Character Strengths, Well-being in education

Character strength of the day: love in education


What has love got to do with education? Surely, education is all about ‘efficiency’, about ‘what works’ about achieving skills and knowledge? ‘Love’ has nothing to do with it! Only trendy, lefty progressives speak about soft things like ‘love’ in the context of education.

Well, one such ‘trendy, lefty progressive’ was the eminent professor of anatomy and anthropologist Raymond Dart. I first came across Dart on my 1st year physical anthropology reading list at Cambridge University. He discovered and named our hominid ancestor, Australopithecus.  More recently, I have re-discovered him as an advocate and enthusiast for the Alexander Technique, an embodied contemplative practice and educational philosophy I have spent 3 years learning to practice and teach. And according to Dart, love has everything to do with education.

Discussing the acquisition of skills and knowledge in education, Dart wrote in his 1934 lecture, The Significance of Skill, that ‘only love can evoke intelligent concentration on the nature of the movement involved and the will or determination to remember those movements,’ (1934) and he went onto say, ‘Unless our educational methods arouse, maintain and increase enthusiasm, they are worse than useless. They destroy instead of construct,’.

So, for Dart, love is an essential emotion, producing the necessary attention to enable us to learn, ‘Such attention is the outcome only of desire or love of the work,’.

If pupils need ‘love or desire’ to learn, it follows that teachers need to love their subjects in order to teach, to transmit that enthusiasm for learning that will excite young learners and stay with them for the rest of their lives, long after the details or facts that they learned have been forgotten. Sadly, teachers too often work, in the UK and elsewhere in the world, in an atmosphere of fear, mistrust and externally imposed targets and measures. I do not see that as an atmosphere in which love – or any other virtue come to that – can thrive.

Does fear produce good learning? Personally I doubt it. Love produces good learning, love and enjoyment and delight – all those fluffy terms that politicians are so rude about. In my opinion, considering the importance of love in education is not fluffy – it does not mean sacrificing excellence; it is fundamental to the achievement of excellence in any sphere.

wlove frodingham


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