Quiet Time in the Press


TAKING CARE OF THE STUDENT –
THE FORGOTTEN ELEMENT IN
EDUCATION

 
        The surgeon general said that America is swimming in an ocean of stress. If this is true,
         our
children are drowning in it. ~ Robert Roth, Vice President of the David Lynch
         Foundation.


A teacher of a Montgomery County high school describes the 7:30 AM morning: kids with
hoods pulled over their eyes, practically sleepwalking. At their desks, students are slumped over,
exhausted – sleep deprived.

meditat    A school counselor describes a
student whose deep anxiety
constricts her ability to understand
a basic math concept, and another
student whose pressure to succeed
is so intense that anxiety escalates
into insomnia, depression, and
feelings of suicide.
  In most schools in our country,
the student himself, and his
instrument of learning – his
physiology – are being ignored.
We are experiencing – possibly
promoting – epidemics of sleep
deprivation and stress in our
schools, and in the general public.
Not only do we not pay attention
to students’ physical health, we do
the opposite: impose physical and
mental strain – sometimes to the
breaking point – often with
serious, long-term results for both
physical and emotional health.
  In this article, we look at some
recommendations and programs
addressing this problem. We begin

 with refreshing our understanding
of
the goal of ideal education. 
                    
                 Students meditate during ‘Quiet Time’ at 
the 
                       Ideal Academy Public Charter School

Next
we look at sleep deprivation, stress, anxiety, and related Students meditate during ‘Quiet Time’ at the Ideal Academy Public Charter School problems of ADHD and depression, and the impact on student health and learning. Next, advice by professionals who work in this field of stress and adolescence will be presented. Finally, we look at promising examples where recommendations are successfully implemented: a school in D.C., the Ideal Academy Public Charter School, experiencing remarkable results by incorporating “Quiet Time” into the daily routine; and breakthrough research on ADHD and “Quiet Time” from several middle schools.

WHAT DOES EDUCATION REALLY MEAN?


        All that lies before us and all that lies behind us are tiny matters compared to what lies
        
within us. ~ Emerson.

Education comes from the Latin root 'educere', meaning to 'draw out from within' or to 'lead

forth'. ‘Education’ means something other than filling up the mind with information. Socrates
said, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” It involves cultivating the
student’s inner genius, innate intelligence, creativity, consciousness.

        Quite clearly the two great things for which we aim are the improvement of intelligence
        and the deepening and the extension of the feeling of friendliness and love.

        ~ Aldous Huxley

A student truly being educated is not merely learning information. He is cultivating the quality

of his awareness: becoming more awake, clear, creative. He is developing his character: virtues
of friendliness, helpfulness, compassion. And cultivating a love of learning and sense of vitality:
feeling interested, enthusiastic, capable, confident.

        The qualities we often find in great people – flexibility, curiosity, energy, receptivity
        to
 new ideas, and lovingness – are first found in children and then maintained through 
        adulthood.
~ Dr. Melanie Brown, Attaining Personal Greatness: One Book for Life

 
But what are we doing to cultivate these qualities in our students? It seems clear that we often

forget the meaning and goal of education.

SLEEP DEPRIVATION, STRESS, AND THE PROCESS OF LEARNING


    How a student feels – whether rested and relaxed, or exhausted and stressed – has everything

to do with how well he learns.
    This is because there are two basic components in the process of education: the known, or the
subject matter; and the person that knows – the student himself. Of these two the student is fundamental.
The quality of knowledge that a student gains will only be as good as the quality of his
awareness and physiology: whether tired and constricted by stress; or rested, alert, relaxed,
receptive, and curious. Yet what is not being addressed in our schools today is this fundamental
mind-body component.
    Most students are not getting enough sleep. Po Bronson’s article Snooze or Lose (New York
magazine, Oct 7, 2007) presents research on sleep deprivation, applicable to most of America’s
student – and adult – population. Bronson quotes Dr. Matthew Walker of UC Berkeley:

    “We have an incendiary situation today, where the intensity of learning that kids are going
through is so much greater, yet the amount of sleep they get to process that learning is so
much
less. If these linear trends continue, the rubber band will soon snap.”

