Mend the World
Humans seem designed to crave purpose — to work for something larger than themselves. Modern schooling, however, mostly ignores purpose, and has kids only work toward more immediate goals.
This has at least five harmful effects.
- Kids keenly feel the lack of meaning in their lives. (This contributes to our epidemic of depression.)
- Idealism goes untapped. (Schools lose a potentially potent source of motivation.)
- The original goals of the academic subjects are forgotten. (Math and philosophy began as attempts to understand the deepest realities of the Universe. Psychology and sociology began as attempts to cure society's ills. The liberal arts began as an attempt to merge with the best that had been thought and said.)
- Shallower goals fill the vacuum. (Thirteen years of hard works becomes merely about getting into a "good" college, or securing a job.)
- Adolescent idealism remains immature. (Teens who care about the world fall into simplistic ideological stances, and never understand the complexity of our problems, and our real chances to end them.)
Our basic plan:
Assume that kids will want to help mend the world (though never insist that they ought to). Conceive of lessons with an eye to how we could understand problems better, and work toward their solution.
Beginning in grade school, pay special attention to visions of human flourishing. How might Buddha have defined the good life? Plato? Jesus? Seneca? Rumi? John Locke? Chinua Achebe?
Beginning in middle school, look at some of the problems the world faces now — and hear the stories of people who are finding success in helping fix them.
Beginning in high school, look at these problems in all their complexity — political, economic, scientific, religious, cultural. Come at the problems from many viewpoints and ideologies. Launch social entrepreneurships to see if we can make a dent in them.
Adults who see their lives as purposeful, because they're actively engaged in helping other people.
If you walk into a classroom, you might see:
Students mourning real problems, cheering real solutions, and exulting to make a difference themselves.
There are dangers in making a curriculum politically active. One is a collapse into simple ideological partisanship — that I think we can avoid. Are there other dangers?
(This idea is currently in beta! If you've thoughts on how to make it better, please shoot an e-mail to Brandon at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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