Can we build a school for human flourishing?

So here’s a question  — can we put “flourishing” at the center of our school?  Can we have it be the criterion by we judge all other curricular decisions? Can we build a school for human flourishing?

The idea has, I think, some fairly obvious advantages.

First (and a bit boringly), it seems self-evident that folk who are mentally healthy (that is, who are flourishing) will do better academically: they'll stay with math problems longer, for example.  If they feel safe in the community, they'll feel more comfortable advocating contrary opinions in a literature class.

Second, flourishing is a goal that can rouse learners.  If we can help kids see that math is a way of, say, increasing their cognitive armamentarium, or if we can help them see that history is a way to borrow from others' hard-won wisdom, then (I'll bet) they'll want to do the hard work of learning.

Third, flourishing is a deliciously slippery concept; it invites intellectual engagement.  Asking "what does it take to flourish — what does it even mean to flourish?" plunges us very quickly in some of the deeper thinking of human history (I've recently taught a combined philosophy/psychology class on these question for high schoolers.)  But profound ethical/introspective thinking can be done on this question for anyone in kindergarten on up.

Finally, flourishing is just a fantastic human goal in itself.  Aristotle, actually, wrote that it is the ultimate goal, the very center of ethics.  As such, it has the possibility for uniting a broad community of supporters.  And a diverse one at that: Republicans and Democrats, atheists and evangelicals (and Muslims and Hindus), blue-collar workers and tech entrepreneurs.  Putting "flourishing" at the center of the school gives us faculty a reason to roll out of bed, too.

Okay — I'm probably overlooking some pretty obvious 'cons', right?  Help me out!  In what ways might putting flourishing as the central goal of our school be a bad idea?

Brandon Hendrickson

Seattle, WA