While the mindfulness in education movement is still young, it has an increasing footprint in schools across the US and the globe. One can argue that most of the practices are body and sensory based practices- breathing, awareness of sound, mindful movement, etc. All in the service of self-awareness and emotional health, all well and good.
But some educators are trying to expand that interpretation of mindfulness.
Amy Edelstein is an educator in the Philadelphia schools where she has worked as an outside provider (meaning she is not a regular classroom teacher) teaching mindfulness to students for many years. She has developed her own program called The Inner Strength System, and her most recent book is entitled, The Conscious Classroom (Emergence Education Press, 2017).
In this wide-ranging book Edelstein shares her experience working in the urban schools of Philadelphia. She does not shy away from describing the tremendous challenges her school faces, challenges which many urban districts are grappling with . Her tone is largely philosophical and abstract, but she weaves in tales from her classroom and her own life to keep the text grounded. She even includes the details of a horrific and transformative accident that she was involved in years ago.
What is unique about Edelstein’s work is her blending of the intellectual and sensory aspects of mindfulness. Or to say it another way, the abstract and the concrete realms. She talks of engaging students in large philosophical discussions, as well as teaching them to be intimate with their breath- to know their minds as well as stretching the parameters of their thinking.
The heart of her book is where Edelstein draws on the idea of process (and the related idea of insubstantiality), which can be found in Eastern and Western philosophy. When students really understand their role in the larger sweep of history and change, they can have more compassion for themselves and others, as well as see the ways in which they are connected. Young people are not isolated fragments floating through the universe, but are influenced by forces set in motion years- even centuries- before. They are connected physically and psychologically, in a multitude of ways. In one dialogue she says to her class,
“How much can we separate ourselves from everything going on around us? From all of the knowledge, and all of the media influence? ….. How much can you separate yourself from the food you eat? When did that piece of pizza stop being pizza, and become you? “
Edelstein’s passion for her work and for young people, shines through every page. And she makes a powerful argument for mining our spiritual traditions for philosophical ideas- not to be forced on students, but to be explored together. After all, we are thinking creatures with a need to understand and manipulate our world. And for teachers wanting specific lesson ideas, Edelstein has published her classroom guide entitled, Inner Strength Teen Program: Teacher’s Manual.