Make pupils mindful of meditation, says expert

8th January 2010 at 00:00
Meditation in school could help combat the "mouse-click" generation's impulsive behaviour, according to a specialist in religious and moral education

Growing recognition of the benefits of meditation was evidenced by Aberdeen University's plans to introduce "mindfulness" as a masters degree, following in the footsteps of Oxford and Bangor universities, which already run similar courses, said Graeme Nixon, specialist tutor in RME at the university.

Of the 160 or so notes of interest in the course, 20 had come from teachers.

"Children today are basically reactive creatures," Mr Nixon said at a recent Curriculum for Excellence conference in Dundee for RME teachers. "They respond to life and the situations they are in, as opposed to reacting. Mindfulness creates a space between them and what they do, which is missing in a lot of kids nowadays."

The course would include a practical element, run by Samye Ling, a Tibetan Buddhist centre based in the Scottish Borders, and a research element, looking at the impact of meditation in different settings.

In schools, meditation could become a part of personal and social education lessons or RME.

Mr Nixon, who describes himself as a "philosophy zealot", also argued that the religious literacy provided by RME lessons was now more vital than ever, with about 10 per cent of Americans thinking Joan of Arc was Noah's wife; David Beckham saying he wanted to get son Brooklyn christened, but was not sure into which religion; and George W Bush using the word "crusade" after 911.

RME was also vital to give pupils without religion meaning, value and purpose in their lives," he said.

While some pupils might be unable to make statements like "I am Sikh" or "I am Muslim", others should not be condemned to saying "I am nothing", unless they were "well thought-out nihilists".

ROAD TO HAPPINESS

"Happiness is founded on good thinking," according to Graeme Nixon, a specialist tutor in RME at Aberdeen University.

The Philosophy 4 Children programme is one way to help young people explore their thinking, he argues. It is broken up into seven stages - a focusing exercise, linking to the previous week, the stimulus, pairgroup work, dialogue, closures and "thought for the week".

Mr Nixon recommends beginning this kind of lesson with meditation or a mindfulness exercise and using a story for stimulus. In a lesson with a P1-4 composite class, the story had stimulated discussion by offering pupils the chance to "pose one question to a woman who knew every answer".

The class chose "What is the meaning of life?" and this exchange arose between two pupils, whose names have been changed:

John (P4): "Well, I think that what started life exactly was a large mass of many elements - just one big planet. And after a while, it just exploded into many other galaxies and then planets and they moved on. I think the meaning of life was that explosion."

Molly (P4): "Well, I say the meaning of life is the seven days - the days that God created life."

John: "I disagree with Molly. I believe that Martians seeded us - people from Mars seeded our fishes, which turned into monkeys, which seeded us."

Molly: "I still disagree with John. I know he doesn't believe in God, but I still believe in God strongly. I go to church and this is how I found out about this."

John: "I believe in Martians. I worship Martians, in fact."

Molly: "I've been told this by John. He says his mum wouldn't like him to believe in God. You can have your own opinion. You can believe in God if you want to. You don't have to believe what your parents say."

www.philosophy4children.co.uk.

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