Instruction & Curriculum

Why is The Positivity Project Making My Kids So Negative?

Have you heard about the Positivity Project, sometimes referred to as “P2?” Maybe you have seen the hashtag:  #OtherPeopleMatter? Or possibly you have seen an adult or child wearing a green shirt or hat with the positivity project logo?
The Positivity Project, started by two West Point-trained military veterans, was not initially about schools, but it was the location for the launching of a program that now includes over 180 schools in 13 states. Their approach is, “Relationships are the cornerstone of health, happiness, and resilience. We equip schools with the training, strategy, and resources to inspire students to build positive relationships.” Teachers are trained in character traits and then use time every day to engage students with those concepts.  For instance, the months of September and October have included exploration of curiosity, open-mindedness, teamwork, integrity, perspective, and creativity.
The Positivity Project is about human decency, has no religious undertones, but definitely promotes wellness and community.  These are values that parents hope to instill in their children.  It is what we hope teachers model and promote. Children do need these values taught so that they can recognize good traits in others and develop their own inner core of behaviors.  More importantly, many of the promoted attributes are horribly absent in our culture today.
My two daughters are participating in their school district’s initial year of the Positivity Project.  Almost every afternoon for the past seven weeks, I have heard both of them grumble, complain, and declare the futility of the Positivity Project.
Why are my daughters so angry? Click To Tweet
Why are my daughters so angry?  The characteristics fostered in the activities are not foreign to either of them.  They have been shown models of words like integrity and curiosity at home.  Regardless of how much they may appreciate the sentiment, the persistent vibe from them is that the Positivity Project is a joke.
One reason for their negativity stems from their age. Both children are enrolled in a middle school housing fifth through eighth grades.  Middle school can be turbulent, and my oldest daughter can attest to the truth of how difficult navigating the middle years can be.  Introducing character education in middle and high schools comes with a great deal of backlash from the tween and adolescent student.  This age group enjoys complaints.
However, age is not the only factor for their disdain for the Positivity Project.  The main reason for their annoyance is dissonance.   Both girls see student’s inappropriate behavior continuing with no end in sight.  My nine-year-old daughter’s entire fifth-grade class was hauled into the school auditorium this week to be informed that they were acting disrespectfully as a class. My daughter was pissed.  She learns in an environment where a few students create disruptions and the entire class is labeled as “bad.” One of her teachers did apologize to the “good” students about the need for the assembly, stating that many students are doing what is expected. It is difficult to be positive individually when you are labeled collectively.
It is difficult to be positive individually when you are labeled collectively. Click To Tweet
The day after the assembly, the entire district wore the green shirts for a photo opportunity on the football field.  Picture a 1,000 people standing together with fake smiles, pretending that they enjoy the program.  The picture is like a Christmas card featuring a happy family on the edge of divorce.  It rings hollow.
The same week as the photo opportunity, my oldest daughter is assigned a detention for having her iPod out in the library during study hall. The teacher who assigns the detention treats my child as a criminal, a rule-breaker, a bad seed.  After he informs her of her punishment, she cries in his room and he does nothing to comfort her.  He tells her, and later myself, that she knew the rule:  if a student is sent back from the library they earn a detention.  End of story.  The adult may believe he is modeling integrity (the previous week’s word) but instead he is teaching my kid that #otherpeoplematterjustnotyou.  In his mind, she did not deserve to tell her side of the story and a detention is a path to future obedience.  The principal misguidingly believes that a large group assembly will affect behavior change.  Dissonance. Have the adults, including the administrator, truly embraced the intent of the Positivity Project?
Taking a picture; writing character traits on rocks; wearing a green t-shirt; learning new words–these are all benign activities. There is nothing wrong with positivity.  However, the adults need to model the words. They need to catch the students living the definitions and celebrate their achievements.  The students are never going to buy the program until they are experiencing the benefit of positive behaviors.  Yes, consequences for breaking rules is essential in schools, but students need frequent celebrations for commendable behavior as well.
Maybe my children are experiencing the natural growing pains of the first year of implementation of the Positivity Project?  Perhaps my children are being critical brats?  I might be feeding off my kids’ negativity.  However, I began my teaching career in an eighth-grade classroom.  I taught for eight years in a fifth through eighth-grade middle school.  We tried William Bennett’s Character Education program.  It flopped.  The adults did not embrace the program and the activities ate up instructional time.  My experience and my children’s current attitudes leave me wondering if values can be taught in school?  Should mental wellness be an additional burden placed on schools?  Or, is it simply more difficult to discuss character with older students? Many elementary teachers and parents love the Positivity Program.
I am reaching out to you dear readers.  Please tell me your experience with, or your children’s attitudes toward, the Positivity Project.  What can I learn? How might I grow?  Can a values approach to education be successful in schools?

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