By Linda Pryor, Executive Director, The Center for Mission & Academics
Aristotle asserted that the purpose of life is to maximize, as much as possible, human happiness. His view of human happiness was not based on wealth, beauty, or popularity. He viewed happiness as living well, being your best, contributing in a positive way.
On their own, young people may not often recognize these latter goals as the path toward happiness. The messages presented constantly by their surrounding environment - social media, pop culture, peers, consumerism - often overemphasize the value of wealth, beauty and popularity and can be confusing and even depressing at times. They may seem inviting and bring a sort of happy feeling for a while – but it is not lasting, not deep, not real. The most important question is how can we help young people come to understand the path to real happiness…the happiness Aristotle spoke of centuries ago.
Bill Smeeth, one of Brookfield Academy’s founders, recognized the need to provide young people with guideposts – positive messages that can lead them, over time, to the kind of happiness Aristotle often wrote about to his own son. Smeeth and his colleagues called these messages the Five Stars. They are Truth, Character, Intellect, Individuality, and Heritage. Each one holds a great deal of wisdom and cannot be explained to a child in one sitting… they must be shared often, defined repeatedly, and most importantly, modeled.
Telling students about the Five Stars and pasting them around the classroom is a good start but never enough. With each new group we need to make these stars come to life in their world…connect them to all their lessons through daily assembly, history, literature, economics, recess, sports, the arts, everything. Sharing examples of our nation’s leaders living these values as we did recently highlighting George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King. When we see them being lived well in the world, we must point them out and celebrate.
And finally, we must ask students to share what they have internalized about these Five Stars. While parents and staff will never stop talking about the Five Stars, it is important to let students present their thoughts, listen closely to the ideas formulated, and further encourage our scholars to think.
- “The Star of Truth helps you learn your rights and wrongs. When Mr. Raney and Ms. Schwartz talk to us at assembly, they give us truths so we get to learn them.” - Teagan Tomchek, Level 3
- “Character means you can do anything nice and no one has to see you do it. When I think of Character, I think of God because He does nice things when people aren’t watching.” - Sophia File, Level 3
- “For me, Intellect is important because I like to learn more about math and reading. Learning more about math helps me refresh my memory and connect what I am learning. The Star of Intellect helps me when I am faced with a difficult test. When I think about intellect, I know I have to work hard to become a better learner.” - Kirtan Pansheriya, Level 5
- The Star of Individuality is about people being different and you don’t have to be the same all the time and it's good to be different. If we were all the same then life would be boring.” - Harper Spaeth, Level 4
- “The Star of Heritage means history, your country’s history, and your family’s history. Heritage gives us the desire to learn so much and learn from our mistakes. Looking at your past helps you in your future studies. Heritage teaches us to love our history and what we can learn from it. Martin Luther King valued his heritage and didn’t want his future to experience the same as he did. His work helped to create a happy America.” - Mohul Narayan, Level 5
Helping young scholars find happiness in knowledge…acts of kindness…integrity…the Golden Rule…absolutes…positivity, and the like…is as deeply ingrained in our mission as it was a goal of Aristotle!