Part 1 of How to Mount an Invisible Political Coup: Contemplative Education

What do I mean by contemplative education? Exactly what you fear I mean. And this is not a matter of personal religious preferences. This is a matter of the same individuals pushing social and emotional learning in the classroom as a legally mandated component of education reform and the Whole Child initiative of the Common Core. Then turning around and pushing the same programs and practices as core components of incorporating Buddhist and Eastern spirituality practices directly into the classroom.

Somehow it is deemed “secular” though because although the teachers may get lessons on “Educating the Whole Person in the 21st Century: An Evening with Sraddhalu Ranade” or Shamatha techniques to enhance meditation, you just ditch that B word at the classroom door. But you deliberately keep the practices. Which means the intentions come right along with it. Whatever the parents and students and teachers targeted through professional development are told.

And this is not an aberration either. As the 2012 article “Contemplative Practices and Mental Training: Prospects for American Education” makes clear, this is where 21st Century Skills is actually going. This is where CASEL’s work (see tag to right) is going and the article was written by founders and affiliates of CASEL. Also the creator of PATHS that I wrote about here goes back and forth pushing the practices as creating New Agey Mindfulness for entities like the Garrison Institute (where Systems Thinking Advocate Peter Senge serves on the Board) and then calling it SEL, depending on the audience. Same with Inner Resilience’s Linda Lantieri. Just look at the back and forth on her schedule in recent years. Contemplative Education also cites Tools of the Mind as one of its amenable programs. Being introduced like PATHS in Kindergartens and elementary schools.

These articles I will mention today make it clear that the metacognitive skills that David Conley also calls College and Career Ready are also to be grounded in these contemplative practices. So this is not a lurid detail designed to get you alarmed about what’s really taking place in K-12 education. Instead as this 2010 Mind and Life Summer Conference brochure makes clear, creating these “mental skills and socio-emotional dispositions that we believe are central to the aims of education in the 21st century” becomes the whole point of preschool and the K-12 years.

And it’s not just students being targeted, educators will also be expected to use these contemplative practices. That’s you teachers, like it or not. Apparently such practices foster those to be mandated “communities of practice” that determine who is an effective principal. No coercion there. Just look at the pictures and speakers and topics and tell me how you would ever turn this into “secular” practices.

All of this is to be introduced first and then investigated to “explore the development of mind and the effect of contemplative practices on mind, behavior, brain, learning, and health of young people and those who care for and educate them.” And if that sounds like students are to be made into guinea pigs of the State, all these articles I have mentioned so far want and expect that these regular practices and experiences in the classroom will produce physical changes to the brain. Specifically the Prefrontal Cortex that we already knew CASEL wanted to target. We were just missing where these practices originated.

There is no ambiguity here that “Many people believe that the kind of education needed in the 21st century includes developmental outcomes well beyond academic learning, including young people’s social, emotional, and ethical development.” The cite after the quote is to Nel Noddings (who also has her own tag), thus making it quite clear that this Contemplative Education push aligns to what is called the Student Wellbeing Initiative in Australia. Explained here about a year ago.

The articles make it clear that these physical neural changes to the brain are hoped for as a means of fostering compassion and empathy for others and other politically manipulable “prosocial behaviors.” It does rather feel like something that belongs in a book or short story of science fiction, doesn’t it? And not coming to a classroom or school (including privates. I saw the list) with the intention of “bringing together the converging disciplines of developmental neuroscience, contemplative traditions, education, and social and emotional learning our goal is to create a synergy to inspire and support rigorous research and action to support the development of the whole person (including both students and educators) within more caring and effective families and school communities.”

And yes the word “Growth” which is to be how students are now measured, and what the feds have decreed teacher effectiveness be tied to, is used over and over again in all these Contemplative Education papers. Virtually synonymous with what constitutes “positive habits of the mind and heart.” Or “more adaptive brain functioning and prosocial behavior.”  Here’s one more link since what is sought really does have to be seen to be fully appreciated

To link this even further to our earlier discussions of global awareness and global competency, the 2010 MLSRI brochure even mentions that at this point ” the use of contemplative practices in educational settings is hypothesized to promote resilience, decrease at-risk behavior, and cultivate positive qualities.” Just a theory in other words and thus ripe for research in American classrooms determined to squelch individualism and the rational mind. The brochure then goes on to mention that this desire for research was the topic of a 2009 “agenda-setting meeting in Washington, DC that brought together world renowned developmentalists, educators, neuroscientists, and contemplatives including HH Dalai Lama.” then it cites to the website created to commemorate that meeting. How’s this for a name that gives up Intentions? .

