The Science of Happiness/The Feel-Good Curriculum/Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People...(Book Review)

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THE SCIENCE OF HAPPINESS/THE FEEL-GOOD CURRICULUM/ UNSPEAKABLE ACTS, ORDINARY PEOPLE... (BOOK REVIEW)

In The Science Of Happiness: Unlocking The Mysteries Of Mood (Wiley, 2000), science writer Stephen Braun argues that even "normal" people may soon rely on new drugs to subtly sculpt their mood and personality, and enhance their overall capacity for happiness. Will this turn us into a nation of extremely happy but useless twits? Stay tuned.

American education is prone to fads that come and go without much impact. But Maureen Stout, Ph.D., assistant professor of Educational Leadership at California State University in Northridge, says the self-esteem movement, one of the most widely implemented experiments in American education, has had a devastating effect on students. In The Feel-Good Curriculum: The Dumbing-Down Of America's Kids In The Name Of Self-Esteem (Perseus, 2000), she argues that the preoccupation with how students feel about themselves has turned schools into clinics and teachers into counselors, and created children and young adults who are self-absorbed, arrogant and ignorant.

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What sort of people torture others? John Conroy, a journalist known for his Belfast Diary, on the troubles of the Irish, attempts to answer this question in Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics Of Torture (Knopf, 2000). Conroy examines well-documented cases of torture that occurred in Ireland, the United States and Israel. Like others before him, he concludes that most torturers are normal people--many of whom could play the victim of their dreams as easily as the barbarian. The book Witness: Voices From The Holocaust (Free Press, 2000), edited by educational film producers Joshua Greene and Shiva Kumar, presents testimonies of victims themselves, which support Conroy's point.

How, in such a fast-paced world, do we prepare young people for work? Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., and Barbara Schneider, Ph.D., explore this question in Becoming Adult: How Teenagers Prepare for the World of Work (Basic Books, 2000). Surveying thousands of high-school students, the authors found a disturbing amount of wishful thinking: 15% want to become professional athletes, for example, and 10% expect to become physicians. Plainly, we need to get better, and quickly, at preparing our children for what's to come--if only we can figure out what that is.

Children who witness traumatic events, such as fires, airplane crashes and violence, often suffer long after the event, sometimes more intensely than the victims themselves. What can you do to help children who have seen something had happen? A little book written by Margaret Holmes and illustrated by Cary Pillo may help. Intended for children age 4 to 8, A Terrible Thing Happened (Magination Press, 2000) depicts a likeable-looking raccoon named Sherman who "saw the most terrible thing." The book never reveals what Sherman saw, but it doesn't matter; it tells how Sherman had trouble sleeping, lost his appetite, had nightmares and treated others meanly--all things real children often do after witnessing traumatic events. An afterword by Sasha Mudlaff, M.A., a professional grief counselor, provides additional tips for parents.

Adapted by Ph.D.

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