This month in Washington DC an unprecedented conference took place under the auspices of the Mind and Life Institute. Leading schools of education from around the country joined with brain researchers and experts on contemplative practices from different traditions to discuss the role of education in preparing 21st Century Citizens. You can learn more details about the conference by following this link http://www.educatingworldcitizens.org, but I think one of the clearest messages from this amazing group is that social and emotional learning and increasing students’ capacity for emotional regulation is a critical element of educating human beings and that it has a rightful and indeed crucial place in our school system. I’d love to hear from anyone who was able to attend the conference, or to look at their materials or view the proceedings on DVD.
A few years ago, I had the good fortune to meet a Tibetan monk who was also an educator and the founder of a school in India for orphaned children from Tibet. He was working in the U.S. and doing some consulting in suburban Boston. He had two observations about the schools and students with whom he was working here in contrast to his students in India. The first was that he found that students here could tell him everything, absolutely everything about a dinosaur, but nothing about their own development. The second was that the pervasive sadness he found among American children and adolescents in school was striking to him, especially in contrast to the joyful atmosphere of his school in India. Both of these observations speak to me about a missing element in our educational systems that could be addressed at least in part through some mindfulness practices.
As you can find through some of the links on this page, there is a lot happening around meditation, mindfulness and education. As usual, there is a rush to action and programs are springing up all over (some great, some not so great) to take advantage of the new interest in these areas. Many long-time advocates of mindfulness and education are both excited by this surge of interest and wary, both of the “fad” quality that is so common in educational reform efforts and in the idea of a “commodification” of comtempletive practices that have been, for centuries, traditionally offered freely with teachers being supported by the voluntary offerings of their students and communities.
My idea, for right now, is that we have to start where we are. I think there is a place for contemplative practice in teacher education and I trust that if educators are engaged in their own experiments with reflection and meditation, then they will be in uniquely good positions to understand how to help their students. I believe that the most powerful contemplative tool you can bring to your classroom is your mindful presence and that from that, many things can grow in many different directions. Once you begin to have a feel for yourself as a mindful teacher, you can connect with programs and experiences to support your students.