Claims of Positive Effects of Mindfulness Effects on Students Are Based on Research; Claims that Buddhism is a “Religion” Unfounded
The Denver Post ran a feature article by Monte Whaley that described a Mindfulness Program that was introduced into a second grade classroom in one of the Denver region elementary schools. The article did a reasonably good job of describing mindfulness, describing it as “paying attention on purpose without judgment” and noted that it “…is being taught in thousands of schools, board rooms and offices across the country.” The article also offered links to research conducted by the University of North Carolina, Carnegie Melon University and the National Institutes of Health and offered this description of the benefits to second graders:
Proponents say mindfulness helps students maintain more control of their emotions and surroundings, said Melissa Kaufmann, mindfulness program director and instructor at Creativity Challenge Community.
“When I designed this mindfulness program, I was hoping to teach students to self-regulate and have a toolbox for mindful tactics to use in their daily lives,” said Kaufmann, known as Miss Melissa to her students. “After taking mindfulness classes, students understand how to maintain focus in and outside of schools, how to be aware of their emotions and senses without judgments, and how to be in the present moment.”
As a meditation practitioner I was troubled by the description of the program, which reported that the meditation practices were limited to two-15-minute sessions per month, which hardly seems sufficient to develop the kind self-regulation Ms. Kaufman was trying to achieve. I am certain, however, that fitting the practice into class each day is a challenge— just as finding the time to meditate for 20 minutes a day is a challenge for an adult. But the fruits of the practice, the ability to maintain focus and to be aware of senses without judgments, requires an investment of time. From my perspective, these fruits are far more beneficial than the skills measured by standardized achievement tests.
As a Buddhist practitioner I was also troubled by these sentences which were juxtaposed near the end of the article:
Critics say mindfulness is part of a movement to introduce Buddhist practices into secular classrooms… Kaufmann’s mindfulness session did not mention a higher power or deity.
I would have hoped that Mr. Whaley would point out to readers that the critics are wrong in their assessment about Buddhism practice being a religion. The kind of Buddhism that emphasizes mindfulness isn’t a religion at all and it does not refer to higher powers or deities. Instead it compels students to become more aware of their thoughts and to gain an understanding of how their thoughts filter their perceptions. It is precisely this kind of higher order thinking and centeredness that students need in this day and age of information overload. My thought: maybe the anonymous donor who underwrote the second grade class should offer a program to the Denver Post.