Imagine walking into a Starbucks looking for coffee, but the baristas insisted you needed coconut water instead because that was what they believe everyone should have. What if they even refuse to show you coffee and label you “resistant” for insisting? Most people would be livid and call for the manager, yet we have allowed ourselves to be forced-fed a one-size-fits-all mentality in education. If a student doesn’t fit a specific mold or accept becoming part of the Hive Mind*, they get labeled as oppositional or even special needs.
As a society, we warn youth not to mindlessly watch TV or play videogames, yet, when they try to be individuals in school, they get punished. We penalize people for not implicitly following the rules while our most popular forms of entertainment celebrate rebellion and individuality for righteous (and often not so righteous) causes. Take, for example, 15-year-old Anthony Ruelas who recently was suspended from school in Texas after saving a classmate’s life. Anthony decided to take action after his classmate fell to the floor in agony while the teacher sat idly by waiting for an email reply from the nurse. Instead of being commended, he was suspended for leaving class without permission to take the classmate to the nurse’s office to get the crucial immediate medical care she needed. What does this teach any of the children in this situation?
If the concepts of mindfulness are to be properly applied to learning, there must be an understanding that every moment is an opportunity to teach. What we model for children is almost more important than what we say—they follow our actions more than our words. In world where the bystander effect has allowed too many horrible events to unfold, Ruelas should have been praised for his quick thinking and his decision not to protect his place in the Hive Mind. Instead, he will be homeschooled because his family no longer feels public schools provide the right environment. In this case, I have to agree.
Hive-mind thinking was just as entrenched in psychology as in education, but we are moving past Freudian rigidness. For example, instead of labeling a client as resistant for opposing treatment, many clinicians today focus on why it failed. Most of the time, it’s because the strategy didn’t take the client’s present needs and abilities fully into account. Or perhaps it was more about the therapist’s needs than the client’s, or that the tools of the trade have become more important than the person they are designed to help. Even the most beloved intervention—for me, it’s usually poetry related—is not for every client. Whichever the case, best practices directs the therapist to figure out what he or she missed instead of blaming clients for not agreeing to interventions that don’t resonate with them. Being a mindful therapist is often accompanied by a “not-knowing stance” in which we recognize that we may know some facts, but we cannot yet understand until the client informs us through all avenues of communication (including non-verbal cues and gestures). We leave our minds open to other possibilities and change, and we question assumptions and “truth.”
I view my position as a marriage and family therapist (MFT) as a facilitator in the process of healing. I never claim to be an expert on my clients; they are their own experts who may need some guidance or a supportive relationship. Just like teachers, therapists provide a necessary part of the equation this way. We can help direct, challenge, encourage, and offer a different perspective. When we receive feedback, we must listen so that we can help students (and clients) learn and grow because it is about their journey, not ours.
As Sir Ken Robinson says, teachers are supposed to facilitate learning, not merely testing. Rather than being content delivery vehicles, teachers should be celebrated as the mentors of the younger generations, sparking their creativity by modeling it. Despite all the efforts made thus far, children are dropping out of high school at record rates and going to college is becoming harder and harder for some to achieve. Education used to be only for a certain few, and it feels like we are going back to those dark times. As a society, we scoff at ignorance, particularly pointing the finger at older generations for what they didn’t yet know. Yet, what can we say when nutrition activist Jamie Oliver goes into American schools where children have no idea what a tomato is and are surprised to learn that the main ingredient in ketchup comes from the garden? Are we getting smarter or dumber as a society?
The Hive Mind mentality suffocates creativity in order to create conformity. While we live in a connected environment where the possibilities for education are endless to combat this asphyxiation of diversity, we cannot throw open the gates to this vastness of information without helping people, esp. youth, understand both the process of learning and discernment. At the very least, we shouldn’t be condemning those whose state of awareness has not yet been stifled by the Hive Mind. Ruelas can be comforted in knowing that his classmate is alive today because of his resistance.