Even one hour less sleep has a profound impact. “Because children’s brains are a work-in progress
until the age of 21, and because much of that work is done while a child is asleep, this
lost hour appears to have an exponential impact on children.” Bronson cites research on brain
functioning, academic performance, emotions, and other problems. For example, obesity is tied
to repeated sleep deprivation – hormonal imbalance affects hunger regulation and breakdown of
fat. And the tragically high incidence of teenage car accidents is associated with sleep loss.
    Compounding sleep deprivation is the stressful pressure for high achievement. Bronson
describes the grinding schedule of typically ‘elite’ students, part of a culture locked into notions
that high pressure and over scheduling are necessary for success in school and life.
    And yet, research shows the opposite. Lack of sleep, over scheduling, and high pressure lead
to high anxiety and stress. Robert Sapolsky, international stress expert, says a common result
from an overworked, worn out stress response is depression. Prolonged stress – when the stress
response stays on day after day – limits and constricts brain functioning.
    I spoke with William Stixrud, Ph.D., a prominent clinical neuron-psychologist whose group
practice in Silver Spring specializes in neuron-psychological assessment of children, adolescents,
and adults with learning and/or emotional disorders. Dr. Stixrud lectures and writes extensively
about student learning, adolescent development, sleep deprivation, and the ways stress affects the
developing brain.
    Dr. Stixrud explains: “Learning under high stress and fear is literally ‘wrong-headed,’ as it is
incompatible with what we know about how the brain works. Not only does stress interfere with
functions such as attention, memory, organization, and integration, but prolonged stress actually
kills brain cells and shrinks the brain’s main memory structures. Stress burns out their brains in
the long run. When someone says, ‘I’m stressed out of my mind,’ he is literally telling the truth.
This is not what students need in order to learn, remember, perform at peak efficiency, and enjoy
life.”
    The emotional anxiety and turmoil accompanying the biochemistry of prolonged stress often
leads to behavior problems and depression. It also demands relief. Young people often seek this
relief in the anesthetizing effect of alcohol and drugs. With lower income children, where stress
levels are even higher, this is even more prevalent.

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
    
    Another widespread disability related to stress is Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

(ADHD). Studies published in journals Child Development, Molecular Psychiatry, and others
shed light on the relationship between stress and ADHD, states Dr. Sarina Grosswald, an expert
in cognitive learning who recently conducted groundbreaking research on ADHD (see below).
The areas of the brain adversely affected by stress are the same areas affected by ADHD.
    Could ADHD be caused, at least in part, by stress? At the very least, the symptoms of ADHD
are aggravated by stress, including impassivity, mental and physical restlessness, inattention,
distractibility, and disorganization. And the current solution – medication – is far from perfect.
While it improves symptoms in many children, it often creates unacceptable side effects and is
ineffective for many children with ADHD. There are a number of concerns about long term use
of stimulant medication, including concerns about growth, cardiac health, and liver function.
    There is much room for improvement in the way we treat kids with ADHD.
    In summary, the indicators are overwhelming that our society and schools are neglecting the
fundamental component of education – the student himself, his instrument of learning, his
physiology.
    Now that we know about this heartbreaking trend affecting our youth today, let’s look at some
proposed recommendations, and some approaches to these problems that are meeting with
success.

SOME SOLUTIONS

    Addressing the problem of sleep deprivation, high schools in Edina, Minnesota and Lexington,

Kentucky changed morning start time to an hour later. This had significant results in improving
academic achievement, involvement in extracurricular sports, and overall well-being of the
students, including fewer teenage car accidents. This is an important investment that all school
systems should take seriously.
    In his work with parents, students, and educators, Dr. Stixrud gives these recommendations:
        • Make a balanced, healthy life a priority for you and your children. It will pay off in the
        long run in your having more happy and successful lives.
        • Remind yourself how much more productive and happy you yourself are as adults when
        healthy and clear minded – kids are no different.
        • Realize that students learn more when they feel safe, included, accepted, and challenged
        – but not rushed.
        • Take developmental readiness into consideration; do not push for teaching academic
        skills at younger and younger ages. From a neuron-developmental point of view it makes
        no sense to push learning before the student is developmentally ready, as most things are
        more easily learned by a more mature brain.
        • Consider and discuss what truly successful adults are like – doing what they love instead
        of being concerned about competition and success.
        • Make sleep a top priority, teaching kids about the effect of sleep deprivation. Regularity
        of bedtime promotes better quality sleep.
        • Teach kids about the effects of prolonged stress on the brain. Discuss the value of deep
        rest and what it can contribute to your activity.
    Regarding this last recommendation, Dr. Stixrud says, “There is an enormous body of research
that emphasizes how important deep rest is forMen Med
the nervous system. The nervous system
works best when adequately rested. And we
know that sleep does not always adequately
dissolve deep-rooted stress.” To address these more deeply-rooted problems, Stixrud
recommends the easily learned meditation
technique of Transcendental Meditation –
either incorporated into the school’s routine,
or practiced at home.
    He states, “I have been a big fan of using
Transcendental Meditation for many years,
due in part to the program’s unparalleled ability to create the experience of ‘restful alertness.’
This unique state produces high levels of coherence or orderliness in the functioning of the brain,
which results in the experience of increased peacefulness, harmony, mental clarity, and the
ability to see things in perspective.”
 
