Creating Joy in Education

"There is no more delightfully serious function in life and in business that to create joy."

William McDonough

in The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability - Designing for Abundance


What a great mantra for life: create joy. I love the language that William McDonough uses. The phrase 'delightfully serious' gets at the fact that something doesn't have to be boring or unenjoyable to be serious, and that goofy or fun things can have a serious side as well. 

The idea of creating joy also makes me think about the work I do as a tutor. My job sometimes involves creating joy, but more often than not, it is mostly mitigating frustration. The high demands placed on students means the focus is often on getting work done rather than enjoying it or really learning it. Hard work can lead to joy, but not when it seems pointless. What I often see in students is relief that the assignment/quiz/test/exam is over, not joy that they've accomplished something. 

There are occasions where I can really spark a students curiosity, explore a new concept/idea and truly create some joy. But this is the exception as 'fun stuff' gets thrown aside when any time-sensitive or high pressure requirement comes up. It is frustrating to feel shackled by the education system and to see students robbed of the opportunity to derive some pleasure from their education. 

This leads me to think about our current education system, and how we can change or redesign it to create more joy. I think that activities that have an element of joy will always lead to better learning outcomes. Even if the student doesn't explicitly learn anything, at least they enjoyed the experience, and I bet they did learn something, though that something might be more difficult to define than 'how to take an integral.'

The idea that there are certain skills and knowledge you must possess to be a functional citizen is a good one, but though our current system supposedly tries to teach those skills, I think it fails dramatically. I don't think that most people remember most of what they learned in elementary and high school. You probably learn some math, how to write and form an argument, and whatever specific things you are particularly interested in. But most of all, you learn to work. To receive assignments, complete them and be evaluated on them. Not a very joyous activity. 

If the current system is not accomplishing its stated goals, let's change it. If a boring model is not getting the job done, let's try an exciting and fun one. What's the worst that happens? Even if it fails to educate students (like the current system) the side effect is that you may have created an extraordinary amount of joy.