Well-being and Humanities Education in Singapore , pp. 8 of 11

These dispositions or strengths are fundamental to the Humanities and can be developed in Humanities classrooms. For example, we can do a great deal to stimulate and encourage students’ sense of curiosity and wonder about the past, places, culture, and the social world. We can do more to encourage them to ask questions that are most meaningful and interesting to them and to take ownership of their own learning by being allowed to pursue these questions, find their own information sources, and explore different analyses and interpretations rather than those provided by their textbooks or teachers. We can envision PERMA classrooms where there are opportunities for students to experience joy and happiness in their learning, explore sources of inspiration and awe in their culture, and collaboratively engage in tasks they find intrinsically motivating and meaningful to them (rather than done for exam results). They can develop a sense of accomplishment by actually creating or doing something that has value outside of the classroom or that is highly meaningful to them as young people. Humanities inquiry in classrooms can provide many opportunities for students to develop the signature strengths that promote individual and collective well-being. 

We might also consider the “negative approach” to well-being as providing other features to guide Humanities education. As Humanities educators, we can design learning experiences that are deeply engaging for students, that allow students to use their senses, observe carefully, and work things out for themselves. We need to consider how we can immerse students in social experience as forms of disciplinary experience (Dewey, 1902). This means not too quickly imposing disciplinary concepts, labels, classifications, or categories that will pre-define these experiences for students, but letting students have experience first with an opportunity to use their own sense-making capacities. Then they can be guided to try Humanities lenses (e.g., disciplinary concepts, frameworks, methods, etc.) and other perspectives to support their sense-making.

A negative approach also helps provide a more balanced, realistic study of the human condition, warts and all. Humanities education must examine the struggles, failures, and tragedy that are part of the human condition. This includes critical examination of the hubris, the misguided and often self-destructive goals set by individuals and societies, and the violent impulses that have characterized so much of human history and culture and continue to do so. Humanities education can help students understand and address the issues that confront both social and individual well-being today, such as climate change and environmental degradation, poverty and inequality, war and violence, and human trafficking. They can see that like individuals, societies can either possess or lack the signature strengths that make for strong societies.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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