To a weary observer who’s watched Nevada’s K-12 education system limp into the 21st century, it can sometimes seem like the problems facing the school district aren’t just problems, but Problems — implacable, inscrutable, systemic, dyed so deep in the grain they’re less symptoms than a larger syndrome. Whether it’s state funding for education, graduation rates or test scores, the school district’s struggle to educate Clark County students has taken on the same sort of flavor as efforts to right our state tax structure: that of an ongoing epic with some small victories, precious few triumphs and lots of heartbreaking setbacks. Call it Game of Groans.
So, you can hardly blame a weary observer for reading an article like this with some sense of wolfish, almost desperate hope: Maybe this is it? Maybe this is the secret, the magic formula, the key, the grail? The this is, simply, Quiet Time. Could something as basic as meditation help turn our schools around? It’s an appealing idea after you read this article about how a meditation program in a troubled school has been linked to dramatic improvements in attendance, discipline and even GPAs. (Interestingly, one of Quiet Time’s most vigorous proponents is filmmaker David Lynch, whose filmography, er, seems hardly the stuff of a placid, om-chanting mind.) Since officially adopting the practice of Quiet Time in 2007, San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley Middle School seems transformed:
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.
Part of the appeal, of course, is that meditation is virtually free — welcome news for a cash-strapped school district. (Note to school district officials: If you contract a six-figure “mindfulness consultant” or “cosmic awareness facilitation expert,” you’re probably going down the wrong path.) And, particularly for its size, the school district has shown a willingness to experiment and innovate with what's-old-is-new-again concepts such as magnet schools and career and technical academies. If institutional desperation moved the school district to, say, oh, sign a pricey contract with Edison schools for a big bag of mixed results, a meditation pilot program shouldn’t strike anyone as all that far-fetched. Quiet Time may not be the cure-all for a school district beset with problems, but I can guarantee you that a roomful of quiet students will make for some truly blissed-out teachers.