learning vs achievement
and the happiness factor

1. The act of accomplishing or finishing.
2. Something accomplished successfully, especially by means of exertion, skill, practice, or perseverance

1. The act, process, or experience of gaining knowledge or skill.
2. Knowledge or skill gained through schooling or study.

Learning and achievement are not at all the same thing, although one can lead to the other. In focusing on the goal of achievement and not the process of learning, education reformers are putting the cart before the horse. You can’t have high achievement without engaged learning. Yet, I see little attention being paid to changing and improving the way that learning (and, therefore, teaching) is put into process in schools.

A focus on the goals of competition and achievement, while great for trying to encourage success and ensure statistical accountability, is stressful and not very enjoyable for the learners themselves, as the people of China are discovering.

One obstacle to happiness in China, Peng said, is the intense culture of competition: “When you have that many people all fighting to achieve the same narrowly defined goals, it becomes a zero-sum game,” he said. “That’s why we need to change the paradigm of what success means and come together for the greater good of Chinese society,” Peng added. “That’s why we need to talk about the science of happiness.”

People seem to be happiest when they are involved in the process doing something that they enjoy doing.


a : a state of well-being and contentment : joy b : a pleasurable or satisfying experience

Most Americans interested in educational reform, including President Obama in his State of the Union address (who looks to China as an example of successful education), focus on raising achievement levels — not a bad ultimate goal. But what no one is grappling with is how to make the process of learning (which is the process one needs to go through before one can demonstrate a high level of achievement) something that students will enjoy (and, therefore, happily and willingly engage in).

If there were a way to replicate, in a classroom, how my homeschooled grandson is learning, more kids would find themselves happy to be engaged in learning, in discovering, in experimenting, in questioning, in hypothesizing — in learning how to enjoy the process of learning and how to apply that learning in meaningful ways.

He is eight-and-a-half years old, and he is not expected to sit doing a task for more than 15 minutes at a time. He rarely does worksheets and learns math and science through a variety of games and projects that involve both. (The internet is overflowing with resources.)

As an example of making learning enjoyable, I quote here from his mom’s recent blogpost about their latest learning adventure. You can read the whole post, with photos, here.

We’ve begun the Age of Exploration! Daring adventures, wrong directions, pirates, new lands! Originally I intended to launch more in depth into the Middle Ages this year. But as we completed the Revolutionary War and pulled out the books/stories/maps for the Middle Ages, it felt — wrong. Our Revolutionary War unit had so much to do and make, and suddenly, what I had next began with reading — not that we didn’t have that before as well, but all of a sudden, the work was different. It felt like — work. So I returned to what I did at the beginning of our year. I looked to the student and dared to ask, “Is this interesting to you? Do you WANT to learn about the middle ages right now?” His tepid reaction pretty much said it all. So I jumped online to look at something that had caught my eye before. The Time Travelers History Studies. The New World Explorers activity pack. Chock full of coloring, cutting, cooking, science, creating — making journals, mapping, lapbooking all while learning about explorers, myths and legends, early navigation, and more.


As a home/school, our home is one big classroom, with world maps hung up in the living room (along with the usual kinds of wall decor). A separate small room holds floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with resource books, science experiments, a variety of learning tools — and, of course a desk. The family computer is in an alcove off the dining room, and he goes there to access Kizui as well as spelling and math learning programs. Every activity offers some kind of engaged and interdisciplinary learning — from a trip to the grocery store or a museum, to a walk in the woods. There’s also plenty of time for creative play as well as just plain running around outside.

It’s not as though no one concerned with education is trying to figure out how to revolutionize the learning process so that kids are happy to go to school. Unfortunately, though, it’s not the people who have the power to enable and make the changes. School administrators and teachers seem to be more concerned with everything about the educational system BUT exploring ways to make learning a more happy and engaging process for students.

But,over at Mind/Shift: How we all learn, for example, there’s a recent piece: Learning Happens Everywhere in the Future School Day that pretty much explains how

Students will be able to choose to engage in their learning through physical interactions with each other and their guides (teachers) while the VL [Virtual Learning] system is always available to experience learning in ways not possible, not affordable, or that are unsafe in the physical world.

The article ends with this (emphases mine):

Over the past decade (since 2010) there has been much debate about online learning and whether physical schools will exist in the future. Most thought leaders have concluded that physical school remains vital to a successful education but their design and layout has changed significantly to support a grade-less organization with experts – teachers as guides, coaches, and mentors – along with their students. As well, the best of home- and un-schooling are fully incorporated. The school campus is a support system and home base for learners and their guides (teachers, parents, community members). But, students are not required to physically be in school on a rigid schedule. They learn at home, on family vacation, and at their physical school. Virtual Learning is seamlessly available to connect students to each other, to their learning guides, to experiential learning, to content, and to other mentors and learners around the world.

“Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man”. Thus goes the Jesuit saying, but of course it is true of all education. What we sow in childhood, we reap in adulthood.

If we want adults who can think, analyze, deduce — who can imagine, create, implement — who seek the truth and use it well — then we need schools, pre-K through high school, that give students of all ages chances to practice learning-as-fun.

How we ensure that all of these students are given access to the actual historical and scientific facts from which they can build their learning experiences has become another worrisome major challenge.

I am a New York State certified teacher, but, these days, I sure am glad that my grandson is being homeschooled.

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