I was looking through the Wall Street Journal earlier this week and stumbled upon an interesting article on mindfulness. Mindfulness is becoming an increasingly “hot topic” in the psychological literature, with particular emphasis in the fields of counseling and positive psychology. Essentially, when one is engaging in mindfulness practices, one is purposefully (and solely) living in the present moment by expelling all thoughts and judgments of experiences and focusing on the present. So, think about riding a roller coaster, that experience of focusing solely on the present is a good example of what mindfulness is trying to achieve. The WSJ article chronicled the growing trend of mindfulness practices, including its rise in school districts.
Citing research from the developmental, clinical, and counseling psychology, as well as neuroscience literature, proponents touted clear benefits from the integration of mindfulness practices in the schools. For example, schoolchildren were more like to score higher in mathematics, demonstrate less aggressive and depressive symptoms, and engage in more prosocial behaviors (e.g., respect, empathy, and perspective-taking). Certainly, these are qualities that any teacher would want to see in their students, so then where is the opposition coming from?
The article included interviews with teachers, some of whom viewed the integration of mindfulness practices into the curriculum as equivalent to promoting religion. A huge leap? Yes and no. While mindfulness (meditation) does have roots in the Buddhist religion, a critical component could be how mindfulness is approached and implemented. While there could be improper ways to teach mindfulness, it is perhaps easier to defend by explaining that a critical difference is differentiating between teaching a skill (mindfulness meditation) and an idea (as a tenet of Buddhist religion). For a more detailed paper on whether or not a practice is too religious to be in a school, check out CPE’s paper on religion and public schools.