Public schools get (eastern) religion
posted at 3:16 pm on June 18, 2007 by Bryan
Also not a Scrappleface parody.
The lesson began with the striking of a Tibetan singing bowl to induce mindful awareness.
With the sound of their new school bell, the fifth graders at Piedmont Avenue Elementary School here closed their eyes and focused on their breathing, as they tried to imagine “loving kindness” on the playground.
A “Tibetan singing bowl?” Bowls are for cereal, soup and salad. Not singing.
“I was losing at baseball and I was about to throw a bat,” Alex Menton, 11, reported to his classmates the next day. “The mindfulness really helped.”
Making the play would have helped even more.
The experiment at Piedmont, whose student body is roughly 65 percent black, 18 percent Latino and includes a large number of immigrants, is financed by Park Day School, a nearby private school (prompting one teacher to grumble that it was “Cloud Nine-groovy-hippie-liberals bringing ‘enlightenment’ to inner city schools”).
But Angela Haick, the principal of Piedmont Avenue, said she was inspired to try it after observing a class at a local middle school.
“If we can help children slow down and think,” Dr. Haick said, “they have the answers within themselves.”
They have the answers within themselves? Man, I wish I’d known that during calculus or physics classes. I didn’t need to learn how to actually do higher math. I just needed to find the answer within myself. I wonder what my friend the airframe designer would have to say about finding the answer within himself.
As summer looms, students at dozens of schools across the country are trying hard to be in the present moment. This is what is known as mindfulness training, in which stress-reducing techniques drawn from Buddhist meditation are wedged between reading and spelling tests.
Where is the ACLU on this? This is religious instruction in the classroom, way beyond anything that got under Madeline Murray O’Hare’s bonnet.
Although some students take naturally to mindfulness, it is “not a magic bullet,” said Diana Winston, the director of mindfulness education at the U.C.L.A. center. She said the research thus far was “inconclusive” about how effective mindfulness was for children who suffered from trauma-related disorders, for example. It is “a slow process,” Ms. Winston added. “Just because kids sit and listen to the bell doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be more kind.”
Glenn Heuser, who teaches a combined fourth- and fifth-grade class at Piedmont, said one student started crying about a dead grandparent and another over melted lip balm. “It tapped into a very emotional space for them,” Mr. Heuser said. “They struggled with, ‘Is it O.K. to go there?’ ”
It’s not ok for schools to go there.
Camille Hopkins, the principal, said initially she was skeptical. Growing up in South Philadelphia, “I was never told to take an elevator breath”— a way of breathing in stages, taught in yoga — “or hear the signals of chimes to cool down,” Ms. Hopkins said.
But the stresses today are greater, she conceded, particularly on students who lived with the threat of violence. “A lot of things we watched on TV are part of their everyday life,” she said. “It’s ‘Did you know so-and-so got shot over the weekend.’ ”
The life of students today may be more stressful than it was a few years ago. There are many reasons for that, and the stupidity of school officials probably plays a starring role.
A fifth-grade promotion ceremony in Rancho Palos Verdes turned into a free-speech battleground Thursday, when students were asked to remove weapons from toys that had been placed on mortarboard caps because of the school’s zero-tolerance policy for weapons on campus.
Each year, students decorate wide caps with princesses, football goal posts, zebras, guitars and other items to express their personalities and career goals. Cornerstone at Pedregal School is the only Palos Verdes Peninsula public school to practice the tradition.
On Thursday, before the ceremony, one boy was told he couldn’t participate unless he agreed to clip off the tips of the plastic guns carried by the minuscule GIs on his cap. Ten others complied with the order before the event.
Parents reacted angrily, calling Principal Denise Leonard’s decision censorship, but the Palos Verdes Peninsula School District defended her.
Cole McNamara and Austin Nakata, 11-year-old buddies who share an interest in all things military, said they put the toys on their hats to support American troops in Iraq.
Suffice it to say that the kid didn’t bang a Tibetan singing bowl before starting a soothing rendition of “Kum Ba Ya.”
To treat the “injuries” caused by the order to remove the offending weaponry, Austin wrapped the plastic stumps in white gauze and painted on faux blood.
He’s wittier than school officials.
In enforcing the decision, the district cited its Safe Schools policy and the federal Gun Free Schools Act of 1994, a federal law designed to remove firearms from schools.
Susan Liberati, an assistant superintendent, said she believes “the principal has interpreted district policy accurately, and we support her in that.”
Snipping inert guns off of two-inch plastic Army men constitutes interpreting the school policy correctly? I’d be mad as a hatter if I went to that school and no amount of TM or Tibetan singing bowls could soothe me.
While we’re turning our kids into Tibetan monks, some folks on the other side of the world are giving their little ones a bit more hard core education.
(h/t Chris R.)