Why is happiness important for education?

This is the question we got asked when we said that happiness was the underlying reason for our decision to home educate.

What’s happiness got to do with it?

Well, everything:

Unhappy children do not learn well. What’s worse is they begin to develop an unhappiness about learning itself. An unhappy association with learning can become a stumbling block that can carry on throughout all of a life.

To have that happen is a true impediment or handicap. And it is truly sad for it doesn’t have to be like that.

We all need to learn, grow, develop, and change constantly throughout our lives. Life throws at us constant challenges most of which require us to learn and change in some way, even if the tiniest ways. If we cannot do this comfortably, if we cannot do this learning and changing comfortably and happily, it sets us up for unhappiness on and off all through our lives.

For really that’s all education is despite schools having us think otherwise; it’s simply about learning and growing and changing. For all learning changes us a little as we assimilate new ideas and skills into our lives and let go of old ones. Education is as much about growing and changing as it is about academic learning. And it starts from the minute we are born (probably even before) to the minute we die. We learn and change throughout the whole of our lives.

So education and learning do not only start and end with school. A child learns enormous amounts before he even goes to school. He even learns one of the most complicated skills of all – the use of language through speech. And how many times have you heard people say that they learnt more when they left school than they did when they were there. We all certainly learn more of the valuable stuff outside of school – the stuff that gets us through our real lives.

Think about this for a minute. Dynamic thought isn’t it? The fact that education is taking place in our lives long before school years start and after we finish as well as during that time inside it. It’s so obvious really but many people never even think about it. And that pre and post school education takes place without teachers or classrooms, tests or curriculum or schedules, and even without being between the ages of four and sixteen.

Being comfortable with the idea of learning and changing throughout your life is one of the most important things that will make your life happy and successful. The two go hand in hand. For I don’t call an unhappy life a successful one however wealthy one becomes.

And learning to be happy with learning should be a crucial part of any education.

Education is actually the mainstay of our whole lives but the academic education that takes place in schools is the only one people tend to focus on and value. And sadly it is the one that seems to have the most devastating effect on all our learning after it and that is going so disastrously wrong for some children. And I believe the reason it’s going wrong has to do with one vital element; happiness.

It’s because education in schools is tending to make children unhappy with learning. In fact I would go so far as to say that it is making them unhappy in themselves, as well as with learning.

If our children are not happy in school they do not learn well. They do not realise their best potential. They do not have happy lives or begin to understand what will make their lives happy in the future. And that’s really important because our children are our future, both personally and globally.

I’m not interested in happiness because it’s all twee and rosy and unrealistic. I’m very, very realistic and down-to-earth. And realistically I know that happy people make a much better society than unhappy people. Because generally speaking happy people do not violate or abuse one another, they do not commit crimes or vandalise, destroy or disturb. Happy people feel good enough about themselves to care for one another, care for the community, their environment, the planet. This is why happiness is so important. Happy people make the world a better place in all respects, corny though it sounds. And happiness is a matter of the heart.

My heart, and the hearts of many other parents and teachers too, tells me that education in schools is not working because, despite what schools tend to make us think, education is a matter of heart as much as it is of head. But education in schools has become only that – a matter of head.

The only concern the educational system seems to have is children’s heads. Most particularly what they can stuff into them, without any regard for their hearts.

I’m not saying that all schools are unhappy places. What I am saying is that there seems to be an awful lot of unhappy, unwell, disheartened, unmotivated, academically failing, even suicidal children between the ages of four and eighteen.

What happened to these children I wonder? What happened to their hearts and their heads? For I bet they started as bright and happy toddlers, investigating everything, into everything, intrigued by everything, nosy and inquisitive and desperate to learn as all children are.

We watched it fade in our children. I’d seen it fade already in some of the children I taught in schools. I saw it in the boredom on their faces. I saw it in the resentment in their eyes. I see children who are humiliated and shamed by a curriculum that isn’t suited to them and staff bullying to teach it. I see children who are disruptive from not having their educational needs met. I see children who are withdrawn and depressed from not having their hearts attended to. I see children who are apathetic with lack of fulfilment. And I see children who truant from a system and environment that is totally inappropriate for them.

I see it in all these children who are having their heads stuffed without regard for their hearts.

It seems that what happens to children is that once their learning gets controlled by the politics of our current educational system they no longer receive the heartfelt education with which they started their lives.

You will probably have given your baby and child a heartfelt education when they were at home with you. You will have nurtured and taught and encouraged and developed skills within them without even realising that will have suited their needs and their characters, their gifts and their strengths. You will have made them feel important and loved and valued. You will have done this simply by parenting them in an attentive and respectful way.

