The Benefits of Adding Love to Your School’s Curriculum
August 30, 2011,
Author Jean Twenge has reported that:
“…indicators of self-esteem have risen consistently since the 1980s among middle-school, high-school, and college students. But what starts off as healthy self-esteem, at times quickly morphs into an inflated view of oneself-a self-absorption and sense of entitlement that looks a lot like narcissism. In fact, rates of narcissism among college students have increased right along with self esteem. Meanwhile rates of anxiety and depression have also risen in tandems with self-esteem? Why?”
Photo by Anna Vignet via Flickr
As an educator who has taught for over 14 years, I have lamented this question. Year after year I have had some of the best individuals clamor for success. They have worked industriously to achieve grades indicating a certain level of success attained. I have seen students balance the many demands of a “successful” high school life: work, sports, clubs, theatre, dance, math school, friends, family, health, SAT prep, college prep. In doing so, I have also seen students become unbalanced as individuals.
On the surface, many of my students can be the nation’s future leaders. They are altruistic, they volunteer, they are fun, industrious, empathic, goal-oriented, ambitious, and they excel at athletics, music, mock-trial, debates, chess, math and many club endeavors. Unfortunately, at far too many points in the year, many of the students that I see also happen to be miserable. Over the last three years, graduation speeches contained the theme of “finding happiness” in college because it was certainly not attained during high school. This was a disturbing trend.
Photo by Nina Matthews via Flickr
As a result, around three years ago, I developed a new curriculum I called the “Love Course.” Its purpose has been to study love in its many forms (the Greeks determined that there were many different types and names for love) by using a variety of sub-disciplines including philosophy, religion, political science, sociology, positive and behavior psychology, anthropology, neuroscience, etc. The task of this course has been to present ancient cultural wisdoms coupled with the latest discoveries in the modern sciences to address issues concerning love in our contemporary lives. It has also, in part, been organized around a set of issues that relate to personal and public life so that we can build environments that bend our lives toward happiness, and to help students become the kinds of people they truly want to be.
The class focuses on personal happiness, good relationships, how to flourish with others, friendship, marriage, the love of the environment, altruism, agapic love, and “random acts of kindness.” Getting clear about these matters and figuring out what’s good and bad, right and wrong, won’t provide the means to attain a financial windfall, but will enrich our lives. Throughout the course we place emphasis on life application of the ideas we explore. The course is not merely about information but it is also about transformation.
The importance of this course is best summed up by Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Spreading love, kindness, happiness and altruism will go a long way to promote the changes we all wish to see in the world. And, as I remind my students, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” (George Eliot)
- Purdue University’s ”Compliment Guys” give free compliments on campus every Wednesday afternoon.
Students have reported that in small ways, they have transformed themselves, their friends, and the school around them. They perform random acts of kindness, like greeting their peers in the morning with sincere compliments similar to the “Compliment Guys” at Purdue University, engage in laugh yoga sessions, and promote activities and projects to make the school a more loving place. But more importantly, the course helps students find a healthy balance between the Darwinian struggle for college acceptance and finding enjoyment in living in the present.
I am proud of the work we do together, and continue to hope that students redefine “success” to include happiness, fulfillment, being ethical, decent, productive, independent, resilient and self reliant but also caring, compassionate, confident, curious, creative, being a critical thinker, and a good communicator. The “Love Course” does what a famous song enjoins: “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. What the world needs now is love, sweet love, No not just for some but for everyone.”
By Stephen Banno, a social studies teacher in a public high school outside of Boston, Massachusetts.