Education policy forms the basic structure of practice and governance and profoundly affects work and outcomes in education (Arafeh, 2014, p. 1), both through formal structures and laws as well as spoken and unspoken social and cultural norms (Arafeh, 2014, p. 4). All policy, education policy not excluded, involves making compromises to seek balances between freedoms, resources, interests, values, and efficiencies, and often involves redefining values in order to justify and account for the outcome of the decisions made (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010, pp. 71–72). Education is a right of citizenship and shaped by national policy, while also largely determining how citizens view the meaning of citizenship in their local context as it relates to their relationship with governing bodies and structures (Bell & Stevenson, 2006, pp. 61–62).
In the past, social welfare policy in the west supported notions of universalism, the belief that individuals’ rights to social welfare should be independent of their ability to contribute to the economic well-being of the nation-state, and that all citizens should have access to every liberty regardless of their station, thus empowering the state to intervene in market processes and redistribute resources in such a way as to balance inequalities. Rights of social citizenship were considered universal, much like civil and political citizenship rights (Bell & Stevenson, 2006, p. 60).In such a policy landscape, support for public education should flourish as a basic right of all individuals in support of democracy, equality, personal fulfillment, and the intrinsic value of every individual and their education (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010, pp. 72, 78).
More recently, a global shift towards neoliberal education policies focusing on human capital in a globalized economy, privatization, efficiency, and accountability has occurred (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010, p. 72). The importance of national human capital development to economic growth viewed from the neoliberal perspective firmly places education policy in the realm of national economic policy, resulting in the dominance of social efficiency as a policy value and education policy that supports economic productivity of nations and corporations (Bell & Stevenson, 2006, p. 58; Rizvi & Lingard, 2010, p. 78). Supporters of neoliberal policy cite the failure of the universal approach to provide balanced service provision to marginalized groups and its inability to address culture in diverse nations and argue that the market offers the only fair way to appraise and allocate resources (Bell & Stevenson, 2006, p. 61).
The shift towards neoliberal education policy poses risks. Education policy is social policy insofar as it promotes welfare, ideology, and social cohesion (Bell & Stevenson, 2006, p. 58). The neoliberal practice of viewing individuals as being only as valuable as their contribution to the free market necessarily results in rebalancing and renegotiating values like equity and democracy, sidelining some values and promoting others (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010, p. 76). Policies promoting test-based accountability resulting from this neoliberal perspective of education may oversimplify complex local contextual issues and reduce social justice (Lingard, Martino, & Rezai-Rashti, 2013, p. 539). The focus on education policy to support global economic competitiveness minimizes the value of discourse centered on altruism and assumes that public institutions and governments are threats to individual freedom (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010, p. 86). Increasing privatization of education services based on assumptions of greater efficiency runs the risk of corroding state commitment to public education resulting in it becoming a low-quality residual service for the poor and those without the political power to ask for more (Bell & Stevenson, 2006, p. 62; Rizvi & Lingard, 2010, p. 87). Decentralization for accountability can decrease national cohesion and, as marginalized students and teachers in low-income schools struggle against the odds to raise scores in subjects on standardized tests, they are more likely to ignore educating students in skills of participatory democracy, further limiting their ability to lobby for more social welfare support (Bell & Stevenson, 2006, p. 68) At the international level, as governments and international aid providers apply results-based criteria to determine whether developing nations receive education funding, there is a risk that developing education systems will lose funding due to low initial capacity or factors out of their control (Holland & Lee, 2017, pp. 26–27).
The proliferation of neoliberal policy in education and tendency to subsume other values to social efficiency as a meta-value risks strengthening historical and economic inequalities by limiting the perception of the value of the individual to their worth in the global market and furthering a reductive notion that success is proportional to effort regardless of starting conditions (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010, p. 78). As state service provision is eroded by increasing privatization, civics education is ignored to secure funding by increasing standardized test scores in core subjects, and the tone of the prevailing discourse paints governments as disconnected and inefficient, education policy devalues citizenship within the state and bolsters the neoliberal view that acting in self-advancing ways to increase one’s status in the global market should supersede altruism and civic responsibility (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010, pp. 87–88). Rizvi & Lingard (2010) state that the goals of education include “ the development of knowledgeable individuals who are able to think rationally, the formation of sustainable community, and the realization of economic goals benefiting both individuals and their communities” (pg. 71) The current neoliberal bent in education policy promises only to address the economic. Where then will individuals turn to develop the capability to act as rational, informed citizens of sustainable communities if success in a global market economy does not support the development of such individuals? What is the cost to be borne by global social welfare and democracy in the pursuit of economic gain?
