This is the third article expressing an algorithm for aspects important to life. The first two algorithms were for well-being and exercise. Both of these had narrow focuses and did not claim to work out all the details, but pointed to the most important dimensions of each for individual flourishing. Unfortunately, everything described in detail in those articles is given very little attention within our schools and many people simply do not leave high school having learned the most important knowledge to understand individual and collective well-being.
This is unfortunate. Schools are simply not teaching and measuring much of value anymore. Much of the structure is still based on nineteenth century ideas when nations could train future employees in easily predictable skills that they could turn around and use for 40 years at the same employer and then retire or die young. The future of work looks entirely different.
Most students sitting in our classrooms today have no way of predicting what content and skills they will need in the future. Any attempt to do so is simply asinine and is ignorant of what is taking place in the realms of machine learning, automation, robotics, globalization, and mass communication technologies. Studying traditional subjects with pre-written curricula in order to go to a university, where “the typical 2016 college graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt, up six percent from last year”, so one can go on to earn a median income below what it was in the 1970’s doesn’t make sense. It makes even less sense to enter the workforce after years of mind numbing effort with that much debt for the sake of a fancy credential when large companies that hire the best talent, like Google and Ernst and Young, have “moved away from a focus on GPAs and brand name schools”.
All of this calls for a different kind of emphasis in schools. An emphasis on what will matter most in the twenty-first century: the ability to autonomously and creatively problem solve while engaging in global citizenship. To that end, the article that follows will discuss some of dimensions necessary to realize those aims.
Edu21 = f(QoL, S)
Education for the twenty first century should be a function of teaching students how to develop higher levels of quality of life and sustainability.
Disclaimer: This section is rather technical and not entirely necessary for those who just want to skip to the next one and see results of the algorithm in action.
Edu21 was generated while trying to contrast Tyler Cowen’s formula for a good society, basic rights and wealth plus, with Nic Marks’ formula for the Happy Planet Index, which “Herman Daly, a former World Bank economist and one of the founding fathers of ecological economics” described as “the ultimate efficiency ratio – the final valuable output divided by the original scarce input.” That is, the HPI can be thought of as the degree to which happy and long lives are achieved per unit of ecological resource consumption (Kindle Locations 325-330):
Marks elaborates on what goes into the two main components by explaining that Happy Life Years is made up of life satisfaction and life expectancy data and:
can be seen as happiness-adjusted life expectancy. The measurement has a powerful logic to it. It recognizes that a satisfying life is not ideal if it is short; and that a long life is not ideal if it is miserable. (Kindle Locations 273-275)
He then explains that, “In our opinion, the current best available approach is the ecological footprint, developed by ecologists Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees”:
Our ecological footprint is a measure of the amount of land required to provide for all of our resource requirements, including the amount of vegetated land required to absorb our CO2 emissions. This figure is expressed in units of “global hectares” (gHa). The advantage of this approach is that it is also possible to estimate the total amount of productive hectares available on the whole planet. Dividing this by the world’s total population, everyone’s global fair share of ecological resource use can be estimated. Using the latest footprint methodology – and it should be noted that this is a developing methodology – this estimate is 2.1 gHa per person. (Kindle Locations 276-282)
While these two formula are good places to start a discussion on what’s important, they don’t quite capture everything we would hope for our children. This is made painfully clear by Martin Seligman in Flourish when he writes:
in one or two words, what do you most want for your children?
It’s obvious that many of those hopes aren’t captured by Cowen’s basic rights (defined as negative liberties such as having the right not to be murdered, tortured, or abused) and wealth plus (defined as typical GDP that accounts for leisure time, in-home work, and environmental impact) or Marks’ measurements of life satisfaction (taken from Gallup’s World Poll on a 1-10 scale) and life expectancy.
Edu21, in contrast, would account for the traits listed by Seligman, as well as those by Cowen and Marks, because QoL as used here is defined as such:
Quality of life is a function of subjective well-being and objective well-being, where subjective well-being is defined as a function of hedonic pleasure, life-satisfaction, and connection to others, which the link above describes in detail. Subjective well-being is then responsible for covering our most important hopes for our children, while objective well-being takes care of the other issues related to rights, wealth, and health as defined below:
OWB = f(H, W, E, S)
Objective well-being is a function of health, wealth, education, and security.
When using this more robust aim for students than what Marks calls “happy life years” above, we have much more to work with in the domain of education for the twenty first century, especially when paired with the all important dimension of sustainability as measured by the ecological footprint that Marks uses and which Cowen would at least appreciate as a good approximation, even if he were to prefer some other measure of environmental impact for his wealth plus metric.
