13 SES 13 B, Mindfulness is Not Educational and "Diving for pearls": Thoughts on pedagogical theory and practice.
Long Paper Session
This paper is driven by a desire to re-examine the place of mindfulness within education. Mindfulness is understood to support children’s education through the development of educationally significant character traits (e.g. resilience, confidence, growth mindset). This paper aims to address such views by exploring the relations to present and future that are established through understandings and practices of mindfulness. Education is fundamentally concerned with the deferral of present desires in preparation for a future condition: for instance, any educational exercise designed to improve motor or cognitive capacity. Although children will typically prefer immersion in present-oriented play over future-oriented exercises, they must be convinced of the value of becoming future-oriented in order to engage with what is called education. Indeed, one primary concern of education is to draw children out of an immersion in present playfulness in order to consider how present actions can contribute to future possibilities. In other words, education appears to complicate or contradict the primary goal of mindfulness defined as attention to the present moment. This raises the ethical question of how education can avoid robbing the child of the present. It also raises the philosophical question of whether the child’s relation to the future and present are really as polarised as suggested here.
Should children be allowed to simply enjoy the present, or should they be encouraged to think about the future? Despite efforts within education to bring entertainment (play) and education (exercises) together, the concept of the educational exercise presupposes the idea that children must be convinced of the value of deferring present satisfaction, for some future benefit or capacity. This idea is in tension with the general view of mindfulness as improving mental well-being through practices of bringing attention to the present moment. What are we to make of this tension?
Progressive educators would prioritise play within learning, so that every form of play can contribute to the formative exercises that enable children to successfully enter their future. Alternatively, educators have suggested that educational authority is defined precisely by the need to impose the discipline of exercise through forms of compulsion or habituation so that the child forgets play and prioritises discipline directed towards future capabilities. Most of us follow something of a middle way: children are given certain incentives to value exercises, even though immediate inclinations are towards play and being in the moment. From the perspective of mindfulness theory, what rights do parents or educators have to remove children from the innocence of being in the present? Is mindfulness instrumental in nature or are the benefits intrinsic to the practice of mindfulness itself? The thesis of the paperis that both mindfulness and education are undermined by the associations that have emerged in recent years.
The paper approaches these questions primarily through conceptual and hermeneutical analysis of texts and debates around mindfulness. Examined from the perspective of interdisciplinary research , a guiding hypothesis of the paper is that the opposition between present and future orientations does not belong to mindfulness as such, but is pronounced where mindfulness is dislocated from the spiritual traditions in which it is rooted. Reference, therefore, to religious contexts (specifically Buddhism) will provide a richer account of mindfulness than currently exists within the secular literature on the subject. The current literature in the field is outlined below: Jon Kabat-Zinn, established the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme which has proved very successful in establishing mindfulness practices around the world (Harrington and Dunne 2015). Clearly the programme presents mindfulness in instrumental terms directed towards improved mental health, specifically around the reduction of stress. The MBSR movement is aligned to mindfulness-based cognitive therapy designed for the prevention of depression (Kabat-Zinn 1996). The evidence that MBSR and MBCT are effective is compelling (Crane et al 2014; Williams et al 2013). Nevertheless, these programmes remain contentious not least because they present mindfulness in instrumental terms (Hyland 2015). These issues arise partly because mindfulness, when removed from traditional contexts, is so poorly defined: e.g. does mindfulness require attention to be directed to something particular, or simply to settle on what is before it (Gethin 2011)? Consequently, interpretations of mindfulness tend either to preserve a secularised discourse of evidence and instrumentality (O’Donnell 2015), or are associated with spiritual and contemplative discourses in which instrumentalism is regarded with ambivalence or suspicion (Hyland 2009). This paper will begin the task of bridging this theoretical gap between secularised and spiritual discourses of mindfulness by showing how education entails both a future oriented and a present oriented approach. By considering Buddhist understandings of mindfulness (Vetter 1988) alongside psychological (Hayes 2004), educational (Todd and Ergas 2015), and philosophical considerations of mindfulness (Stiegler 2011 and Reveley 2015), the paper will demonstrate the necessity for an interdisciplinary approach to address the intractable issues around the management of attention within education (Lewin 2014).
