Rethinking Prosperity

Yesterday I was quite moved by John Converse Townsend’s article, Why Playful Learning is the Key to Prosperity in Forbes. I was moved not because I am proud to say I work for Playworks, an organization highlighted in the piece, but more so because it speaks to the greater context of what “prosperity” could mean.

It is easy to fall into a single track notion of of the term prosperity. Good old Webster defines it as: “the condition of being successful or thriving; especially :  economic well-being” We hear this word a lot in regards to money, the economy, riches, etc. Culturally, one is most successful when they realize greater prosperity. The nation is in good financial health when our communities can realize prosperity. Because it is the common goal, there is a movement that prosperity begins with education and if we can tie academic curriculum and content to the demands of the marketplace then everyone, businesses and individuals, can recognize prosperity.  That all sounds great and straightforward, but what Townsend’s article made me think about was the singularity of such argument as it is tied purely to academic curriculum and content and less focused on the more robust definition of prosperity, which is to “thrive.”

Townsend states in his opening paragraph: “we need to re-train our workforce to do what machines can’t: to be enterprising, independent and strategic thinkers—to be purposeful creators.” When we allow for open exploration, play, creative thinking, and engagement in the educational sphere, we are able to rethink about the way in which prosperity can be achieved by looking holistically at child development and healthy adults. Furthermore, we begin to really think about how schools and communities can be designed and who the partners are that can nurture not just students who memorize academic rigor to perform well on standardized tests, but rather students who who are empowered to push the envelope, create, innovate and grow socially and emotionally. For a thriving adult is not just one who has the academic know-how to interact with technology and math, but also the social skills of teamwork, creativity, collaboration, empathy and compassion that make them great employees. A well-rounded child who is growing in all areas will make tremendous adults and be prosperous not necessarily because they are financially rich…but rather find prosperity because they are cognitively and emotionally rich. 

Prosperity as an output or result then does not just start with education, it starts with how children develop in the educational setting. It starts with schools that meet the emotional, social, physical needs of child development in parallel with academics. It starts, by creating schools where kids are treated less as innate machines that need to be programmed, but rather as authentic partners in the educational process. It starts, as Townsend, professes by empowering children to find personal prosperity; Equipping young people with prosocial skills, creative thinking and the fearless to explore.


Jill Vialet touches on this theme of rethink the school in her TEDxABQ speech entitled: What Play Can Teach Us





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