#14 being “happy” : Pharrell Williams, IPC and other theories…

“Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Hats off to Pharrell Williams! No, really.

What poets, painters, philosophers, psychoanalysts and their ilk have spend several wasted lifetimes trying to decipher, Pharrell did in precisely 4.08 mins, in a way that the world stopped and took notice, then plunged headlong into the jive, totally ‘getting it’ when he likens ‘happiness’ to a room without a roof.

Genius.

It’s that time of year when happiness figures prominently in our list of wishes, being the underlying theme to virtually anything we catagorize as a ‘resolution’ and nail to our masts. Makes you wonder if there are others like Pharrell who’ve cracked it, this deeply mysterious state of being where Life is a sun-dappled beach and we’ve worked out EXACTLY how to keep the dark clouds away. Forever.

So what is happiness – a journey ? an elusive destination ? the light at the end of the tunnel which enables us to haul ourselves over burning coal, believing that a bottomless pool of bliss lies just there, over on the other side ? Are there countries and cultures that make it slightly easier for us to be happy ? If yes, what’s the quid pro quo for it?

Like crime rate, religious fervour and political leanings, is happiness something that can be classified and quantified, then dressed in graphs and pie charts. Can it be ascribed to ‘theories’ that make it decidedly easier to understand and pursue..? Does it help if you’re a man / woman, black or white?

I got thinking about this whole ‘country, culture and happiness ‘ thing at the last Parents’ Meet just before Christmas. This time, a small note had been sent out by the school which mentioned something about “IPC” or the International Primary Curriculum which the British government was already in the process of rolling out across all State Schools in the UK. The teachers seemed hot and bothered, keen to discuss the matter and garner reactions from home.

Turns out, the Government has noticed, for some time now, a stark difference in the way Primary School kids are taught here, vis a vis Asia. They figured that pushing kids harder at the Primary level, like Asians do, invariably leads to a better grounding, thus greatly improved results in Secondary School – a belief fuelled by comparison.

Asian Kids In Secondary School Vs British Kids In Secondary School, ON AVERAGE.

It’s also no secret that Grammar Schools here have a staggeringly high percentage of non-whites who sail through stringent entrance exams each year. A Grammar School being that happy ‘truce’ for Secondary Education where nothing else counts but merit – wedged between posh Private Schools ( charging anything from £3000 to £10,000+ per term ) and totally free State Schools where ‘catchment’ is the only consideration.

Hmmmm, there must be SOMETHING about the way these Asian kids are taught, specially back in their own countries. Let’s imbibe a few bits from their model and see where it takes us – that’s essentially what the government here is saying.

And BEHOLD the reaction!

My 7 years old’s teacher, an Asian herself, sat us down with a big smirk and announced – “Parents, it’s all-change from here! Your child will now be doing a lot of the Year 4 stuff in Year 3, which means learning their Times Tables faster, up to a higher number, more reading, harder spellings, comprehension…” she seemed delighted.

And, frankly, so was I.

My kids go to a school that’s been rated by OFSTED ( the ones who monitor standards in education every few years ) as “Outstanding” and yet they get far too little “homework” for my liking. My 10 year old, in his penultimate year of Primary School, is assigned homework ONCE A WEEK ; a mix of tasks in Numeracy and Literacy that take no more than an few hours of his time. Officially, just TWO HOURS of homework IN A WEEK, for a TEN YEAR OLD! To anyone from India, that’s sacrilege.

Of course, these kids could do more! At this age, their minds are like sponge, soaking up anything and everything they are exposed to. They could be pushed a lot harder and be motivated ( threatened with punishment? ) to get into a discipline of doing ‘homework’ every single day as we’ve all done, all our lives ! More so, as there are no ‘exams’ of any sort in Primary School, barring two SATs –  in Year 2 and Year 6. Those too, mainly to gauge the aptitude of the student and put them in some sort of League Table for the sake of statistics.

Ms Raza in Year 3 seemed jolly pleased that her class would now have to pull up their socks and I could see why.

Then I made my way to Year 5 and suddenly I wasn’t so sure.

Ms Ogden seemed more upset than annoyed, to be honest. I naturally assumed that she didn’t particularly take to the idea of more planning and paperwork these changes would bring for the teachers, adding to their weekly woes.

Then she began to speak,

“Parents / Carers…it’s almost Christmas but I have bad news, she began. It is with deep regret that I tell you this – we are going for a concentrated push towards achieving a higher level in Year 5 , “IPC” or something like that, they’re calling it, she sneered.

WHY the need for it, I don’t understand, she continued in the same vein…after all, these are just 10 year olds, still only KIDS…they NEED Art and Music and PE and everything else that will now be slightly compromised, in the name of this, this…. “IPC”…Primary School is where they should draw and sing and paint and play as they learn…SO important for them to do all these things NOW, before “life” takes over.

What’s the point of pressing for better grades if it turns them into robots and takes away the joy of learning? Each one of them is different, each one unique…NOW is the time to let them blossom, allow them to seek out their interests…THIS is the time to learn social skills that will last them a lifetime, learn to be kind and caring, to work as a team, to eat properly, say ‘thank you’ and ‘please’, to swim and ride and do handstands and cartwheels and roundoffs, to use their imagination, play instruments, make models, read and be read to……frankly, I DON”T see the point of all these changes that will do little besides make them stressed and frustrated at SUCH A YOUNG AGE…it’s incredibly sad, I know, but it’s got to be done…I am so so sorry. I shall try to still keep it as fun as possible, so they don’t start hating their last few years here.” she finished, visibly upset.

I sat there speechless.

What does one say to that ?

Clearly, it’s a “culture” thing to some extent, isn’t it, all this business of “marks ( grades ) and results” NOT BEING the ‘be all and end all’ of “education”. It is a concept alien to me. Sure, we had Music and Art and PE and School Trips and Concerts, we had loads of fun, like children elsewhere in the world but we were NEVER allowed to forget that it was ALL about getting the highest “marks” and “coming first in class” – everything else was secondary, even in Primary School. The ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ got sorted right at the onset, a hierarchy very hard to break out of as the school years progressed – perhaps a life-lesson learnt much too soon ( as I look back now ) …

“HAPPINESS COMES FIRST” is scribbled in bold letters outside Nursery at my kids’ school in Barnet. We walk past it everyday, paying little heed to what it implies.

I think I’m beginning to understand it a little better,  though I’m still not sure what the IDEAL Primary School Curriculum might be.How do you even compare the two systems or decide what’s best in the long run, what makes us ‘happiest’ in the end. Not wealthiest or most famous / successful but happiest ?

And then again, as Mrs Patmore remarked in Downton Abbey, “Sympathy butters no parsnips”. I guess the same could be said for happiness 🙂 Sometimes, we need to be pushed to our limits ( whether or not in Primary School – the jury’s out on that ! ) to discover what we’re truly capable of. The pursuit of excellence is happiness too.

Again, the age-old quest for the H word….

Ending this post with a brilliant piece by Hilary Mantel on grief, rather her rereading of A Grief Observed by C S Lewis, the complete antithesis to what we seek everyday.

Perhaps it is by observing grief that we can learn to appreciate, truly appreciate and be grateful for our blessings. Perhaps it is the easiest way to be happy. To be reminded of the things that could’ve easily gone wrong but haven’t. Yet.

Wishing you, my dear reader, luck and happiness, however you may chose to define it, for 2015! Here’s to dreams, sunshine and a steaming hot cappuccino – always a good place to start looking for ‘happiness’

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/dec/27/hilary-mantel-rereading-cs-lewis-a-grief-observed

Advertisements