Arafeh, S. (2014). Orienting Education Leaders to Education Policy. In N. M. Haynes, S. Arafeh, & C. McDaniels (Eds.), Educational leadership: Perspectives on preparation and practice. Toronto: UPA. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/brocku/detail.action?docID=1911841
Bell, L., & Stevenson, H. (2006). Educational policy, citizenship, and social justice. In L. Bell & H. Stevenson (Eds.), Education policy: process, themes and impact (pp. 58–73). London: Routledge.
Holland, P. A., & Lee, J. D. (2017). Results-based Financing in Education: Financing Results to Strengthen Systems. Washington, DC: World Bank.
Lingard, B., Martino, W., & Rezai-Rashti, G. (2013). Testing regimes, accountabilities and education policy: commensurate global and national developments. Journal of Education Policy, 28(5), 539–556.
Rizvi, F., & Lindgard, B. (Eds.). (2010). Education Policy and the Allocation of Values. In Globalizing Education Policy (pp. 77–92). New York: Routledge.
When the Medicine Wheel and Singing Bowl Meet: Can mindfulness support indigenous students in Canadian schools?
A colleague of mine recently made me aware of the work that she had been doing in her district on the “Keeping Aboriginal Students in School” (KASIS) project, a study investigating the challenges that indigenous learners face regarding life in school and what helps to keep them engaged and enrolled.The report is interesting to no end, and set me to thinking on the connections between indigenous learning approaches and mindfulness-based interventions, and the role that mindfulness might possibly play in supporting indigenous learners in K-12 contexts. A quote from the KASIS report was particularly powerful and resonated with me:
I've been taught in the Cree language the phrase “ni nimoya isketen” which translates to English as “I know nothing”. The meaning behind this phrase is more complex than may appear. When I say these words it reminds me about the importance of humility and to accept lessons that are given, at the time they’re given. These words tell me that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and that every person‟s part is of equal value to the whole. (Wallace, 2016, pg. 20)
First, the phrase “I know nothing,” and Wallace’s first reflections on its meanings reminded me a lot of ideas like ‘beginner’s mind’ and how mindful practices can help learners to separate themselves from their preconceptions to develop curiosity, openness to learning, and understanding of interconnectedness (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). Wallace goes further in her reflections of the meaning of the phrase:
The words tell me that the privilege assigned to me through the color of my skin is significant, and actively subverting that privilege is part of what I do to be a culturally safe person. Finally, in the context of reconciliation, these words have a literal meaning - I do not know. I don’t know what it is like to be a scared lonely child starved of their families love and affection; I don’t know what it’s like to be at the intersection of oppression, domination and discrimination; and I don’t know what it’s like to fight for my constitutional and human Rights, only to be denied them. (Wallace, 2016, pg. 21)
It resonated with me in a number of ways. Cushner (2016) suggests that the skills required to experience positive interactions across cultures are curiosity, open-mindedness, empathy, and the ability to cope with the strong emotions that may result (pg. 2014). Wallace’s reflection on reconciliation contains a number of Cushner’s skills in action. Mindfulness programs, by design, seek to promote empathy and compassion (Mindful Schools, 2016, pg. 4). These connections make me curious as to the role that mindfulness training for teachers, students, and leaders might have to play in discussions and initiatives related to reconciliation as it is addressed in K-12 contexts.
Of specific and personal interest to me are the challenges that young indigenous learners from remote northern communities face when attending school in southern schools away from their home communities. My hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario, has been in the news a lot lately in articles bringing to light instances of institutional racism towards the city’s indigenous residents. Much of this was brought out in the open after the tragic passing of a number of young indigenous students living temporarily in the city to study at high school. Unfortunately, many students have no other option but to leave their families and travel to the city if they wish to complete their high school studies (“Deaths of 7 Indigenous students in Thunder Bay the responsibility of all Canadians: author”, 2017).