  Dr. Stixrud is on the Advisory Board of the David Lynch Foundation, which is funding the

implementation of Transcendental Meditation in public and private schools in the U.S. and
around the world, including some in Washington, D.C.

Ideal Academy Public Charter School’s program of ‘Quiet Time with Transcendental
Meditation’

    One school in Washington, D. C. – the Ideal Academy Public Charter School – has taken to
heart recommendations for nurturing the student. In addition to its later start time and healthy hot
lunches, they have pioneered the program of ‘Quiet Time with Transcendental Meditation’ as
part of their chartered purpose of attending to the well-being of the student. Fifth graders, middle
school, and high school students participate in Quiet Time, as well as most faculty and staff.
  On the morning I visit Ideal Academy, theMed Doc
students are arriving and the halls are full of noisy
teenage exchanges. The school’s principal, Dr.
George Rutherford, greets students as they enter,
smiling warmly, exchanging banter. He looks
youthful and vibrant for his 45 years in public
education.
  Dr. Rutherford explains how he first came upon
Transcendental Meditation in the early 1990’s
when principal of the Fletcher Johnson
Educational Center – a school in one of the most
dangerous neighborhoods in D.C. “Dr. John
Hagelin, a Harvard-trained quantum physicist and
educator, came to my school and talked to my
kids about politics. I was intrigued with what he
had to say – he talked about educational programs
that develop human consciousness.”
    Dr. Hagelin, Director of the Institute of Science,
Technology and Public Policy, has led an
international scientific investigation into the
foundations of human consciousness and practical
applications for education, public policy, and world peace.
    Dr. Rutherford was impressed, and he and his wife learned the technique. After practicing the
technique for some time, his colleagues saw a difference in him. “I was able to do more and I
was not as hyper.” His wife had initially been apprehensive “because she is a devout religious
person and thought it might conflict with her Christian belief,” but after learning the technique,
“she realized it had nothing to do with religion, and she encouraged our four children to learn
also. It was a beautiful experience.”
    “Soon after this I visited the school in Fairfield, Iowa,” a kindergarten through 12th grade
school where students practice Transcendental Meditation. “I saw how happy the students were
and wanted to bring the same kind of atmosphere back to my students.” Dr. Rutherford
continued, “Having a way to become calm and peaceful, yet awake, alert – that’s just what
students need, but don’t usually have. All these things – my own experience, the school in
Fairfield, and the impressive amount of research backing it up – led to my decision to bring this
to my students” – first, at Fletcher Johnson. The positive changes were “dramatic, almost
miraculous” in terms of school atmosphere, student behavior, and academic achievement during
a three year trial.
Dr.Rutherford later came to be principal at the Ideal Academy Public Charter School, where
‘Quiet Time with Transcendental Meditation’ was included in the charter. “The program was
included in the proposal agreed upon by the D.C. Board of Education,” explains Dr. Rutherford.
girls med
On the day I visit Ideal Academy, I experience what Dr. Rutherford described: deep silence and

