SMC's Spring Symposium explores link between education and happiness

Is there a relationship between education and happiness? This question is being explored throughout the week as Santa Monica College’s Public Policy Institute presents the First Annual Spring Symposium. This year’s Spring Symposium is a sequence of events taking place on and near campus May 15 through May 17, with topics pertaining to education’s effect on happiness.

The Public Policy Institute was founded in 2010 with the idea of  promoting community education on public policy. Led by its founding director, former state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, and its associate director, SMC political science professor Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein, the institute offers the only associate degree in public policy in the state at SMC.

“We’re going to graduate over 35 students this semester, in our second year, with AA degrees in public policy,” said Tahvildaran-Jesswein. “It’s a big first class. So with that in place, another one of our objectives was to do a symposium annually.”

Tahvildaran-Jesswein said that the symposium’s theme stems from this year’s Global Citizenship theme of “Health, Wellness and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

“To work in partnership with other initiatives and support the mission of the college, we developed a program that focuses on education policy,” said Tahvildaran-Jesswein.

The symposium not only provides an opportunity for students and staff to learn about policies that affect their lives, but also a chance for the community to be involved. All events are free and open to the public.

“It’s always a good thing to engage students, faculty, community, and staff in coming together to think about current issues in the larger sense, like we’re doing this week,” said Kuehl. “This is not about a specific policy in a specific town. This is really thinking in the larger sense about relationships between decisions made about your education.”

The events kicked off Tuesday with “Implementing the California Dream Act,” a panel discussion led by Angelica Salas, the executive director of Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

“There was an expectation that anti-immigrant interest in the state of California would have generated enough signatures to force a referendum on the California Dream Act, and we thought that would take place this June,” said Tahvildaran-Jesswein.

On Tuesday night, SMC faculty and other educational leaders held a discussion on the essence of happiness entitled “What is Happiness? A Roundtable Kickoff.”

“I would say students at Santa Monica College are made unhappy by the fact that they can’t get the classes that they want, when they want them,” said Kuehl. “They’re made unhappy by the fact that they take more than two years, and in some institutes more than three years, to get their AA degree.”

For those who missed Tuesday’s events, it is not too late to take part in the discussion. On Wednesday evening, the 2006 film “Walkout,” based on the 1968 East L.A. student walkouts, will be screened at the Laemmle’s Monica 4-Plex in Santa Monica. Following the screening will be a discussion led by director Edward James Olmos.

On Thursday, Jonathan Mooney, author of “The Short Bus,” will be on campus to speak about “Learning Outside the Lines: Finding Happiness through an Inclusive Education Movement.” The event will take place in room 165 of the Humanities & Social Science Lecture Hall at 11:15 a.m.

“The approach has to do with [asking] ‘what is education?’” said Kuehl. “Does it have to be one size fits all? Or can the flexibility in the way things are taught really help students who don’t fit the general description of students?”

Kuehl’s roundtable program entitled “Looking for Happiness in the Constitution?” will close the symposium on Thursday evening. Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of UC Irvine School of Law, and UCLA law professors Christine Littleton and Cheryl Harris will speak about whether the law and the Constitution can promote happiness. The event will be held at 7 p.m. in room 123 of SMC’s Bundy campus.

“Public policy is also related to unhappiness,” said Kuehl. “If you go to school where you feel that the society doesn’t value educating you, then it’s a collective unhappiness that I think goes to the contentment of a society. The American society has decided that public education is a very big part of the ability to seek equalities, and therefore happiness.”