Since the story broke, there have been so many heartbreaking interviews with young people sharing their stories, feelings, and fears. These young indigenous kids face many challenges in addition to the racism endemic in the community, many of which mirror those faced by international students. Hayden (2012) states that students face challenges when their native culture is not represented in their school life, and issues of identity resulting from lack of stability in their environment (pp. 64-67). Students involved in mindfulness training report that feelings of community, relationships with others, and a greater sense of ‘place’ are central to their experience, offering the possibility that mindfulness may help address such issues (Cheek, Abrams, Lipschitz, Vago, & Nakamura, 2017, p. 2564). Students also reported “getting in touch with their inner self” and “feeling an intuition for me”, indicating that mindfulness training may support positive identity forming as well (p. 2573).
The KASIS report describes IK-SEL as “two ways of knowing and being, with a bridge”. Mindfulness has been shown to support SEL programming for teachers and students (Garner, Bender, & Fedor, 2017; Bakosh et al., 2016; Meiklejohn et al., 2012), and indigenous participants in a previous study in Manitoba related to a mindfulness-based intervention program in the field of health and well-being found the practices used to be effective and culturally acceptable and suitable (Dreger, Mackenzie, & McLeod, 2015). Furthermore, recent studies of mindful engagement with the natural world suggest that it can heal feelings of separateness from the land and that parallels exist between cognitive and spiritual outcomes in secular mindfulness practice and indigenous land-based spirituality (Crews & Besthorn, 2016; Dylan & Smallboy, 2016). I’m very interested to learn the thoughts of indigenous educators regarding the possible utility of mindful learning practices to form a part of that bridge in IK-SEL classroom applications. If there are any Indigenous educators out there reading this, please comment below!
Bakosh, L. S., Snow, R. M., Tobias, J. M., Houlihan, J. L., & Barbosa-Leiker, C. (2016). Maximizing Mindful Learning: Mindful Awareness Intervention Improves Elementary School Students’ Quarterly Grades. Mindfulness, 7(1), 59–67.
Cheek, J., Abrams, E. M., Lipschitz, D. L., Vago, D. R., & Nakamura, Y. (2017). Creating Novel School-Based Education Programs to Cultivate Mindfulness in Youth: What The Letters Told Us. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 26(9), 2564–2578.
Crews, D., & Besthorn, F. H. (2016). Ecosocialwork and transformed consciousness: Reflections on eco-mindfulness engagement with the silence of the natural world. Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought, 35(1-2), 91–107.
Cushner, K. (2015). Development and assessment of intercultural competence. In M. Hayden, J. Levy, & J. J. Thompson (Eds.), SAGE Handbook of Research in International Education (pp. 200–216). London: SAGE.
Deaths of 7 Indigenous students in Thunder Bay the responsibility of all Canadians: author (2017, November 18), CBC News. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/thunder-bay/topic/Tag/First%20Nations%20student%20deaths%20inquest
Dreger, L. C., Mackenzie, C., & McLeod, B. (2015). Acceptability and Suitability of Mindfulness Training for Diabetes Management in an Indigenous Community. Mindfulness, 6(4), 885–898.
Dylan, A., & Smallboy, B. (2016). Land-based spirituality among the Cree of the Mushkegowuk territory. Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought, 35(1-2), 108–119.
Garner, P. W., Bender, S. L., & Fedor, M. (2018). Mindfulness-based SEL programming to increase preservice teachers’ mindfulness and emotional competence. Psychology in the Schools, 55(4), 377–390.
Hayden, M. (2016). Third Culture Kids: the global nomads of transnational spaces of learning. In T. Bunnell, M. Hayden, & J. Thompson (Eds.), International Education (Vol. 3, pp. 59–77). London: SAGE.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever You Go There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. New York: Hyperion.
Meiklejohn, J., Phillips, C., Freedman, M. L., Griffin, M. L., Biegel, G., Roach, A., … Saltzman, A. (2012). Integrating Mindfulness Training into K-12 Education: Fostering the Resilience of Teachers and Students. Mindfulness, 3(4), 291–307.
Mindful Schools (2016). Mindful educator essentials: Week 3 integrating mindfulness and
social-emotional learning programs [pdf]. Retrieved from: http://www.mindfulschools.org/courses/mod/book/view.php?id=31295&chapterid=28497
Wallace, S. L. (2016). Factors in Aboriginal Student Success: Final Report on the research project: KASIS - We’re in This Together: Keeping Aboriginal Students in School. School District No. 57 Aboriginal Education Department.
Matthew Boomhower is a mid-career educator with 18 years of classroom teaching and educational leadership experience. He is Head of Innovation & Learning at an international school in Malaysia and is a proud husband and father.