With all the recent new books and articles on education, the most interesting was called to my attention by my fourteen-year-old granddaughter. She reported proudly that her school is one of nine in the country that has signed on to a program called the Positivity Project. “The short story is, it is focused on building relationships across the school.”
Describing more about it, she said that it is a movement to counter the rise in narcissism and decline of empathy in our society. It was surprising to hear a young person talking about narcissism, bringing back thoughts of Christophe Lasch’s “Culture of Narcissism,” published in the late ‘70’s. Lasch saw the rise of pathological narcissism in such qualities as the fascination with fame and celebrity and the transitory quality of personal relationships.
Now, schools are trying to address this phenomenon by focusing on building relationships, student to student and student to teacher to cultivate an “other people matter” mindset. My granddaughter informant explained that everyone has 24 character strengths ranging from creativity to leadership. Each week the focus is on a different one, the idea being to find your own and work on the weakest to become a better person.
Last week in school they talked about curiosity, watched a video and discussed what it meant to be curious. Curiosity accomplishes many things – especially promoting learning, a “cool concept, especially with everything going on in the world.” Apparently, this discussion takes place in one class with a particular teacher. According to the website, teachers are trained to implement this program and when a school signs on they receive many materials for the purpose.
Another thing I was told is that everyone is too focused on achievement while having relationships is the most important thing to achieve. The idea is for students to spread this message by talking about it to each other. Obviously, they are trying to build interest and my granddaughter’s interest was captivated enough for her to volunteer to man a booth promoting the project at a community event. The ability to capture the interest of young people is a significant plus for this project.
Searching through the website, it was interesting to note that part of the interest in the development of relationships is not only to promote “health, happiness and resilience,” but also because of a connection to jobs of the future. Research is cited predicting the skills that will be of highest demands in the future are persuasion, negotiation and group dynamics, that is human interaction and nurturing.
The focus appears to be an intent to shift the focus from competitive achievement to humanistic values. While a noble goal, it would seem to require a more social foundation if it is meant to counteract the lack of opportunity that prevails for a part of the population and the pressure that exits on parents and thus students for the limited opportunities that exist for others.
My granddaughter’s response is that it the Project is still too limited and the students are not yet that into it. Her view is that the most important thing is to talk about and promote it, to point up the values in the various character traits, which can help people appreciate each other. To the degree that the Project accomplishes the goal of helping young people become aware of each other’s differences in a positive way it will be a major achievement.
What came to mind was the old Johnny Mercer song:
“Accentuate the positive,
Eliminate the negative,
Latch on to the affirmative,
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between.”
Seems like a good message.