June 16, 2007

"Mindfulness" training for school kids.

Drawn from Buddhism, but secularized:
As summer looms, students at dozens of schools across the country are trying hard to be in the present moment. This is what is known as mindfulness training, in which stress-reducing techniques drawn from Buddhist meditation are wedged between reading and spelling tests....

During a five-week pilot program at Piedmont Avenue Elementary, Miss Megan, the “mindful” coach, visited every classroom twice a week, leading 15 minute sessions on how to have “gentle breaths and still bodies.” The sound of the Tibetan bowl reverberated at the start and finish of each lesson....

The experiment at Piedmont, whose student body is roughly 65 percent black, 18 percent Latino and includes a large number of immigrants, is financed by Park Day School, a nearby private school (prompting one teacher to grumble that it was “Cloud Nine-groovy-hippie-liberals bringing ‘enlightenment’ to inner city schools”)....

Asked their reactions to the sounds of the singing bowl, Yvette Solito, a third grader, wrote that it made her feel “calm, like something on Oprah.” Her classmate Corey Jackson wrote that “it feels like when a bird cracks open its shell.”

Dr. Amy Saltzman, a physician in Palo Alto, Calif., who started the Association for Mindfulness in Education three years ago, thinks of mindfulness education as “talk yoga.” Practitioners tend to use sticky-mat buzzwords like “being present” and “cultivating compassion,” while avoiding anything spiritual.
Is this too much religion in school for you? Do you object for some other reason? Or do you think this is just fine? Would your view change if these techniques helped reduce the perceived need for Ritalin?

28 comments:

Adam said...

I don't necessarily have a problem with it - these relaxation techniques seem secularized enough to not promote a religion - as much as the school giving lessons on being nice to your neighbor stem from the teachings of Chrisitianity, but do not promote Christianity.

Sadly, my law school professor also lead group relaxation techniques. They always left me more stressed out beause it felt like a waste of time and he would not answer questions about the material during the class period.

Mike said...

I have no problem with it. It sounds healthy.

TMink said...

I use similar techniques for anxious or obsessive or angry children and adults a lot in my practice. Some people find it very helpful.

I am quite skeptical of it helping many people with hyperactivity. And the people that come to my office want to feel or act better, and so are motivated to try new stuff.

So color me skeptical, but open. As long as they are not teaching about the religious content of Buddhism or Hinduism I am fine with it.

Trey

Troy said...

So long as the children are encouraged to pray to whatever God or lack thereof they deem appropriate. Quite frankly the kids would relax with a few exercises involving "sniper's breathing", but that's not a backdoor way to get in a little Eastern mysticism and it doesn't fit into the PC universe of the Ed.D. programs.

Nick said...

I guess I have a slight problem with it. It seems like a waste of time. Why don't they just skip the mindfulness lesson and let the kids go home early to play or give them a longer recess? That would probably have a better stress-relieving effect.

AllenS said...

I went to grade school back in the 50's, and they must have been using Muscular Buddhism. Instead of gentle breaths, they used a paddle on our bottoms. It was also effective.

Maxine Weiss said...

My "Totem Pole" problem:

Why are Totem Poles allowed on public school grounds? A Totem Pole is a religious symbol.

Doesn't that violate Separation of Church and State?

PWS said...

Some of the mindfulness training is non-sectarian. While meditation and mindfulness are elements of Buddhism, they are not, of course, Buddhism.

My experience has been that being self-aware and monitoring your breathing, by themselves, are more about psychological and physical well being than about spirituality or a higher being.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J said...

Do they do this before or after their intelligent design class?

amba said...

Mindfulness comes from the part of Buddhism that is philosophy and practice, not ritual or dogma.

It's about waking up and being present instead of distracted. It just gives you a way to be aware that you're here, and alive, and aware. I can't imagine how it could hurt or indoctrinate anybody. If you pray, it would make you a better pray-er, et cetera.

The kid who said that about the egg cracking open got it right.

amba said...

I helped a conservative neuropsychiatrist write a book about the power of mindfulness and self-command for teen-agers. You can search inside for "mindfulness."

Paul Ciotti said...

I thought Buddhism was a philosophy, not a religion anyway.

Tim said...

"Do you object for some other reason?"

Yes.

Children are in school to learn academic subjects, not some quasi-Buddhist/new age life skills. Let them do that on their own time, and their own dime.

As a taxpayer, why should I subsidize schools to provide lifestyle coaching for pupils who cannot read, cannot do math, do not understand their nation's history or the basics of science or civics?

This reminds me of the "self-esteem" movement crap we saw emerging in the schools twenty or so years ago, only to find out no one has higher self-esteem than criminals.

Is it the schools' job now to produce a bunch of self-calming, blissed-out uneducated kids, who, upon finding out the job they sought was given to an HB-1 visa foreigner or sent overseas, breath deeply for inner peace instead of gunning down the local school board responsible for this crap?

I suppose so.

George said...

The men's room of a yoga studio I recently visited had a poster of the Hindu elephant god hanging over the toilet.

