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Shambhala Sun | May 2012
You'll find this article on page 75 of the magazine


A Real Education


Here’s an exercise for parents: Imagine your child has excelled at school and college and is embarking on a career. When they go for the big interview they’re flummoxed to find that their education didn’t cover the essential skills for this job — being able to calm yourself and regulate your emotions in a variety of situations; understand your own emotions, accurately perceive others’ emotions, and empathize; listen attentively to what someone is saying, negotiate, and confidently persuade; think through problems effectively while considering others’ perspectives.

“Kindness, caring, empathy, being able to de-center from your own point of view and listen deeply to others—these are values that should be cultivated in our classrooms,” says Mark Greenberg, director of the Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development at Penn State University. These are the social and emotional skills that a person who experienced “optimal nurturing conditions” would develop during childhood and adolescence and bring with them into adulthood.

Greenberg has become an influential champion of research into programs that improve the health and well-being of children using mindfulness and related contemplative approaches. They may not always be like the mindfulness practices that people who go on retreats do, but they feature “nonattachment, noticing our cognitions, and being able to find a spot in our heart and mind where we can see what’s going on but not get caught up in it.” This quality of nonattachment, he says, can emerge in sitting or walking meditation, in yoga poses, or through a variety of other techniques, where our inherent capability for relaxation with our mind’s activity can emerge.

The field of prevention, Greenberg says, not only aims to avert school failure, depression, and extreme aggression, but to promote positive qualities like empathy, citizenship, and strong friendships. Prevention focuses on “building resilience and promoting well-being in children, by working both with the children themselves and with their environments—the quality of the parenting they receive, the welcoming nature of their classrooms, the caring of their teachers.”

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