In my last few posts, I've been sketching out a rather picquant idea: that our new-kind-of schools have all students launch social entrepreneurships. Doing so, I've been suggesting, would get students to engage in more complex thinking and more profound personal growth than, perhaps, almost anything else we can have them do. What I'd like to suggest now is something a bit different — that having students launch social entrepreneurships could lead to a deeper, more exhilarating experience of well-being than, perhaps, anything else our schools can provide.
I've written lately about how one of the major ideas behind our schools is that we can cultivate an environment that's conducive to human flourishing — much more conducive than most schools.
The conclusions of positive psychology — the scholarly study of human well-being — need to infuse absolutely every piece of the curriculum, from recess to music to math to cooking.
But I think that our entrepreneurship curriculum could have a special place in flourishing. I think launching a social entrepreneurship can give students a chance to experience an ecstacy that is otherwise shut to them.
Why do I think so?
Our positive emotions are responses designed to promote activities that helped our distant ancestors thrive.
Why do people get pleasure from sugar? The sugars in fruits were cheap calories. Why do people get so warm about friendship? A friend was an ally — someone who could come to your aid.
Well, moreso than almost any other, humans are the team species — we're up there near ants and honeybees. (This, by the way, is the conclusion of the great biologist E. O. Wilson, who thinks that it's our 'team-ness' that helped us conquer the world.) As Hobbes (the cartoon tiger, not the English philosopher) put it:
Your fingernails are a joke, you've got no fangs, you can't see at night, your pink hides are ridiculous, your reflexes are nil, and you don't even have tails!
Since our species' inception, we've needed teams to survive. Needed 'em! If you couldn't work as part of a team, you were as good as dead.
And so: some of our strongest positive emotions are biologically cued for intensive teamwork.
There may be no other way to reach these heights of human flourishing.
Schools don't provide so much in the way of this, especially not in class. There are exceptions, and I'd be interested to explore them — high school sports teams, and debate teams, and perhaps band and chorus. But little of this happens in class.
School isn't typically seriously enough. Not enough is on the line. Projects aren't big enough to require the struggle and expertise of multiple people. Real people aren't being affected by the outcome.
The Yale economist (and Nobel laureate) Edmund Phelps writes (in Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change) that entrepreneurship and innovation are the core of human wellbeing:
Receiving income may lead to flourishing but is not itself a form of flourishing.A person's flourishing comes from the experience of the new:new situations, new problems, new insights, and new ideas to develop and share.
He's critiquing economies that put too much of a focus on being comfortable, but a similar charge could be leveled against classes that see student comfort as the ultimate goal. Phelps falls sees challenge, failure, and success as the deepest roots of our joy:
Flourishing is the heart of prospering — engagement, meeting challenges, self-expression, and personal growth.
By helping kids launch social entrepreneurships, we can help them experience a deeper flourishing than they may have ever felt before.
And this can change them: as Andrew Yang writes in his book Smart People Should Build Things: How to Restore Our Culture of Achievement, Build a Path for Entrepreneurs, and Create New Jobs in America:
Over time, solving problems and building an organization that does so become addictive and second nature.
We can make this sort of joy addictive, and routine.
(Thanks to www.davestuartjr.com for the featured image!)