Then they go to school.

All of us all of our lives need, and have a right to, an education that is close to our hearts. That develops our heart’s desires as well as our heads. That starts from our individuality and builds on it. That values us as people for who we are and what we can do.

It is not really possible to achieve this with a tightly prescriptive National Curriculum or an institution with an agenda that has little to do with an individual and a lot to do with political popularity.

It is possible to do it through home educating though.

Education is essentially about people, the development of individual human beings, who should have their individualities respected. Not disregarded.

To enable this to happen for our own children we removed them from school, just so they could continue the type of education with which they started their lives, before they were totally and irrevocably switched off to learning for the rest of their lives like so many young people that I see.

During the time they have been learning out of school we have been forced to think very hard about education. For once our children’s education was no longer wrapped up in curriculum and tests and outcomes and strategies and exams, that someone else designed for some other need rather than those of our individuals, then we had to think what we wanted it to be without all that wrapping. We had to think what education really was, underneath all that.

We have learned and changed much throughout our children’s education. For as I’ve said education goes on throughout our lives, both ours as well as the children’s. What we learned most of all was that

education is for life – not just for schools.

 Now that our children – or young people as they have become – have been involved again with the education system, albeit higher education, I see that ugly agenda of politics and grade winning overtake the education of the heart. But being older – and wiser – they can manage it better.

Younger children can’t.

If you want to consider educating your children’s heart as well as their heads, if you want their education to be a happy one as well as an academic one, then think about home educating as the serious and successful option it is. And join the community of thousands of others who now believe that happiness has a lot to do with it.

(There’s lots more info about home schooling among these pages, on other websites and in my book ‘Learning Without School’.)


19 thoughts on “Why is happiness important for education?

  1. Pingback: Education: competition or cooperation? | Ross Mountney's Notebook

  2. I can’t tell you how happy I am I have found your book. After many years of having an unhappy daughter and it unimaginably damaging her mental health, despite every professional I have spoke to trying their best to scare me out of it I have decided I need to remove her from the classroom environment. Your book and incredibly kind words has given me the strength to believe that I do know best and will keep fighting for it. Its a massive step for me to take as a single parent in my last year of doing a degree, but I feel like I have to step off the edge of the ‘school cliff’ into the ocean of out schooling and I know you have to sink a little bit before you bob back up and swim, but with your kind words, empathy and stories from yourself and other parents I feel like I can do this and can imagine a calm happy fulfilled teen shaped horizon in the distance. I’m scared but not scared enough not to try. I feel like saying ‘bless you’ even though I’m not remotely religious, but you are the only person I have come across to encourage the needs of a child, not just meeting a quota on a conveyor belt. Thank you so much.

    • What a truly delightful comment! Thank you very much for taking time to share that with me. Well done for your courage and conviction, I’m sure both will see you through and you’ll enjoy a happier daughter and education. I’m not religious either but am sending you blessings! Thank you for yours! All the best.

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  7. Those who will be successful at home-schooling are the pure in heart, those who are teachable and ready to learn the beauty of spontaneous creativity. They will really have a radiant living experience with their children, in day-tight compartments where every experience is a learning experience which builds our characters for eternity.

    • Not sure about the ‘pure in heart’ bit or the ‘teachable’ as all kids start out keen to learn. But successful home educating is based on good relationships definitely – in fact that goes for all education really! Thanks for your comments.

  8. Hi

    I loved reading this – it was beautifully written from the heart. I am still deciding whether or not to home educate my daughter. She is only 4. She’ll be 5 in June. This year for the first fime our local school decided to have only one inset so she had to start last September. I didn’t want her to start school at such a young age but felt that I had to give it a go. She is ok at the moment and quite enjoying it but I know that will change and so I am preparing myself to home educate at some point in the future. Articles like this really make me feel positive about home education – keep them coming xx Lisa

    • Thank you so much Lisa, it’s comments like yours that help me keep writing too! Very best wishes and I hope that your daughter’s education remains a happy one wherever she is!

  9. Spot on, as always! That’s the main reason we started to home-ed our youngest, he was unhappy and withdrawing into himself because of it. So many people just didn’t ‘get it’ but when my mum said, “So long as he’s happy, that’s all that matters”, I stopped caring what others thought/said.
    Having said that, thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts 😀

  10. You say it so well. When people ask why we decided to home educate and I respond with “she was unhappy” they look at me as if I’m completely insane. I’m getting used to not worrying too much about what others think but It’s still good to read these words. Thank you.

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