Altruism in schools

Why Altruism should be a core part of the curriculum

Altruism in schools

An ideal school would incorporate elements of positive education into the curriculum through altruism and opportunities to volunteer in the community. There are numerous critics to the idea of positive education. Eccleston, 2009 (cited in Paton, 2009, No Page) voices concern that positive education can lead to a ‘dependence on external emotional support’ while Spencer and Short (2007, cited in Selligman, Ernst, Gillham, Reivich and Linkins, 2009, p295) assert that there is ‘a lack of empirical evidence for most programmes’ and Norrish, Williams, O’Connor and Robinson (2013) argue that more research is needed. However, it seems that many of the initial criticisms of positive education are more concerned with the idea of teaching happiness (Furedi, 2006), and derive from an opinion that schools should ‘focus on academic things’ (Paton, 2009, No Page). Bottery’s (1990, p. 13) social reconstruction model suggests schools should ‘reform society through education’, which puts the remit of education well beyond the confines of academia. The argument regarding happiness is also simplistic, as positive psychology attempts to split up happiness into three parts, where the traditional ideas of happiness would be referred to as ‘hedonistic’ (Seligman et al. 2009), which contrasts with the additional realms of ‘flow’ and ‘meaningful life’, which are more measurable. The ’flow’ focuses on being able to use personal strengths and the ‘meaningful life’ realm focuses more on fulfilment through charity and ‘giving back’. This is seen as a key to developing happiness and is supported by Waldinger (2015), who carried out a long-term study showing that fulfilment comes through connections with a community. Given that these methods of gaining this deeper meaning of happiness have solid evidence supporting them and that implementing ‘giving back’ to the community into a school curriculum would satisfy White’s (2007) assertion that a broad curriculum should include elements of altruism to develop personal fulfilment, this is an area that we should focus on in an ideal school. Both the Geelong Grammar School and the International Baccalaureate programme implement altruism in their curricula (Norrish, 2013; IBO, 2014), to gain a sense of self and a feeling of responsibility in their community. It seems, therefore, that with such support, a positive education based on altruism would be an invaluable addition to the curriculum of an ideal school.

This text was first produced as a section of coursework for a PGCE course.


Bottery, M. (1990) The morality of the school: the theory and practice of values in education, London:Cassell.

Furedi, F. (2006) Be afraid. Here come the happiness police [online]. The Independent. Available at: [Accessed 31/08/16].

IBO, (2014) MYP: From principles into practice, Geneva: IB Foundation.

Norrish, J. M., Williams, P., O’Connor, M., and Robinson, J. (2013) An applied framework for positive education. International Journal of Wellbeing, 3(2), 147-161.

Paton, G., (2009) Children Left ‘vulnerable’ by therapy culture . The Telegraph[online]. Available at: [Accessed 31 August, 2016].

Seligman, M., Ernst, R., Gilham, J., Reivich, K. and Linkins, M. (2009) Positive Education: Psychology and Classroom Interventions. Oxford Review of Education 35(3) pp. 293-311.

Waldinger, R. (2015) What makes a good life?, Ted Talks [Online], Available at: [Accessed 31 August, 2016]

White, J. (2007) What schools are for and why. London: Philosophy of education society of Great Britain.

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