On meditation and civil disobedience in school

Meditation can serve two purposes: it can hone one’s consciousness of the present moment, a practice in being aware. It can also serve to take one out of the present moment, by focusing one’s thoughts inward.

1. Friday was the first (and I’m sure it won’t be the last) time I’ve been deeply distressed by what happened at the high school. I walked and walked downtown before taking the ferry home, trying to find some peace of mind. Talking about it with B and C that afternoon, I came to some resolution about what happened, and what I’ll do differently next time. Because this involves the very structure of education, unfortunately there will be a next time.

2. Diversity within a student body is a tricky thing; on one hand, the high school is proud (and rightly so) of the very fact that it enrolls a diverse student body. On the other hand, overt efforts to encourage respect for differences can go terribly wrong. Friday’s activities were focused exercises in diversity awareness, the damage stereotyping does, and dealing with violence. Seems like a good idea, right?

3. It went terribly wrong, for a number of reasons that are apparent to me, and probably other reasons that remain obscure. A quick list: Facilitators weren’t trained counselors or psychologists, they were well-intentioned but hopelessly inadequate students. Groups were far too big to establish any trust within them in a few hours. All students were required to participate in activities that asked them to reveal extremely personal information. A stereotyping “game” was beyond the maturity level of the students–they were set up to fail. A discussion on violence veered into topics that could trigger PTSD in students who have experienced horrifying violence. A couple of students who tried to leave the discussion were brought back to listen.

4. Because I was not involved in planning or executing this diversity day, yet I was required to be there as a teacher/mentor, I felt trapped in a terrible bind. I did not agree with what was happening, but I didn’t know how to stop it. My coping mechanism was to meditate.

5. Students who are bored, feel disenfranchised by school, are upset with the structure of school or the particular activity, often tune out. My meditating was simply a focused, deliberate tuning out, a small act of civil disobedience in the face of pressure to participate.

6. Measures to take: It must be explicitly said that any student who does not want to participate can opt out of the activity or assignment. There must be alternatives.

7. This leads me to the last point: the classroom/whole school approach simply does not work well in settings of diversity. When, for instance, Germany was a homogenous state, with every pupil in a given classroom coming from nearly the same disciplinary, religious, national, and social background, the classroom model made sense (thanks for the conversation last night, G!). When we try to force an outmoded model of education on an increasingly diverse society, the result will be civil disobedience. In the short run, it equals less than optimal grades and frustrated teachers. In the long run, it equals disenfranchisement and perpetuated societal inequality.

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One thought on “On meditation and civil disobedience in school

  1. Wow. Great post. I can see how that didn’t work with the students and I love that you care and were perceptive enough to figure out why.

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