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A School for Life


A SCHOOL FOR LIFE © The School of Life


Anybody taking a seat in the classroom as an adult will need a pretty good reason – an especially unusual curriculum, for example. The School of Life in London offers precisely that, having brought intelligence and a sense of humor to creating a surprising program for a better life.

Have you ever intentionally spent your vacation at an airport? The School of Life makes that possible. Led by author and philosopher Alain de Botton, a tour group spent a whole weekend exploring the world of travel – at Heathrow Airport. Or would you instead prefer to gaze up into the skies and contemplate the clouds? You can also spend a weekend doing that, once again under expert leadership, this time from philosopher and journalist Gavin Pretor-Pinney. Both events, however unusual they may seem, are an absolutely natural element of The School of Life’s program.

The School of Life’s logo is sub-titled  Ideas to live by – and the school offers no less than that. © The School of LifeThe School of Life’s logo is sub-titled Ideas to live by – and the school offers no less than that. © The School of Life

Value added for everyday

The School of Life’s logo is sub-titled  Ideas to live by – and the school offers no less than that. Yet The School of Life not only focuses on practical suggestions for everyday life. The idea is also to imbue the students’ own everyday existence with more sense, understanding and insight. The School offers intellectual value where life has too often become superficial. It injects fresh vigor into the interfaces between philosophy, psychology, literature, art and entertainment by offering courses, meals, holidays and events, all seasoned with a dash of humor. The result is an approach to teaching and learning that tackles the big issues in life: love, politics, work,  family and play.

Practical Philosophy – Experienced

How to talk to strangers? That’s something you can learn by joining one of The School’s evening meals. Problems with everyday life, on relationships, or at work? “Bibliotherapy” compiles an individual program of good books for every life situation. In a program of “secular sermons”, leading authors, philosophers, artists or business people illuminate ideas and concepts as “Seduction’, “Loving Your Neighbor”, “Curiosity”, or “Risk“. In a program of evening events, experts from different disciplines advise and report on themes such as “You are what you read”, “How to remember things” or “How to become an explorer”. You can also book a session with a psychotherapist. A challenging variety of topics, the creative structure of events, and also a persuasive choice of speakers – such is The School of Life’s recipe for success.

Choosing Expert in a bottle. © Stephen McLaren.Choosing Expert in a bottle. © Stephen McLaren.

A Woman with an Idea

With a program that is equally demanding and entertaining, The School of Life has thrived since its launch in September 2008. Located in a shop premises in the heart of Bloomsbury, London’s literary quarter, it was founded by former Tate Modern curator  Sophie Howarth (see box). The School’s declared aim is intelligent self-help, and it provides answers to pressing personal problems by drawing on the rich cultural history of ideas. Faculty move with ease between the person -“How important is sex?” and the political - “What is so great about democracy?”. The School has created a public yet also private place where one may reflect seriously about life – far away from the purely intellectual claims of academic philosophy. That this works so well is thanks to Howarth’s creative treatment of the topics at hand – and her contacts with the like-minded people that now work at The School: philosophers like Alain de Botton, photographers like Martin Parr, academics like Richard Wiseman, entrepreneurs like Sam Roddick. Howarth easily overcomes conventional distinctions between everyday routine, experience and the culture of knowledge. And proves that it is indeed possible to live a wiser and ultimately more fulfilling life.

A little more Significance

Anybody prepared to pursue unusual courses in order to give his or her everyday life more purpose, or indeed wishing to discover the sense of life, has made the right choice with The School of Life. Its extraordinary success shows that intellectual curiosity still survives even in the face of a recession, and is perhaps even sexy after all.

Sophie Howarth

Sophie Howarth © The School of LifeSophie Howarth © The School of Life

Sophie Howarth, Director of The School of Life is an educator, writer, artist and curator.

Before founding The School of Life she worked as Head of Education and Research at iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts) and Curator of Public Programs at Tate Modern. While at Tate Modern, Sophie devised several of the gallery's opening displays and subsequently commissioned hundreds of events, courses and conferences.

Sophie writes and teaches extensively around photography. She was co-curator of Onto the Streets, an exhibition of contemporary British street photography which toured with the British Council from 2006-7. She is the editor of Singular Images: Essays on Remarkable Photographs (Tate/UK 2005; Aperture/USA 2006).

She is also author of a number of artists' catalogues and articles on topics ranging from guerrilla education to boredom in art. Sophie is 33 and lives in London. She is having her first child later this year.

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