The Unites States is the only nation with the ‘pursuit of happiness’ as a value. No guarantees, just the freedom to pursue it. Public education exists so each individual has the ability and perspective to engage in that pursuit.
Pursuing happiness and meaning, which are not synonymous, requires more than academic knowledge. Education certainly involves academics and the fine arts, but it extends beyond content mastery to ethical understanding, character development, and cultivating wisdom.
In actuality, the real search for all of us is to discover ourselves — our talents, passion, and path in life. Education has a spiritual dimension, not in a religious sense, but through grasping life’s meaning and purpose, involving our mindfulness and consciousness of the world, and our relationship to others and to ourselves. This entails understanding who we are so we can authentically pursue those things that are in harmony with our heart and soul, as well as our mind and values.
To do so children must be able to safely succeed and fail, discover their strengths and passions, and develop their character. They should discover their uniqueness, and see the connections they have to the world, society, and others. A good education helps children discover what wants to emerge from within them: who they are and what their mission and purpose in life is. The most difficult question we have to answer is: ‘Who am I?’ No standardized test can measure this, although perversely it can stymie the pursuit.
We must have the capacity to see with new eyes, open our minds and perceive what is unfolding in the world with a fresh perspective. We must be mindful and aware of the integration of issues and ideas and what is unfolding.
Listening, perceiving, and understanding connections in our lives are important to continue to learn and adapt. In all of this, we realize that while we gain things, we also must, at times, let go of things to find happiness and meaning.
An open mind and heart involves the intersection of understanding our obligations to others and ourselves. Acting with integrity moves beyond simply recitation of knowledge or comprehending data. Empathy, honesty and compassion are important.
In an unfolding world, creativity and the continuous intellectual curiosity to respond and shape the future are required. Understanding our responsibilities in a democratic society and gaining some sense of historical perspective about our duty to family, community and country is a cornerstone to our way of life.
The straitjacket of over-regulation and mandates stymies creativity and intellectual curiosity. Mandated educational policies like high stakes testing and false metrical standards guarantee that teachers will not be able to create an environment that allows children to experience and explore deeper levels of awareness, creativity, and comprehension.
While we don’t know what the future holds, we do know that change is inevitable. Children will need to confront the future. This requires more than skills. More than recall and recitation of facts. Anyone over 50 years old today can testify to the fact that conditions are vastly different than 30 years earlier concerning employment, technology, and social and political issues.
Education must be dynamic and on-going, with an understanding of the principles and values that form the foundation of our democracy and society.
Stewardship and concern for the common good, not simply self-interest, require action and commitment. Well-educated people revere knowledge and apply values and ethics to guide them throughout life so they make wise decisions premised on strong moral ideals and broad academic and cultural understanding.
Change is the consequence of creativity, conflict, and innovation. Intellectual skills are more than literacy and numeracy. They involve: getting information and organizing it, defining the values that undergird arguments, articulating ideas clearly, formulating new perspectives, and questioning assumptions and theories. Being able to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate issues, concepts and information are vital.
The concepts of democracy, liberty, justice, equality, beauty, and goodness are our core values. Discerning the truth, and seeing through distortions, self-interests, and unethical use of data and information are necessary. Being skeptical is fundamental in being a critical thinker and an active family member, employee and citizen.
Values and principles, along with academic ability, shape the foundation for life’s decisions. Educated people ask questions. They are skeptics, not cynics or sheep. They are engaged civically and stand on principle. They are self reflective and personally and socially conscious.
Problem solving involves a broad perspective across content, and a deep understanding of the principles and moral expectations to maintain and create a civil society. Comprehending cultural values and their philosophical foundations are necessary for ethical and moral decision-making and conduct.
The purpose of education is more than getting a job or chasing the brass ring of wealth and titles. It is about living fully with purpose and meaning. Happiness is not pursued: it is ensued from a life well-lived that comes from each person capitalizing on their uniqueness and following their heart, as well as their intellect, in dreaming and finding their purpose in this life. We want our children to grow to be smart and wise.
See: The Fog of Reform: Getting Back to a Place Called School