Meditation, not punishment



St Francis Bay freelance journalist Beth Cooper-Howell takes a look at the other side of life in Woman on Top, her weekly lifestyle column for The Herald.



Writer James Gaines asks: “Imagine you’re working at a school and one of the kids is starting to act up. What do you do?”

What would any of us do? Probably what we have been taught to do – react, punish, discipline.
Very few of us experienced an upbringing in which punishment was absent.

I was a model pupil at school, but despite my best efforts, still received detention one day for leaving a class music book at home.

The consequence of forgetfulness was spending three hours in a detention classroom one Friday afternoon.

Did this experience make me a better person? Yes and no.

The actual punishment was pointless and utterly futile – it didn’t stop me from ever forgetting something again, or missing a deadline.

What it did do, however, was show me how not to behave towards children when I grew up – and this helped shape me into a better high school teacher.

I refused to issue merits or demerits and I rejected the entire concept of punitive discipline.

A school in America has taken this a step further by turfing traditional “discipline” entirely – teachers have replaced detention with meditation.

And yes, oh yes! The results are good. It actually works.

“Instead of punishing disruptive kids or sending them to the principal’s office, the Baltimore school (Robert W. Coleman Elementary) has something called the Mindful Moment Room instead,” says Gaines, of

“The room looks nothing like your standard windowless detention room. Instead, it’s filled with lamps, decorations, and plush purple pillows.

“Misbehaving kids are encouraged to sit in the room and go through practises like breathing or meditation, helping them calm down and re-centre.

“ They are also asked to talk through what happened.”

No matter how cynical or traditionalist you are, it’s impossible to punch holes in this theory. Schools are, reports Gaines, seeing “tangible benefit”, with zero suspensions last year and none so far this year.

At a nearby school, which has also introduced a mindfulness programme, suspension rates dropped, while attendance rates increased.

Science is starting to see the irrefutable facts surrounding mindfulness practices, which have been in existence for thousands of years.

Studies have shown that mindful meditation gave active soldiers a form of mental armour against harmful emotions and also improved memory, says Gaines.

It also has been proven to improve focus and attention span.

Children are also teaching their own parents how to use mindfulness, and the knock-on effect of the practices include greater awareness of the environment, an interest in yoga and other de-stressing activities and rapidly improved responsibility and community involvement.

These include cleaning up parks, assisting teachers and planting trees.

We moan when students set fire to universities, or protest outside schools to have their demands heard, or back-chat us, or break the law.

But how about we turn our entire thinking system upside down – and inside out – to consider that we’re teaching them all the wrong things, in the wrong way?

If all of us were more in tune with our feelings, the causes behind our actions and our disconnected attitude towards each other and our communities – as much the fault of technology, as it is poverty or any other social ill – then perhaps we might start a revolution of a different kind.

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