The Happy Child
Changing the Heart of Education
Harrison not only focuses on a reorientation of education, but the possibility of rethinking our families, communities and workplaces as well as what gives our children, and all of us, real happiness.
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"Perhaps all that education aspires to be is the preparation of the young person for their role in the larger society. This is certainly a good idea for society, but in the efficiency of producing citizen workers, are we missing the deeper meaning and higher purpose of learning? Have we forgotten about the spirit of the child, the purpose of this one life, the unique and fragile expression of a passionate and integrated life?"
—from The Happy Child
In this thought-provoking new book, best-selling author Steven Harrison ventures far outside the box of traditional thinking about education. His radical proposal? Children naturally want to learn, he asserts, so let them direct their own education in democratic learning communities where they can interact seamlessly with their neighborhoods, their towns, and the world at large. Most learning systems apply external motivation through grades, rankings, teacher direction, and approval. The Happy Child suggests that a self-motivated child who is interdependent within a community can develop the full human potential to live a creative and fulfilling life. Harrison focuses on the integration of the whole child, the learning environment, and the non-coercive spirit of curiosity-driven education.
Part social-critic, part humanistic visionary, Harrison not only focuses on a reorientation of education, but the possibility of rethinking our families, communities and workplaces, and ultimately what gives our children, and all of us, real happiness. Harrison adds his voice to those of A. S. Neil, John Holt, and John Gatto, all who believe that contemporary schools can never be reformed sufficiently, but must be abandoned entirely for something new and vital to emerge.
Praise for The Happy Child
A clarion call for our culture to wise up and re-think what education-and the soul of a child-are really all about. Steven Harrison offers us something sorely lacking in today's educational policy: a vision of true human potential and a practical philosophy for attaining it. Read this book and envision possibility.
—Jane M. Healy, Ph.D., author of Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children's Minds
This is a splendid book, offering fresh, new insights into a subject exhausted by truisms, pap, and let's pretend. Harrison's hard-biting social critique of the plight children and education are in should wake us up to our atrocious treatment of our young, that we might actually address their critical needs rather than simply ignoring them as usual.
—Joseph Chilton Pearce, author of The Crack in the Cosmic Egg
I received a manuscript in the mail the other day from a publisher seeking a book jacket endorsement. At first I was mildly put off by the book's grandly expansive three-word title. But halfway through the brief introduction I realized it was the very simplicity of that title, as well as the author's messages that sets this refreshing book apart from so much of what is being written about children and education these days.
The Happy Child. That's it. Steven Harrison's choice of the singular is not insignificant. The entire focus of the ensuing pages remains on his belief that the true purpose of education is to help each individual child born to this earth to be happy. That's it. Our minds, however, almost instinctively tend to reject such simple ideas. Or, writes Harrison, perhaps our resistance to associating education with happiness is rooted in the fact that we are a little afraid of happiness. It was hardly the educational goal for most of us, after all.
No, the author points out, we were educated in a system that values compliance and consumption, and in which productivity is the measure of life. How many of us can remember a teacher ever asking us if we were happy, or, if we were showing signs that we weren't, why not? I certainly cannot.
And then the beat travels to the next generation. We grow up and start our own families. The school bus comes, our kids get on,and we go to work. Only a few parents step away from the relentless pace of modern life long enough to ask themselves and their children whether they are happy in school. We worry if they are doing well, not if they are being well. We want to know if they are keeping up, and ultimately, if they will get ahead. Preparation, progress, and achievement are the key words, not happiness.
Now I must also admit to liking The Happy Child for another reason. Steven Harrison, as do I, believes that the best way to marry happiness to education is in the context of a learning community that trusts children and empowers them to direct themselves; that is emotionally alive and fosters depth in relationships; and that is energized by creativity, imagination and the thrill of discovery. In fact, the book is an outgrowth of the discourse involved in the founding of The Living School, a new democratic, learner-directed alternative for children age five and up in Boulder, Colorado.
The Living School is Harrison's answer to his own rhetorical question: What else should we demand for our children other than their happiness? Take a moment and savor the simplicity.
"Such a nobly simple idea that the true purpose of education should be happiness and so clearly reasoned. Steven Harrison speaks for the lives of children everywhere."
—Chris Mercogliano, author of Making It Up As We Go Along: The Story of the Albany Free School
5.5 x 7.5 in.