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Don't Worry, Be Happy -- But Competent Too


A few posts ago, Set Them Free, I basically said that students who are happier are more likely to work hard in school.

Well, now it's time to punch a hole in my happy thoughts. At least when it comes to math.

Last month, a new report by the Brookings Institution concluded that the so-called "happiness factor" in math may be inversely related to performance in that subject. The report found that in countries where students express high levels of math confidence and enjoyment (i.e. they are happing when doing math, unlike most of us), they tend to score below average on international assessments compared with their peers around the world who are not quite as happy.

“I’m not trying to say we should go out and destroy kids’ confidence,” Tom Loveless, the author of the report, told Education Week. “What’s clear from these findings is happiness is not everything. Our national obsession with student happiness over academic content may, in fact, be hurting our children when considered in an international context.”

That's a great point, especially for the author of this blog, and others who tout the potential educational benefits of happiness. The last thing we need is a nation of happy but incompetenent citizens.

But one report will not transform my thinking on this topic. Happiness still matters. But it must be happiness within the context of competence. Otherwise, it's just ignorant bliss.

What do you think? What effect, if any, does happiness have on student achievement?


I teach middle school Special Ed. Most of my students think that they only come to school on Friday for fun. Happiness is a personal reasponsibility. It is not up to the teacher to fix everything and make it all good. We can't. I truly believe that these "right now,no personal reasponsibility", kids need to be taught that work is the key to success and it isn't all fun. I'm tired of buying prizes and searching for the perfect fun, interesting, relevant, connected, educational movie, to show while I do another stupid test. A test that will do nothing but take time out of the teaching time. How about we tell them that they are reasponsible for their lives, and their education. We teach but they,m the students, need to make an effort.

This study is of ridiculously little value. The author claims to be doing research, but does nothing to consider what those of us that do real research call concommitent causes. How did this author in any way account for the multitude of cultural differences between the student in the different countries?

The author, by his reference to, "national obsession with student happiness over academic content" is showing his prejudice. I see no evidence given for such a, "national obsession". Perhaps the only obsession her is an obsessive fear of the author's that learning be enjoyable to students and not painful, an unfortunate relic of the Puritan Ethic.

It is also surprising to me that although conservatives seem to be very quick to discount any education study that is not double blind, they have no compunction about publishing their own.

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Recent Comments

  • ken: This study is of ridiculously little value. The author claims read more
  • Anonymous: I teach middle school Special Ed. Most of my students read more




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