Schooling for Mindfulness

The First Dimension education system tends to limit every child’s potential for creativity by perpetuating three outcomes, namely, alienation, grinding, and disciplining, which, in combination, result in the curbing of a child’s innate intuition and open-mindedness.

Alienation results from the separation of a child from the environments to which he naturally belongs, i.e., family, nature, and society. Students instead inhabit artificial and controlled spaces for the most productive parts of the day during the most impressionable period of their lives, denying them access to the contexts in which they are best equipped to grow and thrive.

Alienation also arises from the reliance on conceptual and quantitative frameworks that are divorced from everyday reality. It is not uncommon for children to wonder how learning seemingly abstract concepts like trigonometry or Sanskrit grammar, without practical contextualisation, can possibly improve their lives. By separating knowledge into distinct domains and reducing it to ‘skills’, this system prevents learners from recognising interdependencies and appreciating the value of unquantifiable things like compassion and generosity.

Studying subjects in isolation contributes to increasing specialisation as the student progresses in the educational system. This tends to alienate him from other knowledge domains and the very consequential interconnections between them, and from the role played in greater society by the very subject he is specialising in.

Grinding is the result of students spending years in regimented educational environments. We often forget how physically, mentally and emotionally tiring the process of learning can be under the prevailing system of education. The more students are saddled with tasks, homework, tests, assignments and deadlines, the more they are worn down. This continual tiredness has a disabling and dulling effect on the student, with their minds and bodies losing the ability to mend themselves. Much of this grinding effect is due to the manner in which functional literacy is achieved in many educational systems: the inculcation of information in discrete, unrelated packages; frequent repetition; homework exercises; and continual testing to measure learning levels.

Disciplining has become almost synonymous with education. Many aspects of the First Dimension education system can function only by disciplining the behaviour of students. The numerous ways in which students are expected to be and behave are important values, but they are often wrongly articulated. Disciplining results in a preference for convention over innovation, following instead of leading, copying rather than creating.

These three aspects of First Dimension education result in a gradual curbing of each child’s innate ability for contemplative thought, concentration, creativity and interdisciplinary insight.

Educating Children for the Second Dimension

If the ultimate goal of existence is to raise and develop consciousness, then the biggest impact we can have on people’s lives is when they are children, and the best way to achieve it is through the channels of family, community and education. If we can, in each of these critical areas, create the basis for a logical system that encourages and supports the development of consciousness from an early age, we will be able to transform the human condition in a few generations.

The goal of education in the Second Dimension is to foster in students the love of learning, curiosity, openness, and the spirit of seeking wisdom. In order to overcome the curbing effect of most First Dimension education, schooling must become more holistic. Schools can no longer be factories that churn out standardised products in varying degrees of quality. They should be environments that encourage intellectual growth and the development of a higher level of consciousness. The purpose of education should be to give children the tools needed to embark on their own inner journeys of liberation.

School should be one of the means to help children see the interconnectedness of things, and also develop the ability to concentrate, which requires awareness and mindfulness. In school, beyond learning math, science and language (all parts of functional literacy), students should be given the space needed to reflect on the nature of their own inner motivations and to develop consciousness.

To achieve this, the school day must be lengthened, and divided into three distinct parts. The basis of early education is, and should remain, the necessity of functional literacy. The first part of the day would therefore be dedicated to the development of functional literacy. Advanced educators in the First Dimension already have developed many exceptional methods to teach functional literacy. Therefore, this part of education will not need to be changed. What must be abandoned, however, is the reliance on conceptual frameworks that target all children in the same manner. We know from observation that every child is born with certain dispositions that seem to be part of their inherent nature (the first element of their context). Even before family, social and environmental conditioning (the other elements of one’s context) begin to take effect, we often are struck by how unique each child is. Siblings can exhibit striking differences in their early  interests, capabilities, and reactions to educational inputs. It is vital to recognise that these differences exist, and that they are deeply rooted in each child’s personality. Educational practice must be built around this recognition.

In a school organised according to Second Dimension thinking, teachers must study every child’s individual talents and customise the learning plan accordingly. Every child has a natural proclivity to a certain subject area and set of skills, and it is essential that teachers and parents figure out what they are. If we do not follow our natural abilities, we will never be completely fulfilled or successful. This is in keeping with Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. Whereas traditional First Dimension curricula focus primarily on the development of the verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical intellectual modalities only, a more advanced and productive curriculum would place equal emphasis on other forms of intellectual ability, such a visual-spatial, interpersonal and naturalistic intelligences. Thus a well-designed Second Dimension curriculum would offer an interdisciplinary programme of instruction in which varying degrees of these intelligences are developed and exercised depending on the child’s own talents, even from an early age.

Once a child’s natural learning inclinations have been identified, he must be steered gently toward activities that are suited to both his interests and his pace of learning. Stimulating interest can be achieved by involving students in interdisciplinary activities, while the acquisition of functional literacy can be achieved by encouraging individual instruction at one’s own pace. In Montessori programs, for example, students are often required to teach themselves certain skills through reading and interaction with their peers; the teacher is no longer the provider of information, but rather a resource who can be consulted for further explanation. In such an individualised setup, one student may be working on fractions, while his desk mate is already tackling algebra.

