A Consideration of the Use of Mindfulness Meditation in Public Education
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CitationKnoblock, Kenneth. 2017. A Consideration of the Use of Mindfulness Meditation in Public Education. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractWith roots in the Buddhist religious tradition, a secularized version of mindfulness meditation is now being embraced by many as a way to significantly improve their quality of life. Mindfulness is a form of meditation that teaches one to focus with present-moment awareness. Advocates extol the virtues of mindfulness and its positive impact upon one’s physical and mental health such as stress reduction and the ability to regulate one’s emotions. It is increasingly being taught in hospitals, corporate settings, and now in schools. The purported benefits of the contemplative practice of mindfulness have propelled it into the curriculum of an ever-growing number of public school systems, yet there are those who claim there is potential for harm.
Critics of mindfulness programs in schools object for a number of reasons. They believe it encourages children to unwittingly adopt Buddhist religious beliefs and an undesirable worldview. Indeed, aspects of mindfulness training include “acceptance” and “non-judgment,” which seem to conflict with the goal of doing one’s best in the classroom and differentiating between right and wrong. Detractors assert that although supporters of mindfulness point to scientifically-proven benefits, there are no studies of the long-term impact of mindfulness on school children. Most research has focused on the physical, emotional, and health benefits of adults who practice mindfulness. Others see mindfulness in schools as simply a waste of valuable classroom time.
Although inspired by Buddhist mindfulness practices, the secularized version of mindfulness does not teach Buddhism, a religion with vast writings and cosmology. Mindfulness has been the subject of numerous scientific studies involving both adults and school children that demonstrate its benefits. Studies of mindfulness have proven that it reduces stress and related cortisol levels which are responsible for a variety of physical and mental health problems. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve cognitive functioning and shrink the amygdala, a brain region associated with fear and stress, as well as increase the size of the hippocampus, a brain region associated with learning and memory. It has been demonstrated to improve focus and emotional regulation as well as to build resilience. Mindfulness meditation has been practiced for thousands of years by people of all ages, which dispels concern over any unknown long-term consequences. However, as is the case with all subject matter taught in the classroom, it is important that teachers of mindfulness have been properly trained to guide students through it. There is overwhelming evidence for expanding its use in secular settings, particularly in public education where young people can learn at an early age how to practice mindfulness to develop their ability to focus attention, manage stress, and regulate their emotions in the classroom.
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