This article on "mindfulness meditation" from the The Sacramento Bee is a "therapy in the schools" story. It's an important one to follow in an era in which, often, public schools either apppropriate for themselves or are forced into the role of "in loco parentis."
Additionally, it's about what happens when religious symbols and traditions get thrown into the great common denominator of American public education.
Is this potential trend being reported "mindfully," as it were? Is there any religious significance to these practices?
What do the mindfulness practices represent in a culture bombarded with therapeutic solutions --and one which suffers, as I read recently in a book I was reviewing, from a globally staggering rate of Attention Deficit Disorder?
I was looking for answers in this article-and didn't find as many as I would have liked.
The lede takes readers to Bridges Academy, a school in east Oakland. Actually, from what I can tell, the school has a host of innovative programs targeting disadvantaged children, of which the mindfulness meditation is only one.
The writer focuses on one of the classrooms in which instructor Oren Sofer has been hired to help kids practice meditation.
Hi, Mr. Ooooooo," the third-graders chimed, then began chanting, "mind-ful-ness, mind-ful-ness."
Sofer asked the students to show him their mindful bodies. As the students quieted down, he held up a Tibetan singing bowl.
"Let's begin by just listening to the sound of the bell," he said gently. "Let your eyes close."
He tapped the side of the bowl. "Raise your hand after you hear the whole bell." He waited. "Now, take that hand down to your belly, and let's take a few breaths together." Sofer visits this class, and eight others, 15 minutes a day, three times a week for five weeks to teach mindfulness - the ability to be aware of what is happening in the present moment without judgment.
Possibly readers would like to know the religious significance (or lack of religious significance) of a Tibetan singing bowl.
There's definitely a therapeutic component here, as the write notes a few paragraphs further into the story.
Numerous studies have tracked a rise in diagnoses of mental health problems and mood disorders among children over the past 10 years. Educators in Oakland report seeing the consequences of an increasingly digitalized, increasingly anxious society in their classrooms. Mandatory No Child Left Behind testing especially has spiked the stress level in classrooms among students and teachers, they said.
Studies from UCLA and Arizona State University have shown that mindfulness programs help elementary-school students regulate their behavior, control impulses, focus and plan ahead.
By now my mind is racing with questions. Is meditation part of a multidisciplinary approach to dealing with the problems these kids must face, which seem to include violence, poverty, and family addictions and incarceration? Do local faith groups play any role in helping these kids deal with stress? When the classroom become a stand-in for the therapist's office?
Meditation has deep roots in many religious traditions, but we hear nothing about that in this article. Instead, readers get tantalizing anecdotes, which seem to suggest that mindfulness (which actually has been the object of evidence-based studies) seems to alleviate stress--but gives us little idea of its principles or background.
What may be happening in Oakland and other places is that ancient practices are being shorn of their religious roots, and used in that great American game of "let's fix the problem." But I'd sure like to know more.
Full disclosure--If you hear a slightly exasperated edge in this post, its because I have personal experience of the therapeutic school. This past fall I had to intervene when my son was put into social skills group, because all children in his particular category were put into one-without consulting the parents. It may be a national trend-begging for a story.
Picture of old-fashioned classroom is from Wikimedia Commons