happy childhood

“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence” - Aristotle

When I speak with other people who share the unique experience of having gone to a democratic free school, what we end up talking about is not howit prepared us for success in adulthood - we take that as a given - but how grateful we are to have had such an idyllic, happy childhood; that we were free to spend every day doing just what we wanted.  People in the worlds of unschooling and progressive education spend a great deal of time arguing that these alternatives do an even better job preparing children for success than traditional education.  This has, of course, been necessary in order to legitimize these alternative movements within the mainstream.  But it leaves intact the basic assumption that childhood is merely a means to an end, that the purpose of childhood is to prepare for adulthood.  But childhood, just like all of life, is to be lived fully and enjoyed. Erich Fromm has said that in order for schools such as A. S. Neill's Summerhill School to take root in the United States, parents would have to start caring more about their children's happiness than about their success.  This strikes me, even today, as a radical defense of happiness.  I do not believe that success in adulthood can ever redeem a miserable childhood nor is there any reason to think that the ability to submit to authority and conform to a coercive educational system is likely to contribute to future happiness.  When children are trained to tolerate restrictions on their freedom and taught to restrain their creativity and curiosity for some future payoff, it is more likely that this pattern will simply continue to repeat itself throughout their life.  They have been taught that life is about tolerating low-grade suffering and accepting a restricted range of their full human powers.  When children become accustomed to happiness early on, however, they are likely to have a very high standard for happiness later in life and they will also be more inclined to take responsibility for their own happiness.