Why and how did Canadian elementary schools become so enthralled with “mindfulness” and “self-regulation”? What critical education issues were either obscured or ignored in pursuit of pseudo-scientific cures for today’s classroom challenges? What will be the legacy of turning the younger grades into therapeutic classroom environments? What does all of this portend for Canadian K-12 education in 2017 and beyond?
Dr. Stan Kutcher
Many years ago I travelled to the Dominican Republic with some of my students. This was easily a transformative experience for me. I witnessed true poverty and injustice in the streets of Dominican towns and especially in the hovels of the sugar cane plantations called bateys.
Everything is wrong about how people, especially Haitians, are treated in the Dominican Republic, but there is one thing that really stuck out during my visits. One constant presence on the bateys were the evangelical churches.
I bring this up here for a post on the self-regulation movement because there is a link I want to explore. The evangelicals were very popular on the bateys because their ministers did not call into question the injustice of their situation on the plantations. Their reward was elsewhere – not in protesting against the grinding poverty they suffered so we could all have cheap sugar.
Here is the link. Self-regulation never calls into question a system that lends inadequate support to educators in their struggle to teach in a peaceful environment. Rather, self-regulation or mindfulness calls on the educator to transform their inner self and the inner selves of their students to create a peaceful environment in the classroom.
There is no need to advocate for change because the change is within us.
In the past few days, I have received a fair amount of push back for posting about the self-regulation movement. Fair enough, the conversation is a healthy one. We are gearing up for an episode of the Class Struggle podcast on this topic, but we aren’t ready yet. More conversation is needed.
What I find interesting is the push back. People are writing about how self-regulation has transformed their lives and has saved their careers. People write stories about how they were able to transform a situation with a hug while other staff looked on.
Statements like this make me uncomfortable. They have a certain whiff of evangelism. You just need to see the light and your classroom will be at peace. Nothing else is necessary.
My former school board loves self-regulation. Why wouldn’t they? By putting it back on educators to transform their students there would no longer be a need to spend more on educational assistants. There would be no need to lobby the government to change the way we approach the education of our children.
It’s a simple solution.
At one point, our local ‘self-regulation consultant’ came to see me to complain about a new teacher in our school. During her observations, she did not see any ‘evidence of self-regulation in the classroom.’ I think she expected me to march right in and get that fixed. To be honest, I really didn’t know what she wanted or expected. I did know that we weren’t following the new orthodoxy and that this needed to change.
Nothing changed and the consultant moved on to spread more of the good news.
Self-Regulation is based on Mindfulness and Mindfulness is heavily influenced by Buddhism. I think Mindfulness is really great and I have practised it for many years. It is intensely personal and takes years of practice to get good at it. From a Buddhist perspective, you never really get good at this, your whole life is spent working on getting better.
Paul Bennett has written a series of articles (Teaching ‘Stressed-Out’ Kids: Why is the Self-Regulation Movement Spreading?) on self-regulation. They are worth reading. I won’t summarize his writing here, but he makes some very good points about the nature of the self-regulation movement and the approach it is taking in our schools.
I got into this most recent debate not because I wanted to write about self-regulation. I wanted to highlight the important CBC piece on the Sunday edition about violence in schools. This became a bit of a rant about self-regulation when it was suggested that the solution to violence in schools is self-regulation.
I have to push back against this idea. No one idea will save our education system. An idea based on developing a stronger sense of self puts an undue burden on the educator. There is a strong current of evangelism in the current self-regulation movement that blurs our vision when it comes to what is truly needed in our schools.
Violence is tearing at the heart of our education system, we need to keep a clear focus on the problem and avoid distraction.
5 thoughts on “Self-Regulation and Evangelism in Education”
BLOODY FANTASTIC GOTTA GO
I disagree with your statement: self-regulation never calls into question a system that lends inadequate support to educators in their struggle to teach in a peaceful environment. Rather, self-regulation or mindfulness calls on the educator to transform their inner self and the inner selves of their students to create a peaceful environment in the classroom. There is no need to advocate for change because the change is within us.
I believe that educators can use self-regulation to address the stressors experienced by themselves and their students WHILE AT THE SAME TIME advocating for changes to address issues like class size, lack of resources, the need for more support staff, etc. And while I continue to advocate for change at the school, board and ministry level, those changes most likely will be slow in coming. Changes in my classroom can be implemented much more quickly, and have an immediate impact.
Keep in mind that I’m coming at this conversation from a kindergarten perspective. In the Ontario Kindergarten Program document, there are overall and specific expectations which address self-regulation, so kindergarten educators are required to teach, document, assess and report on the self-regulation expectations based on the definition that self-regulation is “the ability to manage your own energy states, emotions, behaviour and attention in ways that are socially acceptable.”
I have to disagree. Any system that calls for inner transformation by its very nature does not address the wider system. These are basically apples and oranges. There are systemic problems that will never be addressed by self-improvement programs like self-reg. However, like any school of thought that claims to be all things, it is normal for supporters to think that not only will it transform the individual, it will somehow transform the whole system. Somehow, magically without even looking at the problems in our current system, self-regulation will transform our school system into something magical. Pretty dangerous thinking.
Self-regulation is “the ability to manage your own energy states, emotions, behaviour and attention in ways that are socially acceptable” (The Kindergarten Program, 2016, Ontario Ministry of Education). In other words, instead of lashing out verbally and/or physically, or self-medicating, or becoming withdrawn, you can deal with stress in a healthy way. Isn’t that exactly what we want for every student and every educator? It is not magical; it is a skill that has to be learned and taught.
I agree that it would be dangerous to think that one idea could possibly be the single answer to such a complex problem. There is no simple solution to the problems of violence in schools. I agree that the work of finding a solution should not be carried by educators alone. But we absolutely need to have a voice at the table. I don’t want bureaucrats in an office in Toronto who have never taught a day in their life and probably haven’t been in an elementary school classroom since they finished grade 8 to be the ones deciding what works best in schools. What we’ve seen so far of the decisions made by the current government concern me. Increasing class sizes, reducing support staff, eliminating grants for parent groups, reducing funds for teacher-lead professional learning, creating a $140,000 EQAO supervisor position for an old friend – if the government thinks that’s going to lead to improvement in education, that’s what I’d call dangerous thinking.
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