on November 15, 2004
Nel Noddings absolutely hits the nail on the head with her discussion of how we need to reevaluate the aims of our educational system. As it is currently situated, education serves almost entirely an economic function, in preparing students to enter the workforce and become good consumers in a successful economy. Whatever social functions the school serves are relegated to the background, and in fact tend to be discouraged if they are ever considered to be possibly getting in the way of the true goals. Of course, Noddings is also right in that we seem to have even lost focus of our original economic aims. The need to compete with others in standardized testing has forced students to learn things that may be becoming increasingly less and less relevant - Noddings's point about how asking an algebra teacher says that the point of a lesson is always going to be related only to other algebra lessons is something that every student of the school system has been frustrated with at one point or another (75).
Fortunately, Noddings does not fall into the trap that I envisioned as possible - that she would instead declare that the defined goal of education should be happiness. Such a lofty but ultimately nonsubstantive goal would be, to put it quite simply, silly, and ultimately even worse than the economic goals of the current arrangement. Fortunately, Noddings avoids the mistake of trying to make a singular definition of happiness and then working toward it. Instead, the final two thirds of the book are devoted to various different parts of life that Noddings would like to see become more prominent as aims of education. What makes the book so good is in how Noddings successfully weaves in the notion of happiness throughout all of these elements of life - which include raising a family, spirituality, participation in the democratic process, and, yes, in the workplace - together with the discussion of how education must be aimed toward these goals. It is almost as if the book is a collaboration of two distinct theses - how these parts of life are important to our happiness, and how education must serve these parts of life - and that seems to be the reason for how the book flows as well as it does when it is based on a topic like happiness that in lesser hands would be incredibly trite and quickly grow repetitive.
Of the two theses, neither is easy to quibble with. In regard to the thesis about how schools need to refocus their aims toward more relevant applications, I certainly have no disagreement; I believe that we clearly have lost track of what schools should be about and that the U.S. educational system is slowly careening toward greater and greater irrelevance (although it probably isn't much of a new phenomenon after all; how much of what scholars studied in ancient times was really necessary for their life experiences?). The idea of how the various elements that Noddings discusses as being keys to personal happiness are somewhat more spurious, in that personal happiness is by definition personal, and what makes one person happy is going to be far different from what makes another person happy (traditional education does make many lifelong scholars happy, for one). But Noddings does allow for this, and so I have no quarrel with her desire to try to point out some elements that typically make people happy for the sake of the argument.
Consider a sample sentence from the introduction to chapter 7; the introductions to all of the chapters in parts 2 and 3 of the book are structured quite similarly: "Possibly there is no human task more demanding, more rewarding, and more universal than parenting, and yet our schools apparently think that algebra and Shakespeare are more important" (138). The point of how schools are inadequate in their current aims is constantly reinforced. Here Noddings makes the argument that education needs to be reshaped such that students become more acquainted with concepts like child-rearing and how parents can play effective roles in their children's lives, "without preaching or direct instruction" (156). Noddings is right in having to address this final qualifier, since such nontraditional lessons might be controversial if they try to teach right and wrong answers in the same way that algebra might. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to go in that direction. After all, having an open discussion about the legitimacy of educational lessons is far from being the worst thing that could happen. The worst thing, rather, would be to maintain our current inertia.
on September 8, 2004
In Happiness And Education, author and academician Nel Noddings (Lee L. Jacks Professor of Education, Emerita, Standford University) draws upon her years of experience, expertise and research as a teacher, administrator, and curriculum developer in public schools to address the very specific issue of the relationship of happiness to that of the experience of education and why, although parental expectations are quite clear that happiness is a kind of byproduct of education, it is not normal mentioned as one of the principle aims of education. Professor Noddings explores what it means to be happy, and then goes on to address how educators can help children to understand what happiness is. Criticizing an almost exclusive focus on economic well-being as the approved outcome of educational accomplishment, Professor Noddings emphasizes the contributions education provides with respect to making a home, parenting, developing character and interpersonal growth, identifying and engaging in work that is satisfying, participating effectively in a political democracy, and ways in which we can make schools and classrooms happy places of learning and intellectual exploration. Happiness And Education is especially commended to the attention of public and private school teachers, and administrative policy makers as informed, thoughtful, and though-provoking reading.
on November 10, 2006
Even though I live in Norway where the educational system works differently than in the US, this book was a real eyeopener to me. In a time where the school focuses more and more on the student's achievements in basic subjects like math, reading and writing, and where there's been put more and more weight on testing the students in these skills, this book represent and alternative way of thinking. Do we all need an academic education? Why do we educate students in the thought that all of them should go on with their studies beyond a collegelevel? What about all those occupations where you don't need academic skills, those occupations where you need practical skills? (skills that you weren't taught in school because the weight was put on the teoretical subjects). Being a teacher or a parent, this book will give you a new perspective on how to raise and educate our children.