses are operating at their peak

– We are present in the current moment

– We are resonating with the excitement of the thing we are experiencing

We are fully alive!

In contrast to this, an anaesthetic experience occurs when we shut our senses off and deaden ourselves to what is happening. This is what Ken feels is happening in our educational systems today.

I am interested in how we can bring Life back into our classrooms…

How can we become everyday phenomenologists, both adults and children? Directly experiencing both our inner and outer worlds….

Children from age four or five can educate themselves, and according to the Reggio Emilia model of early-years education, even earlier than this. 

From an early age children can follow a line of their own inquiry, explore, and investigate. Ken Robinson references divergent thinking in the RSA film, which is the ability to see lots of different possible answers for a question, and lots of different ways of interpreting a question. In the book “Breakpoint and Beyond” there was a study on divergent thinking that tested kindergarten children, and 98% scored the ‘genius’ level – but we ‘educate’ our children in ways that diminish these natural capacities. What would our future look like if we did not destroy these incredible natural capacities at an early age, but actually focused on them and strengthened them?

Children are capable of constructing their own learning, and I am interested in how we allow a child to use all their senses and capacities to learn – where learning and play are not separated, and neither are life and education.

If we want to build a healthier, happier society – starting from how we ‘educate’ our children, I think that we need to start from scratch in order to build something different. I would like to be a part of an educational movement that invites children into participatory encounters, in all aspects of their lives. Just look at this 13 year old who has been encouraged to do just that – he takes the lead in his own education, with the support of the adults around him, and at 13 has already given his first TED talk!

So the question for me, is how we can provide alternatives, that nurture the development of the whole child, that enhance their natural capacities, address their authentic human needs, and that are accessible to all? Not just a priviledged few?

I have no answers yet, but I do now realise that my calling is to education, so I am opening a personal and professional inquiry into how I can help to develop such possibilities. If you have any thoughts or suggestions I would love to hear from you,



2 thoughts on “Education: Happy, healthy children = Happy, healthy world?

  1. fungalspore

    Good questions, although I am not so keen on the thirteen-year old: seems to be playing the adult game a bit too much for my liking. The movement you are talking about exists. There is a strong push for Democratic Education in Europe at the moment. Have a look at the EUDEC site. In the USA there is IDEC which has a tougher job in pulling together all the fringe ideas under one umbrella. Jerry Mintz has been doing this for ages, but the mere fact that one person has become the voice of Dem Ed in the USA rings a few alarm bells for me. Have a look at his list of schools though. Some of them are impressive. Anyway, I’m happy to read someone is interested in educational change!

  2. Mark Plater

    Yes, Human Scale Education in the UK have a similar emphasis- that educational institutions need to be structured according to a human (rather than industrial) scale…


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