Anthony Seldon, Headmaster of Wellington College, a secondary institution in Crowthorne, the United Kingdom, introduced Happiness Classes to help students deal with both positive and negative emotions in a constructive and healthy way. Seldon shared his view of education with Beijing Review. Edited excerpts follow:
Beijing Review: What is the purpose of a high school education?
Anthony Seldon: All over the world education is being reduced to exam passing and testing. Some exams are necessary, but it's only a part of the story. We are very academic as a school but we are much more than just that. We follow the thinking of Howard Gardner of Harvard University.
Anthony Seldon (WEI YAO)
We have adapted his motto into our own eight aptitudes, which are linguistic and logical, personal and social, cultural and physical, and moral and spiritual. I think the job of a high school is to develop all those eight aptitudes and the passing of exams is only a part of it. It's very sad that education has become a joyless experience for many, as if they are in a factory being processed.
Yet all over the world students are being taught subjects in a very dull way. I have been to classes where there are 30 to 40 students and the teacher sits at the front. He or she is dictating and students are writing. They are not thinking.
We should hardly ever tell students anything. A great teacher will just lead them to the right answer. If a student works out an answer, the student learns so much more than if a teacher tells them. For example, rather than telling students why the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) fell, I would like them to work out first why any dynasty would ever fall. Then I go around the class and they come up with ideas about why dynasties fall. In this process, they are thinking actively rather than sitting passively.
How would you describe your happiness classes?
Wellington became the first school in Britain in 2006 to have happiness classes, or what are sometimes called well-being classes. Young people have their physical bodies, their minds, their emotions, but we never tell them how they work or how they can manage them optimally. Therefore young people abuse their bodies: They feed themselves with the wrong food; they don't have enough water; they have too much coffee; they smoke; they do drugs; they drink too much alcohol; they don't exercise enough; they get lost in negative emotions, and they don't understand the importance of enough love. It's about helping people understand their bodies, their minds and their emotions and how to work with them. If you do this well, (academic) results won't go down, results go up.
I'm sure Amy Chua—who wrote Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother—is very nice, but she's terribly silly. She has done enormous damage to her own children because it's not about what is right for her children: It's about her ego and her self-esteem.
A great parent thinks not about themselves and their own pride or what they can boast to their friends, but helps their children fulfill their potential and realize their dreams. If a child wants to spend his or her life making clothes or working in catering and the parent wants them to be a banker, they might be a banker but they will end up having a breakdown or being very unhappy. As a parent with three children, I just want them to be happy.
What do you think is the difference between Chinese and British high school students?
I think deep down there is no difference. But another comment would be that I think that more British and American students are taught how to think rather than what to think.
But I think that the education system in general in China may be teaching people what to think, what the right answer is rather than how to think and how to work out the right answer. The problem with that is when you then come to work, the world is changing so quickly that unless you are taught how to think you won't be able to respond optimally.
The schooling is not like 100-meter race. The aim of the 100-meter race is to run as quickly as possible. But with a school or university, it's not about to get 100 percent in you math exam but to get 100 percent of being the best you can be, to understand yourself best and to have developed all your eight aptitudes.
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