Radio 4’s Midweek programme this week introduced Sir Anthony Seldon as “an experienced headmaster, writer and happiness guru”, which seems a tad flimsy given that Seldon, as headmaster of Wellington College, is a long serving and highly regarded head of one of England’s most prestigious (and expensive) schools, who is also a strong advocate of holistic education and learning beyond the academic. As for “happiness” – the programme’s presenter was later to say that Sir Anthony’s real concern is with wellbeing as a whole, and not simply “happiness”.
In Seldon’s own words, “Wellbeing enables people to look after themselves, and to live better and happier lives.”
He went on to say it took him many years to gain a proper understanding of himself and of his true purpose in life, and said his own schooling had given him no real understanding of himself or where his life needed to go. He now believes we all need to find our own stillness and wholeness, and he’s an advocate of mindfulness, meditation and yoga.
“I was over 30 before I began to discover my own “song”. I then realised I had a strong sense of wanting to help young people to find out who they are and what they want to do with their lives.”
“Schools are not doing a good enough job at the moment. Schools are playing a cruel trick on children and their parents – saying if you’re not very good at passing exams you’re not worth very much. Exams are the only way that schools are now ‘validated’ by many governments across the world.”
“Prof Howard Gardner of Harvard University urges us not to ask how intelligent a child is, but to ask ‘HOW is this child intelligent?’ Every child on earth is intelligent in different ways.”
“All young people need to discover their unique qualities. Many young people have no sense of who they are, or they’re afraid to express who they are. They need to develop a sense of self worth.”
“Doing things for other people is the best way to find out who we really are. Joy and happiness come from a sense of harmony with others.”
“We need to listen to children more often. They’re often wiser than adults.”
“We need much more music in schools. Every child has music inside. Children need to be creative.”
Sir Anthony Seldon speaks and writes about education with a conviction that’s the product of many years running a school where parents demand very high standards and expect a type of education that produces rounded, confident, creative individuals for whom passing exams is only one aspect of their development as human beings. His willingness to make regular public statements on the negative impact of too many high stakes examinations is to be applauded within a political climate where many others prefer to keep their heads well down below the parapet.
We’d ask every parent and teacher to reflect on this comment: “Schools are playing a cruel trick on children and their parents – saying if you’re not very good at passing exams you’re not worth very much.”
Sir Anthony Seldon is the co-founder of Action For Happiness. His latest book is Beyond Happiness: The Trap of Happiness and How to find Deeper Meaning and Joy, published by Hodder & Stoughton.
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