Wednesday, December 31, 2014


I caught the tail end of an NBC Nightly News "Making a Difference" segment while recording something else on the television last night, and was so impressed that I went online to check it out.  The report is about a meditation program at Visitacion Valley Middle School in San Francisco where, outside the school, violence, vandalism and other social problems are the norm, and where students were struggling to keep up.  The "Quiet Time" program introduced two 15-minute periods of silent meditation each day about four years ago and the results--no surprise, surely, to those of us who have been practicing for a while--have been significant: the kids are calmer, happier, less prone to violence and anger, and the school's performance statistics have improved dramatically.  There are far fewer suspensions, fewer absences, and grades are significantly improved.  Outside the school, the kids are better prepared to deal with the daily stress of an impoverished urban environment.

Here's a report from SFGate, whose reporter, David L. Kirp, writes, "I've spent a lot of time in urban schools and I've never seen anything like it."  The report continues:
In this neighborhood, gunfire is as common as birdsong - nine shootings have been recorded in the past month - and most students know someone who's been shot or did the shooting. Murders are so frequent that the school employs a full-time grief counselor.  In years past, these students were largely out of control, frequently fighting in the corridors, scrawling graffiti on the walls and cursing their teachers. Absenteeism rates were among the city's highest and so were suspensions. Worn-down teachers routinely called in sick. 
Unsurprisingly, academics suffered.  The school tried everything, from counseling and peer support to after-school tutoring and sports, but to disappointingly little effect.  
Now these students are doing light-years better. In the first year of Quiet Time, the number of suspensions fell by 45 percent. Within four years, the suspension rate was among the lowest in the city. Daily attendance rates climbed to 98 percent, well above the citywide average. Grade point averages improved markedly. About 20 percent of graduates are admitted to Lowell High School - before Quiet Time, getting any students into this elite high school was a rarity. Remarkably, in the annual California Healthy Kids Survey, these middle school youngsters recorded the highest happiness levels in San Francisco.
I knew that meditation had proved notably successful in prison populations, but this is the first time I heard of an inner city school introducing such a program.  The improvements at Visitacion, it seems, resulted in the adoption of similar programs at other middle and high schools in the San Francisco area.  Despite initial skepticism on the part of administrators and teachers, they too are bringing about remarkable transformation in both attitude and performance.

Can we foresee--could we hope for--a time when the practice will be introduced into school curricula nationwide?  What a difference that would make to a country that is suffering so much, these days, from ignorance and delusion!

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