settledness as students, faculty and staff participate in Quiet Time morning and afternoon. “The
personal experiences and research are showing the effect these periods of silence have on
learning and teaching,” said Rutherford. Here are some things the students have shared:
        “My grades got better because I’ve been calm in class.”
        “I used to be grumpy – I had an attitude problem. Now all I have to do is meditate.
        If you keep that stress in, it bottles up, and you need to let it out. So you
        meditate… and it goes away.”
        “I notice I haven’t been mad for awhile, since I learned TM. I used to get in fights
        and I used to talk about people behind their back. And it helps me not to get
        distracted. My mom said that when I’m in class, I was bored. But now, I’m not
        really bored.”
        “Before I started meditating, when I didn’t understand something, I would sit there
        and get mad and just want to skip it. But now, if I don’t get something, I’ll ask the
        teacher more questions, and I do better now.”
        “I have asthma, and physically, TM has helped me with my respiration and
        breathing. Academically I have been more stimulated towards learning and I have
        gained a quiet patience and tolerance towards math. My teachers have commented
        on changes in me.”
    Research supports these experiences. The 2005-2006 pilot project at Ideal Academy, along
with research at middle and high schools in national studies using Transcendental Meditation,
show the following results:
        - Reductions in anxiety, emotional distress, suspension rates, symptoms of
        depression, high blood pressure, hyperactivity, and inattentiveness
        - Increases in academic achievement, overall self-concept, happiness, receptivity,
        and readiness for learning.
    At a recent New England Conference on Children’s Health and Education held at the Harvard
Club of Boston, Dr. Rutherford and Dr. Hagelin addressed educators about the effects of
Transcendental Meditation in the classroom. Dr. Hagelin explained what happens during the
practice: “The brain experiences a profound transformation, becoming coherent, balanced and
calm. This orderly brain functioning is correlated with emotional stability, IQ, creativity, moral
reasoning etc. Everything good about the brain depends upon its orderly functioning. ”
    Dr. Rutherford summarized, “As educators, our responsibility is to change the quality of life
of young people, isn’t that true? We should be jumping on whatever program that has research
behind it that has proven that it can make a difference,” and referred to some of the
600 studies, including through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), that have shown the wide ranging effects of the technique.

    Relief from both ADHD and Its Over-medication

    ADHD is another epidemic greatly exacerbated by stress. Therefore, any approach that
reduces stress would have an impact on ADHD.
    This was the idea Dr. Sarina Grosswald investigated in her research on ADHD. Dr. Grosswald
conducted her studies at DC-area middle schools that have been implementing ‘Quiet Time with
Transcendental Meditation.’ Her study, published in the online journal Current Issues in
Education, received international media attention, including on ABC and PBS. It showed this
practice significantly reduces ADHD symptoms: reductions in anxiety, improvements in
organizing, planning, problem-solving, task-execution, focus of attention, and memory. Students
report being able to focus better, control their impulsiveness, and feel more confident.
Some meditating students have been able to go off medication. PBS’s “On the Contrary”
featured a program “Medication or Meditation,” including an interview with American
University undergraduate Josh Goulding, diagnosed with ADHD in grade school. “I was on
medication up through my junior year. Then I started TM. In three months my doctor said he
didn’t think I had ADHD anymore, so I came off the medication,” and felt fully adjusted within
two- three months. Josh has since graduated and works as a financial adviser. He says this
practice has made all the difference in his ability to be successful in his work.
Dr. Grosswald stated, “Unlike drugs, Transcendental Meditation doesn’t just treat the
symptoms. It influences the underlying cause of the disorder – which means it doesn’t just create
a temporary effect but can improve the condition permanently. It offers a mental and physical
quietness that an ADHD child so rarely gets to experience.”

A Vision of Possibilities

    I want to return now to the opening consideration of this article: about taking care of children
and reminding ourselves that ideal education is meant to unfold the full potential of the learner.
This includes unfolding the love of learning, passionate interest in life, flowing creativity, delight
and joy in learning.
    I saw this kind of enjoyment when I visited a drama class at the Ideal Academy. When
students were reading a script aloud to the class – shyly and haltingly, but with interest and
sincerity – the teacher gave sensitive and enthusiastic encouragement to them. The students
clearly felt a sense of openness and safety. High challenge, safe environment – conditions Dr.
Stixrud and others have identified as fundamental for optimal learning.
    The current trend of realizing that we need to take better care of our children, exemplified by
Ideal Academy and other schools, gives a real hope for a practical solution to the epidemic of
stress in our young people. We can help transform their experience of drowning in an ocean of
stress into the experience of swimming freely in an ocean of all possibilities.


Cynthia E. Johnson, assisted by Lisa Lindberg. Cynthia has a Master of Theological Studies

from Harvard University, has taught at the middle school level, and is working on several
writing projects. <cindy@pulsarnet.com>. Lisa Lindberg is especially interested in children
and the physical environment. <Lisa@lisalindberg.com>
Internet References:

TMeducation.org       ADHD-TM.org       DavidLynchFoundation.org       MUM.edu

Snooze or Lose article: http://nymag.com/news/features/38951/
For Harvard Club Presentation: tmbusiness.org/videos/hc_highlights.html

                 
        
This article was originally printed in the Winter 2009 issue of Pathways Magazine,
                                     Washington, DC. It is reprinted with permission..