It doesn't take a rocket scientist to note that there have been disturbing trends in schools recently. While the spate of extreme violence appears to be waning, schools are still troubled places, with both students and teachers seemingly failing to get out of them what they expect or need, and suffering stress and trauma in the meantime. Society wants 'instant' gratification, TV is full of 'reality shows' that depend on people doing disgusting things to win a huge fortune, relatively speaking, so they can go do and buy more stuff. The most recent presidential race offered us a three-years-and-counting national discussion over who really won the presidency. And we have rushed headlong to send troops into two sovereign nations without benefit of the United Nations' sanctioning the acts, after the United Nations -- located on U.S. soil -- was founded to smooth out relationships between the world's peoples.
All this upheaval is reflected in the schools. "The subject matter curriculum with its characteristics of fragmentation, memorization, textbook orientation, teacher as controller, cognitive-based, and norm-testing is now being questioned. It is especially being questioned by those who feel that the modem, industrial efficiency paradigm is no longer relevant for today's curriculum. We seemed to be looking for something more in the curriculum." (Iannone and Obenauf, 1999)
That something, according to a great many thinkers from various traditions and roles in society, might well be meditation. Meditation has been used by both eastern and western religions (yes, both Buddhist and Roman Catholic monks meditate, as do Jewish rabbis, and Indian shamans in their sweat lodges.) It is not, however, a religion, but rather a psychological means for contacting one's inner self, or spirituality, and making peace. The question is, does meditation have a place in schools, and can it change things for the better for students and teachers? How resistant are teachers and students to trying this method of achieving a more peaceful, workable learning environment? What would it take to include it?
Many have studied it in part, and have concluded a number of positive effects are possible with meditation. Some have approached it from a psychological standpoint, and others from a more spiritual one. Others have investigated where it fits in the paradigms teachers use to convey information and teach cognitive skills. And still others have investigated its effect on various populations of students.
Literature Review number of popular books have indicated that in the adult population, at least, there is a search for meaning beyond facts and the 'doingness' of modern life. Redfield's popular 1997 book, The Celestine Prophecy, indicated that there was a "mass intuition" that there was something more for mankind that buying a bigger house and a plasma TV. (Iannone and Oberauf, 1999) As Iannone and Oberauf noted, what applies to society generally applies to schools as well. And the search, they point out, is not all that recent; it simply hasn't been sufficiently explored or fulfilled. They point out that the 1970s saw a large wave of investigation of other ways to live, from the Native American to the far Eastern. Then, in the 1980s, it turned back again, with an emphasis not on 'knowing' but on racking up points. There was, simultaneously, renewed pressure for the schools to produce students who could knock out the standardized tests. And that, of course, put pressure on teachers. In fact, several studies have dealt with exactly that.
Bertoch investigated the effect of treatment on teachers experiencing the sorts of occupational stress they are under today. Among those treatments were self-care processes such as meditation. (1989)
But once again, post-2000, there is a spirit of rejection for the standardization. "It also is a concept the post-modernist paradigm, on all its variations, challenges and rejects." (William Doll, 1993, quoted by Iannone and Oberauf, 1999) Iannone and Oberauf believe the subject matter curriculum is caught up in the scientific management movement of the 1920s. "Efficiency and the assembly line model of breaking the school day into separate time units of forty to fifty-five-minute segments are the predominant models. But in spite of these models, we sense something is incongruent," Iannone and Oberauf note. (1999) They have discovered people are disoriented and uncertain, despite the fact that they have more to accomplish than at any time in U.S. history. We are feeling discomfort, uncertainty or even perhaps a sense of being disoriented. Besides this, we are being asked to do more than any time in American history. And, they add, "we are longing for something more, something that gives us meaning as teachers and also gives meaning to our students." (Iannone and Oberauf, 1999)
What they propose is wrong is that both teachers and students have become Human Doings rather than Human Beings. They lament losing sight of their souls, and not taking the time to sit with their experiences, feelings, sensations, thoughts and desires and trying to discover their meaning. They compare students and teachers to Meausault, the main character in Camus' 1946 novel, The Stranger. Meausault was a stranger because he did not enjoy a relationship with himself or his world. (Iannone and Oberauf, 1999)
The Meausault comparison leads logically to the idea expressed by another researcher on spirituality in everyday life, Fritjof Capra. Capra and Steindl-Rast pointed out that those who live like Meausault, estranged from themselves and others, cannot help but have negative experiences. "Spirituality is not a special department, it is a higher intensity of aliveness. One's venture of freedom is a measure of one's aliveness. Since life is one piece, one's inner aliveness must express itself in outer aliveness...." (Capra and Steindl-Rast, 1992, quoted by Iannone and Oberauf, 1999) Social psychologist Abraham Maslow, originator of the Hierarchy of Needs, proposed something similar when he studied 'self-actualizing' people. He found that, like monks and mystics, they listen to their inner voice and the call of their souls. (Iannone and Oberauf, 1999)
Petrie et al. found much the same thing, applied to educational leaders, that is, teachers. Adults had internalized beliefs, attitude and values developed in childhood, but perhaps no longer workable in providing the sort of learning atmosphere required from the post-Celestine Prophecy paradigm. "There are few ways to enhance the change of these in the adult, but one of the successful ways is to help the individual raise his/her awareness of the existence of them which will then help foster a need to change those that are identified as detrimental to the leader's success." (Petrie et al., 2000) One of the main ways identified by respondents to a questionnaire was through mediation. (Petrie et al., 2000)
To allay any doubt that this exercise of spiritual practice can have a place in education, Iannone and Oberauf describe the very successful Waldorf Schools approach, now in use in 32 countries. The Waldorf Schools believe "that the curriculum should recognize that the capacities for conscious spiritual perception lie dormant within every human being and can be awakened through exercise in concentration and meditation." (Iannone and Oberauf, 1999)
Fatt also recognized that the sorts of instruction pioneered by the Waldorf School and predicated on sufficient time for reflection, if not actually meditation, is among the 'excellent' practices of teaching. Fatt notes that the old system, of dividing a school day into short segments, providing little connection between one subject and another, and rushing headlong toward knocking out tests is counterproductive. Fatt writes:
The modular format provides for continuity amid a disruptive environment where many teachers perish quickly within a chaotic system. Students sometimes experience alienation within an environment where their talents and personalities are systematically splintered. Sufficient time for meditation, for a regathering of one's thoughts, is not encouraged. Dialogue is strikingly absent, and students remain unchallenged. (1998)
The effect of countermeasures to the modular instruction paradigm, in fact, has been studied among first-year college students. Researchers noted that despite pockets of reform away from the rote curriculum and toward a more personalized instructional module that recognized individual and spiritual needs, the use of teaching practices focusing on higher order thinking and understanding interconnections, rather than simply memorizing facts, was questionable in U.S. high schools. (Thompson and Thornton, 2002)
College professors are stuck with needing to motivate students from these schools to learn, which requires a higher order of thinking. One major method is netacognition, or thinking about thinking, and is employed as "the student mulls over content to come to a conceptual understanding of its meaning, application and relevance, rather than to merely recall it. One strategy which can be employed in order to awaken and utilize this intelligence, is meditation." (Thompson and Thornton, 2002)
Researchers point out that, used this way, meditation is neither a chance for a quick nap, nor a sort of 'woo-woo' scary spiritual task; it is simply taking time to close the eyes, reflect in quiet on the information at hand or the experiment completed, and what might have been done differently and so on. The meditation should be…