stephanie jones

Archive for June 25th, 2011|Daily archive page

a thousand paths to happiness…including one little book

In communities, creativity, democracy, Education Policy, family-school relations, freedom, great books, institutions, justice, teacher education on June 25, 2011 at 11:26 pm

“There are thousands of paths that lead to happiness, but you have accepted only one. You have not considered other paths because you think that yours is the only one that leads to happiness. You have followed this path with all your might, and so the other paths, the thousands of others, have remained closed to you.” Thich Nhat Hanh’s new book, you are here: Discovering the magic of the present moment, is such a delightful treat to read and consider and I am enjoying myself immensely each day when I settle in and drink another paragraph of wisdom.

A thousand paths to happiness has me really thinking though, and I couldn’t resist jumping on the computer and pounding out a few lines (one thing that often makes me happy) about this notion and what it might mean to me – at least in this moment.

If there are, indeed, thousands of paths to happiness, then all of those thousands of paths should be encouraged and valued and celebrated and shared. In other words, diversity wins again, and not only should we encourage and celebrate diversity, but we should do everything possible to prevent any kind of restrictive ideas that limit possibilities and promote standardization of human beings and life in any way.

If there are, indeed, thousands of paths to happiness, then why aren’t we actively teaching children and youth to seek happiness, or better yet to “be free to experience the happiness that just comes to us without our having to seek it” (Thich Nhat Hanh, p. 75). This could move us a long way beyond the false promise of a “good job” so well-advertised throughout every level of education.

If school isn’t about promoting thousands of paths toward happiness, then what is it and why would we want to do something other than teach toward happiness?

Some readers are blowing me off now, huffing and puffing at their screen because they think it’s all fluff to teach happiness – so without going into excessive detail here, I’ll add that working with passion and engaging in intellectual journeys around academic content or in a workplace can be a path to happiness. Don’t worry reader – we’re not going to end up with a society of non- “workers” because everyone is sitting lotus-style in a forest seeking happiness. We might, however, end up with lots of people who refuse to sell their soul and time/life to corporations doing meaningless “work.” Wouldn’t that be interesting?

Has anyone out there ever read a school vision statement that included the words “happy” or “happiness”? I’d love to hear if you have.

And this ‘thousands of paths’ has me thinking of other things regarding “diversity” – we humans are all just different and somehow we keep trying to shove us all into the same-sized box. Just like ecological diversity is imperative to the survival of earth, human diversity is also imperative to the (healthy) survival of the species. While this is not only about the “size” of us humans (it’s also about our lifestyles, family and community structures, livelihoods, homes, interactions, relationships, physical looks, tastes, etc. etc.), diversity in size and shape should also be a consideration. I’m stuck on this a bit because of the recent onslaught of the “Obesity Epidemic” across the country and the fetish we seem to currently have around body measurements, plastic surgery, and the persistent metaphorical and literal chiseling away at natural diversity among bodies.

Just one example –

Body Mass Index (BMI)  and the push for schools to include children’s BMI on report cards even though CDC reports there is no evidence that such actions would change anything about childhood health and/or obesity.

Folks have – and will continue – to debate me that “there is a real obesity epidemic – parents need to know their children’s BMI and what those numbers mean and get control over what their children are eating.” Okay – and what role has school and Corporate America played in this heavy-ing of America’s children? Do we slap some numbers onto a child’s report card and insist that parents do something to change those numbers when kids are at school 7-8 hours a day and have to complete 2 hours of homework between 4pm and the 8pm bedtime? I might be exaggerating a bit in some contexts, and underestimating in others – but this is yet another way to tell parents how they are the individuals to blame for a societal problem that is only exacerbated in schools: over-processed foods are served for breakfast and lunch in cafeterias and recess is non-existent for most children above the age 8 and limited to only 10 minutes for children up to 8 in public schools.

Hmmmmm….schools work harder and harder to get kids to sit still and be quiet for 7 hours at a time preparing for tests and covering standards while only breaking to eat over-processed foods that are high in fat and sodium, then expect the kids to sit at home for 2 more hours at night to do homework and schools are going to “report” children’s BMI to parents so the parents can fix it?

I’m against the use of numbers for nearly everything and BMI is included – I always believe a holistic perspective on a person’s health and lifestyle is much more important than a single number that may be used to determine categories that label and blame and shame people. But let’s pretend for a moment that I accept BMI as some good indicator of a child’s health (even though CDC might argue against that). Perhaps we might allow schools to include the BMI on the report card and demand they also include a specific plan the school will take to ensure the child has access to healthy foods and sufficient exercise and physical play during the day. In other words – the BMI becomes a reflection of the way an institution operates rather than good or poor parenting.

So back to a thousand paths to happiness…

Maybe if we taught children to feel happiness, to see the infinite possibilities for happiness, to see happiness in unexpected places, and to cultivate happiness through mindful practice (including mindful practices of eating), we might find ourselves educating the most diverse, happy, healthy children on earth. What if school’s purpose was to cultivate happiness, peacefulness, contentedness, connectedness? Of course some private schools and home schoolers have been doing this for a long time, but what if public schools put these purposes first and foremost in their work? The possibilities make me smile – and happy.

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