Mindfulness in Education

‘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’

Source: ClassDojo app takes mindfulness to scale in public education | code acts in education

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.

Source: Unintended effects of mindfulness for children | Mind the Brain

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.

Source: ClassDojo app takes mindfulness to scale in public education | code acts in education

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

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.

Source: ClassDojo App Takes Mindfulness To Scale in Public Education (Ben Williamson) | Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

Mindfulness training, this article argues, is a biopolitical human enhancement strategy. Its goal is to insulate youth from pathologies that stem from digital capitalism’s economisation of attention. I use Bernard Stiegler’s Platonic depiction of the ambiguousness of all attention channelling mechanisms as pharmaka-containing both poison and cure-to suggest that this training is a double-edged sword. Does the inculcation of mindfulness in schoolchildren empower them; or is it merely an exercise in pathology-proofing them in their capacity as the next generation of unpaid digital labourers? The answer, I maintain, depends on whether young people can use the Internet’s political potentialities to mitigate the exploitation of their unpaid online labour time.

Source: School-Based Mindfulness Training and the Economisation of Attention: A Stieglerian View: Educational Philosophy and Theory: Vol 47, No 8

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.”

Source: The Downside of Mindfulness – Pacific Standard

See also,

it’s no wonder that Christian communities that insist on “biblical inerrancy,” a hallmark of evangelicalism, exhibit abusive dynamics. If you want to understand the Christian extremism that represents the single greatest threat to democracy and human rights in America today, it’s important to understand how authoritarian Christians read the Bible.

True believers become so emotionally invested in their need to be feel justified that they often cannot face the ego threat of admitting that in fact they have not been radically transformed. Adults who join cults or cult-like religious groups such as conservative evangelical churches usually do so in an attempt to address some serious source of trauma in their lives. The children raised in these toxic faith communities then experience generational trauma. Indeed, psychologically, fundamentalism may be described as a misdirected response to trauma perpetuated communally and generationally. All of this is highly conducive to the proliferation of hypocrisy and abuse.

Evangelicals espouse a very dark view of human nature associated with their approach original sin, and sometimes with the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity. The belief that, without being “saved” by God, we are entirely corrupt, teaches us to doubt our own doubts. Ultimately, authoritarian Christianity leads to us learning to gaslight ourselves, and that is difficult to unlearn.

If you were raised in Jesus Land, even if you were not physically or sexually abused, you were spiritually abused, gaslighted, manipulated, and controlled, though you may find it hard to own this truth. When abuse was your “normal,” it can be difficult to start seeing it. It can also be emotionally fraught to start recognizing your friends’ and family’s behaviors as abusive. Learning to do so is painful but ultimately empowering. Another reason it is never easy to extricate oneself from Jesus Land is that the social and psychological costs of leaving an authoritarian faith community are high. Still. once you begin to see that the abusive ethos of Jesus Land itself is the problem, the source of your inner turmoil, you can begin to relieve the cognitive dissonance and to counter the negative self-talk and harmful old thought patterns with new patterns.

Remember this: you are your own person, you are morally autonomous, and you own your story. The more we talk back about why we reject the fear-based faith of our fathers, finding the voices in which to tell our stories and refusing to allow authoritarian Christians to frame them, the easier it will become not only for us to realize ourselves authentically, but also for others to escape from Jesus Land. If you are struggling with this, be gentle and patient with yourself. Authentic transformation, after all, does not happen overnight. Eventually you will find your way forward, whether in affirming and progressive faith or outside of organized religion and/or spirituality altogether.

Source: Escape from Jesus Land: On Recognizing Evangelical Abuse and Finding the Strength to Reject the Faith of Our Fathers – Not Your Mission Field

To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

You submit to tyranny when you renounce the difference between what you want to hear and what is actually the case. This renunciation of reality can feel natural and pleasant, but the result is your demise as an individual—and thus the collapse of any political system that depends upon individualism. As observers of totalitarianism such as Victor Klemperer noticed, truth dies in four modes, all of which we have just witnessed.

The first mode is the open hostility to verifiable reality, which takes the form of presenting inventions and lies as if they were facts. The president does this at a high rate and at a fast pace. One attempt during the 2016 campaign to track his utterances found that 78 percent of his factual claims were false. This proportion is so high that it makes the correct assertions seem like unintended oversights on the path toward total fiction. Demeaning the world as it is begins the creation of a fictional counterworld.

The second mode is shamanistic incantation. As Klemperer noted, the fascist style depends upon “endless repetition,” designed to make the fictional plausible and the criminal desirable. The systematic use of nicknames such as “Lyin’ Ted” and “Crooked Hillary” displaced certain character traits that might more appropriately have been affixed to the president himself. Yet through blunt repetition over Twitter, our president managed the transformation of individuals into stereotypes that people then spoke aloud. At rallies, the repeated chants of “Build that wall” and “Lock her up” did not describe anything that the president had specific plans to do, but their very grandiosity established a connection between him and his audience.

The next mode is magical thinking, or the open embrace of contradiction. The president’s campaign involved the promises of cutting taxes for everyone, eliminating the national debt, and increasing spending on both social policy and national defense. These promises mutually contradict. It is as if a farmer said he were taking an egg from the henhouse, boiling it whole and serving it to his wife, and also poaching it and serving it to his children, and then returning it to the hen unbroken, and then watching as the chick hatches.

Accepting untruth of this radical kind requires a blatant abandonment of reason. Klemperer’s descriptions of losing friends in Germany in 1933 over the issue of magical thinking ring eerily true today. One of his former students implored him to “abandon yourself to your feelings, and you must always focus on the Führer’s greatness, rather than on the discomfort you are feeling at present.” Twelve years later, after all the atrocities, and at the end of a war that Germany had clearly lost, an amputated soldier told Klemperer that Hitler “has never lied yet. I believe in Hitler.”

The final mode is misplaced faith. It involves the sort of self-deifying claims the president made when he said that “I alone can solve it” or “I am your voice.” When faith descends from heaven to earth in this way, no room remains for the small truths of our individual discernment and experience. What terrified Klemperer was the way that this transition seemed permanent. Once truth had become oracular rather than factual, evidence was irrelevant. At the end of the war a worker told Klemperer that “understanding is useless, you have to have faith. I believe in the Führer.”

Fascists despised the small truths of daily existence, loved slogans that resonated like a new religion, and preferred creative myths to history or journalism. They used new media, which at the time was radio, to create a drumbeat of propaganda that aroused feelings before people had time to ascertain facts. And now, as then, many people confused faith in a hugely flawed leader with the truth about the world we all share.

Post-truth is pre-fascism.

Source: Snyder, Timothy. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (pp. 65-69, 71). Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition.