‘Mindfulness’ yet another mindless fad in education
There’s a new fad on the block being forced on our kids – mindfulness. In truth, it’s not new at all. It goes back to Buddhism, Freud, then Rogers and the relentless effort to get therapeutic theory into education. But there’s plenty of reasons for rejecting this particular manifestation of mindful madness.
1. Adult fixations foisted on kids
Mindfulness is just another example of adults taking their new-age, adult fixations and forcing them on the young. It’s not as if kids take naturally to such unnatural behaviours as they are naturally exuberant. Education should be about opening up young minds not forcing them to do things that faddish adults think is right for them.
I’ve been asking people in the counseling and therapy business what ‘mindfulness’ is and the replies, even from theose who have been on the training courses, are more than a little confusing. Some relate it directly to Buddhist meditation, others to reflection on your physiological processes, others to internal cognitive reflection. In fact it seemed somewhat contradictory, a stilling of the mind yet a strong sense of presence or attention to self using a selfless, meditation-based practice. There’s no consistency as mindfulness is many things to many people. This is always a worry and often a sign that all is not well with a practice. It reminds me of the theoretical mess that is NLP.
3. Enforced silence
Education is about both mind and body but that means being alive and kicking, socialising with others through play, games and sport. Kids are lively and locking them up for most of the day in classrooms, often accompanied by enforced silence, is bad enough, without forcing them to sit in even more complete, communal silence. They are gloriously alive at that age and should play and learn, be lively and curious, not mimic artificial, adult fads.
4. Surfeit of over-reflection
Is internalizing at this age such a great thing? One of the problems with children and especially teenagers is over-reflection. They already have a surfeit. Peer pressure often forces them to reflect too much on the wrong things, leading to a spiral of negative reflection, even depression. It is often a destructive, not creative, force at this age. Keep their minds on what matters, not obsessive internalized reflection.
5. Mindless sheep
Mindfulness plays a neat trick. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing as it is actually mindless meditation under the guise of mindful attention. What we need is more mindful, external attention on learning, teachers and other people in learning. This means getting involved, not idle internalizing. It means being alert and attentive, as we know with certainty that outward-looking, psychological attention is a necessary condition for learning. The sort of internal attention that is needed for learning is to do with the coding, elaboration, scene setting, deep processing and practice, especially spaced practice, that leads to cognitive improvement.
Mindfulness has all the hallmarks of a fad; not evidence-based (in terms of learning), promoted by celebrities and suddenly erupts as the ‘next big thing’. Believe me, mindfulness will have been long forgotten in a couple of years time, so let’s cut that short and dump it now, before we waste even more time on yet another fad.
7. Dangerous damage
Learning styles, L/R brain theory, whole word literacy, Mindgym, playing Mozart while kids learn – I saw this stuff served up in real schools, driven by nothing more than the need for ‘fillers’ in ill-organised INSET days. Education does itself no favours by snatching at these crazes. It opens teachers and the educational system up to the sort of unnecessary mocking that their enemies adore.
In contrast, the evidence for an actual nap at school is strong. The evidence for sleep improving memory and retention is strong. Ebbinghaus, back in 1885, noticed an anomaly in the data he collected for his famous forgetting curve – that little forgetting takes place overnight. More recent evidence from Boston College (2013) showed large numbers of children worldwide do not get enough sleep, a problem that is more noticeable in rich countries. This has a detrimental effect on learning. Indeed, naps, even for a few minutes, have a positive effect on learning and memory. In a University of Dusseldorf study (2002three groups were tested; 1) Kept awake 2) 40 minutes sleep 3) 6 min nap. The third group performed best. Rebecca Spencer at the University of Massachusetts showed that naps in 3-5 year olds had a 10% performance improvement. Napping has also been shown to improve health, in a huge study of 20,000 adults, aged 20-80 by Dimtrios Trichopolous at Harvard, where a 37% lower risk of heart related disease was recorded. It’s naps that are needed, not mindful meditation.