Mindfulness in Education: Case Studies of Mindful Teachers and Their Teaching Practices

By Sherretz, Christine E. | Journal of Thought, Fall-Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Mindfulness in Education: Case Studies of Mindful Teachers and Their Teaching Practices


Sherretz, Christine E., Journal of Thought


Introduction

For generations, educational philosophers, parents, business people, and practitioners have argued that public schools promote mindless standardization that stifles creativity, curiosity, and enthusiasm for learning. Dewey (1933) argued that schools try to instill uniformity and therefore rule out wonder. As a result, schools are not energetic and vital. Along that same line, Whitehead (1929) stated that schools were dominated by routine and teaching of "...inert ideas that are merely received into the mind without being utilized, or tested, or thrown into fresh combinations" (p. 1). This view prevailed later in the century as Silberman (1970) wrote that "...what is mostly wrong with schools and colleges is mindlessness" (p. 36) and Gardner (1983) argued that most schools never go beyond rote memorization and the superficial learning of facts. More recently, Eisner (2005) argued that too much time is spent on test preparation instead of focusing on meaningful activities that can be intrinsically motivating to students.

The opposite of mindlessness is mindfulness. Mindfulness is a more expansive view of intelligence. Ritchhart (2002) and Schlinger (2003) have stated that since the 20th century, intelligence has been conceptualized from a psychometric perspective that stresses the presence of specific abilities, skills, and processing capabilities. Intelligence is measured with predicted outcomes that separate those with more ability from those with less ability. Langer (1992) stated that mindfulness should not be confused with the psychometric views of intelligence that are linear and move from problems to solutions and from questions to answers.

The capacity to resolve problems as measured in terms of cognitive speed has served as the standard definition of intelligence (Eysenck, 1987; Jensen, 1982; Spearman, 1927; Sternberg, 1980). Brown and Langer (1990) stated that mindfulness is purposefully not linear; it asserts that problems and resolutions should be viewed from several vantage points with several possible outcomes. Langer (1989) stated that mindfulness is a process in which an individual views one situation from several perspectives. Instead of moving in a linear fashion from question to answer, the mindful individual seeks out other vantage points to view the problem. This in turn may raise additional questions and scenarios.

Brown and Langer (1990) described four main distinctions between intelligence and mindfulness. First, intelligence requires the individual to correspond reality to one optimal fit between the individual and the environment, whereas mindful individuals identify several possible perspectives from which any situation can be viewed. Second, intelligence is a linear process that moves from problem to resolution as quickly as possible in order to achieve a specific desired outcome. In comparison, mindfulness is a process in which the individual steps back from the perceived problem and perceived solutions in order to view the situation in a new and novel way. Therefore, meaning is given to the outcomes through the process. Third, intelligence is developed from an expert's perspective that focuses on stable categories of information, whereas mindfulness is developed from more of an actor's perspective. The mindful individual will experience and view perspectives and information as shifting and unstable while they seek personal and professional control. Lastly, intelligence depends on the ability to remember facts and cognitive skills, whereas mindfulness depends on the fluidity of knowledge and cognitive skills.

Over the past two decades, experimental studies provided the foundation for the theory of mindfulness (Langer, 1989). According to these studies, giving people more choices, offering different perspectives, and giving alternative forms of instruction can promote mindfulness. Liberman and Langer (1995) found that individuals had greater recall of details in a story after reading a text from different perspectives. …

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