Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mindfulness classrooms: another way to bore our students and stress them out

Despite the growing backlash against Mindfulness (see here, here, and here), our K12 schools, increasingly, are embracing it. Again, anything other than teaching kids interesting things and assigning them appropriately challenging tasks.

A recent article in the Huffington Post, for example, reports that Washington DC's largest elementary school (700+ students) has a weekly "Peace Class." According to Linda Ryden, the school's full-time Peace Teacher:

"At the core of Peace Class is the concept of mindfulness, which is becoming aware and noticing what is going on internally." 
"We start class by turning off the lights, taking deep breaths with our eyes closed, ringing a bell and taking some time to be totally silent. For the older kids, this can be 10 to 15 minutes of meditation. For the 4 and 5 year olds, we usually stay calm for about one minute," explains Ryden. 
In addition, conflict resolution is taught through role playing and storytelling. Ryden teaches topics such as apologizing, complimenting and thinking before speaking. She also assigns a "peace pal" to each student, usually someone who is not a close friend. The kids report back at the next class on what kind things they did for their pal.
Meanwhile, a recent New York Times article reports on Mindfulness's metastasis within Gotham and elsewhere:
In schools in New York City and in pockets around the country, the use of inward-looking practices like mindfulness and meditation is starting to grow. Though evidence is thin on how well they might work in the classroom, proponents say they can help students focus and cope with stress. 
At the Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School in Windsor Terrace, 15 minutes are set aside at the beginning and end of every school day, when students must either meditate or sit quietly at their desks.
As NYC schools chancellor Carmen FariƱa notes:
“We’re putting it in a lot of our schools because kids are under a lot of stress.”
Perhaps being required to "either meditate or sit quietly at their desks" is de-stressing some kids, but I'll bet it's having the opposite effect on most.

When I'm stressed out, sitting quietly and doing nothing only makes things worse. In my mind, bad thoughts, like nature, abhor a vacuum.

For me (and, I suspect, many others), the answer to stress, to brooding, to pointless rumination--to all the things that Mindfulness is supposed to be addressing--is the exact opposite of Mindfulness: distraction. A loud beat and catchy tune; a lively conversation; a vigorous outing along perilous trails and spectacular scenery; an explanation of polymers and dehydration reactions.

And if I'm a stressed out school student, what I'm probably craving are challenging, engaging assignments and the option to immerse myself, independently, in my work. What I'm adamantly not craving are 15 minutes of twice-daily squirming in silence, or a weekly class period spent role-playing apologies and compliments with my "peace pal."


FedUpMom said...

For most young kids, sitting quietly is a *source* of stress, not a cure. I'd much rather see them spend those 2 15-minute periods exercising, or dancing, or running around outside.

Catherine Johnson said...

Study finds people would rather electrocute themselves than spend 15 minutes alone with their thoughts

Catherine Johnson said...

Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

lgm said...

My children would prefer not to be in classrooms with violent children. Meditation, talking about perceived playground injustices, how to be a friend, all of that was useless and did nothing for anyone. Removal procedures are just as scary as out of control classmates.

C T said...

One-size-fits-all approaches are invalid in education just as surely as in psychology.
And I like mindfulness. I've learned a lot from it in the past few years about calming down and observing my thoughts. But I'm middle-aged now. I was incapable of much introspection during my K-12 period.

Anonymous said...

Reason number 794 why we homeschool.

Anonymous said...

Katherine, I pretty much agree with all of your takes on how education goes astray. But there is actually some pretty good research being conducted on yoga-based mindfulness training to reduce stress and impulsive behavior in older students (not K-5 students). I see no harm in doing units of this curriculum in PE; it can't be worse than the usual team sports drills that don't actually include much physical movement and are never used in the future for most kids. The schools that benefit the most, of course, are schools with large numbers of kids whose lives are challenging. Likewise, Restorative Justice wouldn't make sense in a school where most kids already know how to manage their behavior. But there are schools where most do not, or are on the edge of acting out much of the time. I hope that there will soon be research documenting whether and how much Restorative Justice helps in these schools.