Don’t Worry, Be Happy -- But Competent Too

By Kevin Bushweller — October 30, 2006 1 min read
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A few posts ago, Set Them Free, I basically said that students who are happier are more likely to work hard in school.

Well, now it’s time to punch a hole in my happy thoughts. At least when it comes to math.

Last month, a new report by the Brookings Institution concluded that the so-called “happiness factor” in math may be inversely related to performance in that subject. The report found that in countries where students express high levels of math confidence and enjoyment (i.e. they are happing when doing math, unlike most of us), they tend to score below average on international assessments compared with their peers around the world who are not quite as happy.

“I’m not trying to say we should go out and destroy kids’ confidence,” Tom Loveless, the author of the report, told Education Week. “What’s clear from these findings is happiness is not everything. Our national obsession with student happiness over academic content may, in fact, be hurting our children when considered in an international context.”

That’s a great point, especially for the author of this blog, and others who tout the potential educational benefits of happiness. The last thing we need is a nation of happy but incompetenent citizens.

But one report will not transform my thinking on this topic. Happiness still matters. But it must be happiness within the context of competence. Otherwise, it’s just ignorant bliss.

What do you think? What effect, if any, does happiness have on student achievement?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Motivation Matters blog.