The theoretical argument developed here concludes with the recognition that current conceptions of mindfulness and education are in tension with one another. In other words, mindfulness is woefully undertheorized within contemporary literature in education. The concept is often not clearly defined or contextualised, but understood as a neutral tool to be unproblematically applied to children who need to experience greater self-esteem, confidence, and resilience. But typically there is little consideration of whether ‘mindfulness’ could be applied in any subject area (e.g. whether being mindful is equivalent to general concentration applied across the curriculum), or whether mindfulness requires particular forms of practice, and if so which forms should be chosen and on what basis. Consequently, many schools and colleges include practices of silence (Lees 2012) or other contemplative practices (Yoga, Tai Chi) alongside meditative forms of listening to music or walking. These choices can seem arbitrary, revealing little consensus as to what counts as mindfulness across this range of activities and little justification of including or excluding any given set of practices. Only a radical reconceptualization of the terms can help us to understand the proper place of mindfulness within education.
Crane C et al, (2014) ‘The effects of amount of home meditation practice in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy on hazard of relapse to depression in the Staying Well after Depression Trial,’ Behaviour Research and Therapy 63: 17-24. Friesen and Kenklies (2019) ‘Outlines of the Art of Erziehung’ Forthcoming. Gethin, R. (2011). ‘On some definitions of mindfulness.’ Contemporary Buddhism, 12 (1): 263–279. Harrington, Anne; Dunne, John D (2015). ‘When mindfulness is therapy: Ethical qualms, historical perspectives’. American Psychologist. 70 (7): 621–31 Hayes, A. M (2004). "Clarifying the Construct of Mindfulness in the Context of Emotion Regulation and the Process of Change in Therapy". Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice. 11 (3): 255–62. Hyland, T. (2015) On the Contemporary Applications of Mindfulness: Some Implications for Education, Journal of Philosophy of Education, 49 (2): 170-186. Hyland, T. (2015) Mindfulness and the Therapeutic Function of Education Journal of Philosophy of Education, 43 (1): 119-131. Kabat-Zinn, J. (1996) Full catastrophe living: how to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation. (London, Piatkus). Lees, H. (2012) Silence in Schools (Stoke on Trent, Trentham Books). Lewin, D. (2014) ‘Behold: Silence and Attention in Education,’ Journal of Philosophy of Education, 48 (3): 355-369. Lewin, D. (2016) ‘The Pharmakon of Educational Technology: The Disruptive Power of Attention in Education’ Studies in Philosophy and Education, 35 (3): 251-265. O’Donnell, A. (2015) ‘Contemplative Pedagogy and Mindfulness: Developing Creative Attention in an Age of Distraction’ Journal of Philosophy of Education, 49 (2): 187-202. Pickert, K. (2014). ‘The art of being mindful. Finding peace in a stressed-out, digitally dependent culture may just be a matter of thinking differently.’ Time. 183 (4): 40–6 Reveley, J. (2015) School-Based Mindfulness Training and the Economisation of Attention: A Stieglerian View, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 47 (8): 1–18. Stiegler, B. (2011) Taking Care of the Youth and the Generations, Stanford University Press. Todd, S., and Ergas, O., (2015) ‘Special Issue: Philosophy East/West: Exploring the Intersections between Educational and Contemplative Practices.’ Journal of Philosophy of Education, 49 (2): 163-169. Vetter, T. (1988), The Ideas and Meditative Practices of Early Buddhism, BRILL Williams et al, ‘Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for preventing relapse in recurrent depression: A randomized dismantling trial,’ Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 2013 (82): 275-286.
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