During the second part of the day, students will study and learn to become aware of the interdependencies inherent in the world around them. The objective is to make interdependency ingrained in children from a very young age, so that it becomes second nature to them. The principal method to achieve this is cooperation with their peers (group work) in interdisciplinary projects that yield practical results.

A great example of this is when children are asked to set up a vegetable garden on school grounds. In such a project, they have to use drip irrigation (hydraulics); utilise mulch, compost and fertiliser (soil science, chemistry); make calculations about the garden layout (arithmetic and geometry); analyse the quality of the soil and the vegetables (horticulture, biology); manage the impact of rodents and insects (zoology); study weather and climate patterns (geography); consider the movement of the sun and moon (astronomy), and so forth.

The hallmarks of such projects are (a) their thematic nature, which draws on a wide variety of disciplines, (b) the very practical outcome of the project, and (c) the necessity of collaboration to achieve the desired outcome. In such a system, everything becomes learning, and students are not misled into believing that learning is abstract and compartmentalised. It also makes the students enjoy the process of learning, which will likely stay with them always. In addition, it will generate the benefit of occupying differing roles and performing different kinds of jobs, which leads to a greater level of respect for all professions and a better understanding of what goes into various kinds of work.

Each school would need to develop a curriculum that includes a variety of interdisciplinary projects in order to capture the individual interests and passions of all students. Projects should be centred around the following areas of learning:

Growing something, preferably vegetables. This would cover botany, zoology, physics, astronomy, and other scientific disciplines.

Building a mechanical system that helps their school, such as a system of solar panels or a water management system, or a system to collect, reuse and recycle materials in the school itself.

A literary endeavour that entails the composition, casting, performance and review of a play, for example, or investigating and researching aspects of the local community.

Working as a team to create areas of beauty and contemplation on the campus, such as a tiny Zen garden, or a roof garden.

Art and poetry that capture direct insights and alternative pathways.

In this manner, the school would be turned into a laboratory for learning rather than an educational institution in the old-fashioned sense. One of the most important outcomes of this educational system is to teach children to value working with their hands, and to be comfortable with physical labour.

These projects will also help students see the deeper and less quantifiable connections: relationships between nature and humans, between individuals and social groups, between actions and their consequences. This will manifest itself in the natural emphasis individuals begin to place on beauty, art, science, natural harmony, depth of personal relationships, and the realisation that we are parts of a larger universe, and a transient manifestation of it. It will also foster an ability to view problems from multiple angles and to find solutions that address them organically.

In the new model of education, it is vital for children to develop the ability to concentrate, which is the foundation for all other mental advancement. Without concentration, the mind will not develop beyond a certain point. Therefore, during the third and final part of the school day, all students must engage in age-appropriate but increasingly rigorous meditation exercises to stimulate focus. By the time they graduate from secondary school, each student should have accumulated at least 1,000 hours of meditation. This process could start with short intervals of meditation for young children—perhaps just 5 minutes in the morning before other lessons start, followed by 10-15 minutes toward the end of the school day. These periods could then be increased by a few minutes each year, until students develop enough concentration and focus to be able to engage in longer stretches of meditation.

Mental rigour and discipline are skills that have suffered dwindling relevance in the modern classroom. In an effort to banish rote learning from educational systems, repetition and memorisation have been discarded as useless, stultifying methods, and the mere suggestion of them draws criticism from education experts, in the West especially. However, memorisation and recitation are, in fact, very powerful tools to train and flex the mind. One only has to think of the fundamental role of mantras in many eastern disciplines to understand this. It is imperative to valorise them once again and foster their practice. Accordingly, a Second Dimension educational framework would make ample use of such techniques to help achieve focus, while eschewing the smothering use of rote learning that so often blighted traditional educational methods. Memorisation is only valuable if it is practised in the context of a rich interdisciplinary programme, and referenced to other learning outcomes.

Supporting all three learning components—functional literacy, interdisciplinary projects and meditation—would require schools to adapt their very architecture and landscaping. In order to offer all these curricular elements, a school would have to feature (a) a layout that breaks up the cell-like monotony of standard school architecture and encourages the pupil to be aware of, appreciate, and question his physical surroundings; (b) adequate outdoor and indoor space to conduct interdisciplinary projects; and (c) a special space dedicated to meditation – a peaceful environment, devoid of noise and distraction, that is conducive to the development of stillness and focus. Such basic modifications are not necessarily limited to schools attended by affluent students. For a meditation space, for example, a clean, empty, well ventilated room with floor mats will do, or, ideally, a courtyard with a raised dais under a tree.

It should be noted that some of the elements of the educational programme sketched out here already exist—albeit mostly in private, Western schools with high tuition costs. Interdisciplinary approaches to learning, for example, are becoming more common and their relevance is understood by educators everywhere. The IB curriculum’s emphasis on thematic “units of inquiry” in the primary years is a pertinent example. The Second Dimension education proposed here, however, draws together educational concepts and practices from a variety of pedagogical models, and entails a novel approach to the development of the young.


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