A Hedonist Education
The Education Shitshow of Today
Education is a creative process that is always centered around achieving some desired result from the students. It can be focused on creating anything from soldiers to monks, citizens to workers, and even more teachers. At present, the blunders of the education system can be blamed on its often (but not always) unspoken premise of creating people who are ready to work a job—not in the sense that they will have the skills to work said job, so much as the ability to follow directions and do so punctually. Modern schooling is mostly about creating human robots to perform economic functions.
Arguably the silliest problem is that this system doesn’t even really serve its own purpose anymore. Anyone who has watched a five-minute video about automation knows that figurative human robots are significantly less capable at robot-esqe tasks than literal robot robots. With artificial intelligence taking the place of humans for many economic functions, we don’t really know what the job market of the future looks like. Thus, preparing kids for the job market of the future is an unclear task at best and a counterproductive task at worst.
Just about everybody from Prince Ea to Sal Khan has talked about how modern classrooms were designed to help students become obedient and efficient factory workers, and how the rise of automation is making this model of education obsolete. This is only news to you if you are the real world equivalent of Miss Trunchbull in Matilda or Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter. Considering that educating overbearing authority figures about these issues isn’t really our idea of a good time, we’d prefer to talk about what a better education system might look like.
Many people suggest that we should train kids to have the traits that are most likely to be needed in a mostly automated job market; things like creativity, resilience, and emotional intelligence. These are all good things, but if we don’t know what the job market of the future will look like, we should maybe try to make the education system solve for a different problem entirely.
As Real Hedonists, our ultimate goal is to create paradise on Earth and we work toward that goal by being devoted to pleasure. If we were to redesign education so that it had the same ultimate goal, we would be focused on helping students understand what it means to be devoted to pleasure. No matter what the job market of the future looks like, this will prepare them for a future where they are actually happy.
A Hedonist Education
The first step in designing a Hedonist education would be to make sure that consent is present at every level of interaction. There are many people who want the minimal sexual consent education that students get in health classes to be more effective. They want to expand the time spent talking about sexual consent and do role-playing exercises and bring in guest speakers, which is all well-intentioned but falls short.
It is pretty nonsensical to try to teach students about consent in the context of a class that they didn’t consent to.
If the purpose of traditional schooling is an attempt at preparing children for the real world—a world where they will be coerced or forced into activities that they’d rather not do for most of their waking hours—then today’s school is at least helping them have realistic expectations about their future.
But if we want to actually stop sexual assault and dismantle rape culture (and, you know, every other system of oppression) then we need to stop forcing children to do things that they don’t want to do.
With the goal of the current education system, suggesting that we don’t force children to do things that they don't want to do is tantamount to heresy. We are living in an era where administrators are dealing with bored kids by giving them objects to fiddle with and parents are putting their kids on attention focusing medication rather than imagining a new way of doing school that isn’t overwhelmingly boring. But as Hedonists, the new way isn’t so hard to imagine.
After we choose not to break the consent of children on a massive scale, we should focus on helping students understand themselves. This might look like a health class and an interpersonal relationships class put into overdrive, for the entirety of education. Children should grow up knowing how their bodies function. They should also understand what makes them happy and what upsets them. They should be given the opportunity to learn techniques of meta-cognition and meditation.
In this way, the Hedonist school might be something like a secular monastery.
Students would be given the tools to truly know themselves. In the same way that an education program focused on creating good citizens would teach students the ins and outs of how government works, an education program focused on creating actually happy people would teach students the ins and outs of what it means to be a human on this planet.
These tools might include some sort of journaling program, whereby students can report their moods and feelings in relation to their activities on a daily basis. They might be able to interact with other people’s journals in some way to get a better understanding of other people’s inner worlds as well. Imagine a Socratic seminar sort of setup but based around feelings and experiences rather than a book.
If we did group therapy from a young age, would we need it when we get older?
There could be classes on self-care and workshops on deep emotional work. We could do nature walks and morning meditations and weekly dance parties. All of it would center the feelings of the student and help them understand their ability to affect their own feelings. As meaningful work is often reported as an important piece of a happy life, and the job market of the future will likely be one characterized by constant change, encouraging curiosity should be one of the central methods by which a Hedonist education system creates happier people.
If there is one thing that a Hedonist education system and any modern education system should be able to agree on, it is that curiosity is good and we should do everything we can to grow it. Both Flow in positive psychology and Japanese Ikigai center meaningful work as a path to greater happiness and well-being, and we think that the role of a teacher should be to help students find their meaningful work.
This will require skills and systems that have been practiced for quite a while in Montessori schools and are being innovated in Lab schools. For instance, the ability to listen deeply to kids about what they want to be doing with their time and what they want to learn about. Children are born with an innate curiosity about the world. Anybody who has had to keep a two-year-old entertained knows this. They are constantly exploring their environment and asking questions. Instead of trying to teach them things that they find uninteresting, teachers should teach students about the things that they want to learn about.
Most of the skills people need for jobs, they have to learn on the job. So while the Hedonist method might not make a high school graduate immediately ready for a job, neither does, you know, regular high school. We might as well help kids follow their curiosity and give them skills to go deeper in their learning. In an ever-changing job market, the ability to effectively learn about things that interest you may be the most highly prized job skill of all.
Not only would this sort of teaching be more enjoyable and effective, it would set students up to leave school with a solid idea of what they would like to do with their time (something most high school and even many college graduates do not have). Educating students about how to be happy may seem idealistic, but educating them for a future that might not come sounds like something straight out of a dystopia.