Ya know...with a long trunk hanging all flopsy down.

I keep wondering....which god was in the women's room?

The pseudo-religiosity of yoga is truly ridiculous ('Let the white light enter your body at the top of your head'...'Set your intention'...'Dedicate your practice'...) not to mention the incense and nature/bongo music....

Plus, no matter how many classes I take I've never seen one, not one!, fabulous babe in a white unitard as shown in every single yoga mat ad, just haggard old women and men who look like Allen Ginsberg.

amba said...

Mindfulness can be a lot tougher than that -- the Theravada version of it certainly is. It's a very difficult discipline -- getting control of your own attention -- compared to taming a wild elephant. I doubt that's how these folks are teaching it, though. It's probably been declawed and scented.

Troy said...

If they really want to be Buddhist they should leave the kids alone. Why risk screwing with karma? We could save a lot on social and educational spending.

paul a'barge said...

So, do y'all realize that there are entire sects/branches of Buddhism that do not believe in G-d?

Oh yeah, the poster in the womens' rest room? Probably Shiva.

Oh, and just to round out the discussion ... Yoga is not Buddhist. It's a Hindu thing.

Sheesh.

TMink said...

Tim wrote: "This reminds me of the "self-esteem" movement crap we saw emerging in the schools twenty or so years ago, only to find out no one has higher self-esteem than criminals."

Good point. The difference is that the breathing and thought techniques are actually effective.

Trey

TMink said...

What is sniper breathing? I have heard of it, but do not know the specific technique. Would you share it please? Theone I teache raises CO2 and lowers the O2 in the blood stream, I am betting that sniper breathing does the same.

Trey

Revenant said...

"Secularized Buddhism" is kind of strange to think of, since Buddhism is already lacking many of the traits associated with Western religions -- gods, for example.

Anyway, I don't see any particular harm in it -- we already allow (or at least used to allow) secularized religious celebrations like "holiday" programs and Halloween.

Old Patriot said...

I'm a 60-year-old man with a chronic pain problem. I've been using "relaxing" techniques (basically what you describe) and biofeedback for 20 years as part of my treatment regimen. If taught right, it can be a great help in reducing stress, such as a test situation.

I went through a similar situation back in the 1960s at the Air Force Academy. They tried group hypnosis to improve reading speed and comprehension. It worked for some, and didn't for others - including me. The best I can say for it is that it did no harm. This seems to be in the same vein.

Paul Stokes said...

A vigorous PE program would get kids "in the moment" and the exercise would relieve stress. The ethic would be areligious but socially very useful: sportsmanship, playing by the rules, etc.

Emy L. Nosti said...

These kids are in elementary school‽ Maybe the T's still there, but it stands for torture. I agree with Paul Stokes; I'd like to see schoolchildren transcend their obese @sses first.

And actually, meditation can change brain structure and can be harmful. I have no opinion on the matter, but it's foolish to assume that the only effects of meditation would be positive.

Emy L. Nosti said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric said...

It depends on whether you view Buddhism as a religion as opposed to a philosophy. Buddhism is non-theisitic (sp?) (which doesn't necessarily mean it's not a religion), but more importantly it sounds like the program takes aspects of it that are divorced from any "religious" context. We teach kids in school not to kill (or at least I hope we communicate that message at some point), but does that make it religious just because the 10 Commandments similarly forbid such behavior?

If they were teaching Buddhism lock stock and barrel, there might more room for concern, I but I don't think so here.

Dahlia said...

Why would this sound like "religion" to anyone? In our hyper-sensitized culture, we seem to think that any technique or practice that asks us to look inward and calm ourselves is somehow "spiritual," and if it's "spiritual," it must be "religious." We need to calm down, take a deep breath, and think about what we're so afraid of. We could start by getting clear that spiritual development is a key element of human development, and that it may, or may not, have a thing to do with religion. I thought we were almost at a point where people generally understood this distinction, but, alas, perhaps not.

Rick said...

Mindfulness involves training the mind to pay attention to itself and its reaction to external phenomena. It is essential, in some form, to anyone who wishes to have control of how they relate to the world. The alternative involves being unconsciously dragged around by fear, prejudice, anger, self-hatred or countless other unskillful states of mind. Many posters here clearly do not understand what mindfulness (or Buddhism, for that matter) is.

If you prohibit mindfulness, maybe you should consider prohibiting other cornerstones of Buddhism. These include concentration, compassion, kindness, celebrating the success of others, having a job that is consistent with one's ethics, speaking wisely and carefully, avoiding drunkenness and sexual misconduct, causing pain to others, overcoming greed and hatred, and not stealing.
What really complicates things is that the Buddha insisted that he was no god and that the realization of the list above involves only effort and insight from the individual. The fundamental guidelines of Buddhism (the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the Brahmaviharas, the Five Precepts and the Refuges) make no reference to any diety.

So, where do you draw the line? Is it not valid to teach any of these things to children? Are any of these things as important as learning to be a useful cog in a predatory industrial machine?