‘The irony of turning schools into therapeutic institutions when they generate so much stress and anxiety seems lost on policy-makers who express concern about children’s mental health’
Mindfulness can be helpful, but once ed-tech gets ahold of something out of a psych department, it is productized and exploited. Mindfulness is often (usually?) suborned by deficit ideology. Mindset marketing like ed-tech mindfulness “fixes” downward. Mindfulness is more interesting and structural in contexts like psychological safety, collaborative morality, stress cases, and comping culture, but those contexts don’t come up in most conversations I see. Those chats tend to be more about behaviorism and classroom management, which makes this autistic cringe.
My piece on “Mindset Marketing, Behaviorism, and Deficit Ideology” provides some background on my behaviorism and mindset marketing skepticism. Follow that with this selection of skeptical takes on ed-tech mindfulness. As with the corporate flavor, ed-tech mindfulness, like other mindset marketing, disguises the ways they kill us.
Investment in universal mindfulness training in the schools is unlikely to yield measurable, socially significant results, but will serve to divert resources from schoolchildren more urgently in need of effective intervention and support.
Mindfulness Nation is another example of delivery of low intensity services to mostly low risk persons to the detriment of those in greatest and most urgent need.
Those many fewer students in need more timely, intensive, and tailored services are left underserved. Their presence is ignored or, worse, invoked to justify the delivery of services to the larger group, with the needy students not benefiting.
ClassDojo has also hit on the contemporary perception of child fragility and vulnerability among educational practitioners and policymakers as a market opportunity, one its investors have generously funded with millions of dollars in the hope of profitable future returns. It is designed to activate, reward and condition particular preferred emotions that have been defined by the experts of mindfulness, character and growth mindset, and that are increasingly coming to define educational policy discourse. The psycho-policy ideas ClassDojo has embedded in teachers’ pockets and habits across public education, through Silicon Valley venture capital support, are already prefiguring the imperatives of policymakers who are anxious about resolving the toxic effect of children’s negative emotions on school performance.
ClassDojo is simultaneously intoxicating teachers worldwide while seeking to detoxify the worst effects of education policy on children. In the process it-and the accelerated Silicon Valley mindset it represents-may be redefining what counts as a valuable measure of a good student or teacher in a ‘happier classroom community,’ and building a business plan to profit from their feelings.
Psycho-policy, then, is the use of psychology to impose well-being and activate positive feeling in individuals, and thereby to enrich social well-being at large. In this context, as the sociologist William Davies has argued, the use of mobile ‘real-time mood-monitoring’apps is increasingly of interest to companies and governments as technologies for measuring human emotions, and then of intervening to make ‘that emotion preferable in some way.’ As a pocket policy diffuser of such positive psychological concepts as mindfulness and growth mindset into schools, the ClassDojo app and platform can therefore be seen as part of a loosely-coordinated, multi-sector psycho-policy network that is driven by aspirations to modify children’s emotions to become more preferable through imposing positive feelings in the classroom.
Viewing ClassDojo as a pocket precursor of potential educational psycho-policies and practices of social-emotional learning in schools raises some significant issues. Mindfulness itself, the subject of ClassDojo’s latest campaign, certainly has growing popular support in education. Its emphasis on focusing meditatively on the immediate present rather than the powerful emotional ‘Beast’ of ‘anger, fear and anxiety,’ however, does need to be approached with critical social scientific caution.
‘Much of the interest in “character,” “resilience” and mindfulness at school stems from the troubling evidence that depression and anxiety have risen rapidly amongst young people over the past decade,’ William Davies argues. ‘It seems obvious that teachers and health policy-makers would look around for therapies and training that might offset some of this damage,’ he continues. ‘In the age of social media, ubiquitous advertising and a turbulent global economy, children cannot be protected from the sources of depression and anxiety. The only solution is to help them build more durable psychological defences.’