An Edu21 School
With all that technical background out of the way, it’s definitely time to describe what an Edu21 school might look like.
The algorithm can point the way.
Rather than typical subject blocks and standardization of school content, concepts, skills, and assessments, an Edu21 school would focus on the major aspects of developing quality of life and increasing sustainability, aka sustainable development. As Michael Horn, the co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute, points out in an Atlantic article:
content knowledge will continue to matter, but students will learn content in different ways—from online modules to in-person sessions. A core set of standards will be critical for all students to master—or, in some cases, gain exposure to—in English, mathematics, history, and science. These standards should be fewer, such that as students master them, they can go deep in areas they enjoy to find their passions and develop expertise. For example, every student may not need to master Algebra. Exposure to music and arts, as well as such things as financial literacy, economics, engineering, and computer science will also be critical to build a foundation for students with an eye toward helping them have a broad enough base such that they can find and develop passions and be engaged citizens. Finally, physical education will continue to have a role in schools, but the purpose will be to help students lead healthy lives--not necessarily to develop athletes—and to bolster learning, as evidence shows that exercising before learning can greatly improve productivity.
The day may still wind up being divided into different blocks or “periods” for various emphases throughout, but it wouldn’t need to be done by traditional subjects. Much time would be devoted to learning how to increase subjective well-being for individuals, as it forms the heart of what we care most about, while also being “the key to unlocking the creativity and innovation we need to create a better future,” as Marks points out (Kindle Locations 452-455). This is similar to the function that many language, social studies, and arts classes provide now, but without the explicit mandate to focus on well-being. The International Baccalaureate has a mission that implies much of this with its desire “to create a better and more peaceful world”.
In learning how to increase subjective well-being and alleviate suffering for both themselves and others, students would of course have to learn about the factors of objective well-being and how they contribute to various states of consciousness for both themselves and others. This is a similar role played by many science, math, PE, and social studies courses, but often without the connection to why these subjects are important as foundations for well-being.
And finally, when they are able to understand clearly how to improve quality of life for all and the importance of that endeavor, it will be obvious that Marks is right when he states, “It makes no sense if a nation’s current well-being comes at the expense of its future well-being,” (Kindle Locations 233-239) and that, “sustainability can be thought of as creating future happiness – human happiness that lasts over time” (Kindle Locations 446-448). This understanding is, again, fairly similar to what students might learn in a social studies, science, or math class without necessarily seeing how it fits into a broader picture.
What It Might All Look Like
This could quite easily create a new looking school day. One that worked on problems, projects, challenges, curiosities, and designing products. Teachers could pose questions and guide students to think about the important questions in life regarding quality of life and then have them investigate autonomously, either individually or cooperatively.
This would not require a pre-written curriculum or that every student learn the same thing. Only that they learn how to learn, that they focus on real, current issues, and that they always be thinking of others and how they can creatively solve problems for themselves and those that are suffering in some way. In not following a pre-written curriculum, but instead deliberating, cooperating, and building consensus on what is important, students will also be better prepared to act as democratic citizens rather than passive recipients and receptacles of the school’s information.
Students that are passionate about the arts could spend most of their day working on projects and products, possibly as designers for other students who are more interested in making videos or websites that advocate for community initiatives. The two students could then pair up with a third that is even more interested in coding and wants to design a website to support the project, while a fourth might be more numbers oriented and design and carry out a research project to gather data on the issue.
The point is that all these students would be learning unique skills they are passionate about in a “just in time” manner, while simultaneously developing the ability to work both independently and cooperatively. They would all learn from each other, while also not sacrificing their individuality and still be working to have a positive impact on their own worlds and the world at large.
In closing The Happiness Manifesto, Marks writes:
We urgently need a positive vision of our future. We need to stimulate people not to run away but instead to engage, to have compassion, to be open, to be flexible, to be creative and innovative. We need to find a better way, and we won’t get there by just doing the same as before. These actions should be seen as an invitation, an invitation to try things differently: in our families, in our communities, in our businesses and in our governments.
All of the above is true. However, that positive vision for our future starts with education. It starts by rethinking what we’ve done before and realizing that what got us here won’t get us to where we need and want to go. The world is changing quickly and education isn’t adapting. It needs to adapt now and Edu21 is one path forward. A path to “purpose, freedom, and creativity”.