Since popping over to that site might be inconvenient at the moment, let me tell you what you would find. A conference with the title “Educators, Scientists and Contemplatives Dialogue on Cultivating a Healthy Mind, Brain and Heart.” And if you still do not believe this will permeate the actual implementation of the Common Core and related global ed reforms, how about sponsorship by the Ed Schools at Harvard, Stanford, UVa, Penn State, and U-Wisc/Madison? How about the college at George Washington where Communitarian Amitai Etzioni teaches (also has his own tag). Rounding up the list of sponsors are CASEL and the American Psychological Association.

Finally, since we just had a poignant July 4 holiday in the US where many of us saw symbols but not enough celebration of the integrity of what the Declaration of Independence really means, there is the overall title of the conference.

Educating World Citizens for the 21st Century

Who apparently are no longer to know what freedom from government oversight and direction actually means.

At least that’s the current intention. Getting on to being time for a Civil Insurrection. Because clearly without one we are about to get invisible mental and psychological ones.


Does Common Core Target Hearts and Minds to Sway Future Voters?

A famous economist, Kenneth Boulding, basically invented systems theory to analyze people and their behaviors and the resulting societies about 60 years ago. It came from his concern over issues like preventing war, overpopulation, use of nuclear weapons, and other global issues. I have long known that the people who wanted to use education as a social, political, and economic weapon had a real interest in systems theory. What I didn’t know until recently is how Boulding believed in using what he called Preachments and not just prices to influence the behavior of individuals and groups. One way then to look at all this emphasis on Social and Emotional learning and Purple America and Global Competence and Dewey’s Quality Learning and Wellbeing and Happiness as desired goals for education is to create influencing Preachments. Especially while the mind is still physically developing as CASEL noted. Even better if the affected level is reflexive. Not a matter of conscious thought.

“Hearts and minds” is a phrase that just keeps recurring when you talk with politicians or professors or bureaucrats involved with implementing Common Core. It’s clearly the emphasis at meetings you and I were not invited to. It seems designed to generate excitement over what will make Common Core a superior method for the schools and classrooms. The students will be engaged with video games and interactive visuals instead of bored with lectures. Of course good lectures are not boring and videos and visuals are probably doing nothing to add to know-how or know-what.

But hey I clearly am not in the spirit of 21st century learning. And it is very rude of me to keep asking whether anyone would voluntarily pay for the skills, knowledge, values, and habits to be cultivated for the 21st century workplace. It clearly is designed to increase the comfort level with Common Core’s dominant emphasis on emotion and attitudes and cultivating useful political beliefs and social values. Nothing like a captivating slogan to make anything seem acceptable.

Remember though when we recognized that a primary goal of Career Ready Practices was to require each student to recognize their responsibility and obligations to others? And that the schools would be monitoring for daily examples of that desired attitude? I am not being Scrooge or a modern-day misanthrope when I worry about the consequences of such an explicit Common Good first emphasis. I can know what I think is for the best for me and anyone I actually know.

Calculating a Common Good for strangers though is impossible. Trying is dangerous and likely to create Common Bads. Trying to cultivate a belief in individuals that they exist to do for others and not their own needs or wishes is essentially trying to create a tolerance for modern-day serfdom. It is useful to anyone who seeks power over others which is why it has been attempted throughout history. Calling it a 21st Century Skill or Global Competence or Workplace Readiness does not change its essential function. Nor the fact that it is lethal to economic prosperity. It has people chasing after the unknowable instead of the real needs and actual preferences of people in the here and now.

Recognizing the Communitarian economic emphasis in those Career Ready Practices and other Common Core initiatives sent me scurrying toward Amitai Etzioni’s work. And guess what I found? Well, the Communitarian prof who wants to cultivate We-ness instead of individuality and reorganize the market economy around the new values to be cultivated via education mentions the necessity of “changing the hearts and minds of individuals.” Now where have we heard that phrase before? And this was in his 1988 book The Moral Dimension: Toward a New Economics.

He has had to be very patient. He must be very excited about all the emotions and values embedded into Common Core’s actual implementation. After all he saw them as necessary to the kind of altered decision-making he had in mind. A way of curbing each individual’s future choices without any need for their even being aware they had been so influenced.

Maybe by that 3rd Grade Teacher or maybe the Middle School Principal who pushes feeling over knowing. See how this all works?