According to this analysis, school-based mindfulness initiatives are based on the assumption that young people are stressed, fragile and vulnerable, and can benefit from meditative practices that focus their energies on present tasks rather than longer-term anxieties caused by uncontrollable external social processes. James Reveley has further argued that school-based mindfulness represents a ‘human enhancement strategy’ to insulate children from pathologies that stem from ‘digital capitalism.’ Mindfulness in schools, he adds, is ‘an exercise in pathology-proofing them in their capacity as the next generation of unpaid digital labourers.’ It trains young people to become responsible for augmenting their own emotional wellbeing and in doing so to secure the well-being of digital capitalism itself.
According to Davies, however, much of the stress experienced by children is actually caused more mundanely by the kinds of testing and performance measurement pressures forced on schools by current policy priorities. ‘The irony of turning schools into therapeutic institutions when they generate so much stress and anxiety seems lost on policy-makers who express concern about children’s mental health,’ he argues.
It is probably a step too far to suggest that ClassDojo may be the ideal educational technology for digital capitalism. However, it is clear that ClassDojo is acting as a psycho-policy platform and a channel for mindfulness and growth mindsets practices that is aimed at pathology-proofing children against anxious times through the imposition of positive feelings in the classroom. While taming ‘the Beast’ of his uncontrollable emotions of ‘anger, fear and anxiety’ through mindfulness meditation, ClassDojo’s Mojo mascot is both learning the lessons of positive psychology and acting as a relay of those lessons into the lives of millions of schoolchildren. Its model of pocket-based psycho-policy bypasses the kind of slow-paced bureaucracy so loathed in the fast-paced accelerationist culture of Silicon Valley, and imposes its preferred psychological techniques directly on the classroom at global scale.
But on the face of it, mindfulness might seem counterproductive in a workplace setting. A central technique of mindfulness meditation, after all, is to accept things as they are. Yet companies want their employees to be motivated. And the very notion of motivation – striving to obtain a more desirable future – implies some degree of discontentment with the present, which seems at odds with a psychological exercise that instills equanimity and a sense of calm.
To test this hunch, we recently conducted five studies, involving hundreds of people, to see whether there was a tension between mindfulness and motivation. As we report in a forthcoming article in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, we found strong evidence that meditation is demotivating.
Among those who had meditated, motivation levels were lower on average. Those people didn’t feel as much like working on the assignments, nor did they want to spend as much time or effort to complete them. Meditation was correlated with reduced thoughts about the future and greater feelings of calm and serenity – states seemingly not conducive to wanting to tackle a work project.
Then we tracked everyone’s actual performance on the tasks. Here we found that on average, having meditated neither benefited nor detracted from a participant’s quality of work. This was bad news for proponents of meditation in the workplace: After all, previous studies have found that meditation increases mental focus, suggesting that those in our studies who performed the mindfulness exercise should have performed better on the tasks. Their lower levels of motivation, however, seemed to cancel out that benefit. >
Source: Opinion | Hey Boss, You Don’t Want Your Employees to Meditate – The New York Times
Newly published research finds mindfulness meditation makes us more likely to “recall” something that never actually happened.
“By embracing judgment-free awareness and acceptance, meditators can have greater difficulty differentiating internal and external sources of information,” writes a research team led by University of California-San Diego psychologist Brent Wilson. “Their reality-monitoring accuracy may be impaired, increasing their susceptibility to false memories.”
But observing thoughts “without judgment or reaction” apparently eliminates these valuable cues, making it harder to later discriminate between things we encountered and things we merely imagined. In this way, they conclude, “mindfulness meditation appears to reduce reality-monitoring accuracy.”
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- Classroom UX: Designing for Pluralism
- Inspiration Porn, Growth Mindset, and Deficit Ideology
- Cambridge Analytica, Mindset Marketing, and Behaviorism
- The Pipeline Problem and the Meritocracy Myth
- When Grit Isn’t Enough
- Tech Regrets and The Ethics of Ed-tech
- Tech Regrets, Structural Ideology, and the Addiction Metaphor
- The deficit model is a business model, and ed-tech is a monster.
- Surveillance, Positive Behavior Support, and Intrinsic Motivation
- The Effects of Authority, Compliance, and Pathologizing Students
- We don’t need your mindset marketing.
- Lower Ed, Paying the Price, and Weapons of Math Destruction
- Forced Smiling, Psychopathologizing Hopelessness, and George Carlin