What If Schools Graded Character and Values as Much as Math and Reading?

Positive psychology is “more than a smiley face,” says psychologist and author Martin Seligman, Ph.D. “I’m trying to broaden the scope of positive psychology,” he adds, to include not just positive thinking but positive relationships, healthy living and the development of character.

Seligman joins entrepreneurs, educators and publishing executives, including SUCCESS magazine owner Stuart Johnson, for International Positive Education Network, or IPEN, which launched today. 

On IPEN’s site, ipositive-education.net, you can sign your name to the Manifesto for Positive Education, which aims to bring the tenets of positive education to classrooms worldwide. Several hours into its launch, IPEN tweeted that more than 250 people have already pledged their support.

“The current paradigm of education values academic attainment above all other goals,” says James O’Shaughnessy, a London-based education entrepreneur who chairs the IPEN steering committee. “We believe the DNA of education is a double helix of two intertwined strands—academics, and character and well-being, which complement one another and are mutually reinforcing.”

IPEN is part of a growing movement to expand education beyond academic achievement in standardized testing subjects such as math and language arts, and introduce character development and well-being as measures of a well-rounded student. 

Seligman writes about positive education in this June 2009 Oxford Review of Education report: “In two words or less, what do you most want for your children? If you are like the hundreds of parents I’ve asked, you responded, ‘Happiness,’ ‘Confidence,’ ‘Contentment’ and the like.

“In two words or less, what do schools teach? Parents responded, ‘Achievement,’ ‘Thinking Skills,’ ‘Success’ and the like. Notice that there is almost no overlap between the two lists,” Seligman says.

“The schooling of children has, for more than a century, been about accomplishment, the boulevard into the world of adult work. But imagine if schools could, without compromising either, teach both the skills of well-being and the skills of achievement. Imagine positive education.”

IPEN leaders say the three-step plan, outlined in the manifesto, aims to reform policy, change educational practice and offer support and collaboration for educators. The group wants to give educators the curriculum, teaching training and assessment tools to bring positive education in the classroom, as well as large-scale support outside the classroom, including an online learning community and biennial conferences to bring positive educators from around the world together.

As one supporter on Twitter, UK-based Action for Happiness, wrote in support for IPEN’s kickoff, “Schools should aim to help children flourish, not just pass exams. We’re delighted to support today’s @PosEdNet launch.”

Journalist, podcaster and southpaw Shelby Skrhak is the former director of digital content and social media for SUCCESS.com. Before joining SUCCESS magazine, Shelby launched the weekly suburban newspaper Plano Insider, and covered topics ranging from cops and courts to transportation and fashion. Her handwriting should be a font.

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