Frank Furedi

Professor of Sociology at University of Kent, and author of Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?, Therapy Culture, Paranoid Parenting and Culture of Fear.

We need teachers, not amateur therapists
Schools have no business teaching children how to be ‘happy’.

It was revealed at the weekend that some British state schools will pilot ‘happiness lessons’ for 11-year-olds, using cognitive therapy techniques and role play to tackle depression and negative thinking among the nation’s children. This is more likely to harm children than help them.

In recent years it has become fashionable to try to tackle the crisis facing the classroom through a variety of gimmicks that have nothing to do with education. Some earnest educationalists claim that classroom behaviour would significantly improve if children had regular access to drinking water; others hope that good nutritious school meals can do the trick. They seem to believe that if children stop munching cheeseburgers and opt for healthy alternatives then their concentration and attentiveness will improve.

It’s not just food and water. A variety of new-age gimmicks are used to help students relax and unwind. Aromatherapy, yoga and ‘chill out’ music are used in some schools to create an atmosphere that educationalists hope will prove conducive to learning.

Now the therapeutic turn in education has gone a step further with the development of happiness lessons. A well-known US psychologist, Professor Martin Seligman, will be brought over to train British teachers in the art of making children happy.

This attempt to manage the emotional life of schoolkids is bad news. It provides educationalists with yet another diversion from confronting the low standards of British education. Anti-depression classes will simply distract youngsters from learning useful subjects.

And instead of teaching children to be happy, it will encourage them to become more self-oriented. Happiness classes will teach kids to talk the therapeutic talk – and I predict that its consequence will be a significant rise in the number of children who will describe themselves as stressed-out and traumatised.

First published on spiked, 11 July 2006