We’re in the middle of Black Friday madness. (And Christmas is looming.)
I’ve bought my fair share of Black Friday bargains which I didn’t need and didn’t really want; caught up in the hype, sucked in by the marketing and thinking I needed to have the latest of something.
But now I’m one of those people who looks at those Black Friday deals and thinks: is that something I’ve been planning on getting – done the thinking, researched the options, know the prices? If not, move on.
And this attitude has become so much more relevant with our growing concern about the environment and sustainability.
But it takes effort to maintain that approach when being bombarded with “great deals” and advertising from all angles which encourages excessive preoccupation with how you look and what you own.
And that has made me think about the pupils in our schools. Black Friday, and the materialistic values it promotes, can present challenges to young people’s well-being as they feel pressure to chase deals and acquire status.
Should we be equipping pupils to be able to make the choices that are right for them? To stand up against the message that you must have the latest or the best? To recognise the targeted advertising and marketing campaigns? To challenge the mantra that material goods make you happy? To balance the often conflicting messages about consumerism and sustainability?
I asked my daughter (now 22 but who has grown up alongside the explosion of the internet and social media).
“Yes, 100%” was her response. “I spent ages scared to act upon those things because it wasn’t spoken about. It’s so ingrained in our culture that we need the next best thing or the latest fashion; it’s really refreshing to have someone question that and say, “why do you need all of this though?”. Learning about all of this at school would have given me the confidence to talk about it with family and friends, to question my values, make positive changes and pursue a more eco-friendly lifestyle much sooner than I had done.”
So how can we do this? It is less about the subject matter we cover and more about the values and goals we nurture in our classrooms and schools. Global Action Plan, an environmental charity, has published Values to Transform Our World, which aims to enable teachers to support young people to be more resilient to an increasingly toxic culture of looks, likes, and shopping.
Goals to acquire more possessions and wealth don’t have a positive impact on our well-being; trying to find happiness through the things we own means we end up having and using far too much stuff; and our stuff is causing an awful lot of problems for the planet.
Black Friday is a good moment to introduce a values conversation in the school setting and explore a set of bigger-than-self values: helping others, having a close and supportive network of friends and family, being physically healthy. Goals for Good is a resource on Transform Our World (a new online hub full of free, practical resources for teachers) which draws from research into positive psychology and sustainability to help young people live happier, healthier, and more planet friendly lifestyles.
Nurturing a healthy set of values is a critical part of the solution to both improving our well-being and the environmental crises. The values that are held to be important by schools and colleges, where young people spend a lot of their time, play a very important role in shaping the development of the values they will prioritise throughout their lives.
We should embrace this opportunity to influence - what values do you want to encourage in your students and how will these values manifest themselves through behaviours that are recognised and rewarded in your school? In the long term, by choosing the values we want to nurture, we could have an impact not only on individual well-being, but the planet too.
Article by Sarah Hannafin, NAHT senior policy advisor
First published 29 November 2019