Shirley, D., Wortham, S., & Kim, D. (2020). The Quest for a Purpose to Encompass the Highest Moral Values: Introduction to the Special Issue. ECNU Review of Education, 3(3), 399-405.
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After decades of focusing narrowly on measuring students’ academic attainment in literacy, mathematics, and science, educational systems have recently shifted their attention to the domain of student well-being. Even the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), source of the Programme in International Student Assessment (PISA) tests that focused worldwide attention on comparative achievement data, began in 2016 to publish comprehensive league tables of student well-being. Since then, nations, think tanks, and school systems have focused more and more on well-being.
For most educators, this recognition that learning involves more than mastery of narrow academic content is long-overdue. Educators have seen that our young people suffer from rising rates of anxiety, depression, and a lack of purpose, and they generally welcome the newfound though belated recognition among policymakers that well-being matters. Educators are enthusiastically endorsing new strategies to improve student well-being in their classrooms and schools. Indeed, any system that neglects student well-being is increasingly seen as deficient in contemporary educational debates. Rather than displacing this movement, the current coronavirus epidemic is in many ways accelerating policymakers’ and educators’ focus on student well-being.
But is all of the attention to well-being properly informed by educational research? Scholars have documented the large, heterogeneous set of approaches to well-being that are now being advocated (Ecological Approaches to Social Emotional Learning Laboratory, n.d.; Wortham et al., 2020). If we do not attend carefully to the many differences among proliferating approaches to well-being, could this well-intentioned effort suffer the same fate as the ill-advised “self-esteem movement” or the push toward “emotional intelligence,” which came to be seen as overly focused on fleeting emotional states of the individual, at the expense of a concern for the long-term flourishing of all?
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