Residents advocate meditation in public, charter schools
Sep. 17, 2003
Ellyn Pak
Staff Writer

J. Adam Fenster/The Gazette

Panelist William R. Stixrud delivers an address on the positive effects of transcendental meditation on schoolchildren to a parents group at a Friday press conference at Maharishi Peace Palace in Bethesda.

One could almost hear a pin drop as nearly 35 people sat motionless in a conference room Friday.

The setting was the Maharishi Peace Palace in North Bethesda, where advocates of transcendental meditation sat for two minutes with their eyes closed and their hands folded in their laps, demonstrating a stress-release technique.

They gathered to promote the technique, developed in the 1950s by a Hindu monk Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Transcendental meditation is a mental exercise to help settle the mind and is practiced for a few minutes twice a day.

The group of parents and academic leaders are planning to propose consciousness-based education, including transcendental meditation, for area public and charter schools, claiming that daily meditation promotes student well being. They plan to send proposals to area schools in a few weeks.

"Today, we live in very stressful times," said Sam Katz, director of the Maharishi Peace Palace, to a group of parents and academic leaders Friday. "...What are the signs of this? High blood pressure, anxiety, depression, apathy, violence, substance abuse, low productivity, poor job performance. These are some of the symptoms that are really gripping our entire population. Sadly, our children are not immune."

He said meditation should be available on a voluntary basis to students of any religion and age. Minutes of meditation can be practiced during school, after school, or part of a curriculum, Katz said.

Transcendental meditation became popular in the 1970s, after celebrities including members of The Beatles and actress Mia Farrow adopted the technique. It has been taught to millions of people worldwide.

But Randolph Carter, a senior associate at the Eastern Education Resource Collaborative in Washington, D.C., a nonprofit educational organization, said there are some prevalent misconceptions about meditation.

Carter, who is spearheading the initiative to bring meditation to area schools, said skeptics of the technique most often associate the practice with religion. He said he has practiced meditation for more than 30 years.

"I think the credibility gap has narrowed," said Carter, who attended the conference Friday. "It's back in the American consciousness."

He said transcendental meditation is an incredible source for eliminating stress, promoting relaxation and addressing issues of equity and diversity in the classroom.

"I don't believe there's any child who started school this week that said, 'I'm going to fail,' or 'I'm not going to get an A,' or 'I'm going to disrupt my classroom,'" Carter said. "And I don't believe there is any teacher who thought, 'I'm going to fail my students and take great pride in that,' or 'I'm going to burn out by February, and I'm going to be proud of that.' But yet, that's the case."

Montgomery County schools are not immune to issues of academic achievement, diversity and drugs, Carter said. The main barrier to proposing meditation to Montgomery County public school officials would be getting the opportunity to sit down and explaining the misrepresented practice, he said.

Karen Harvey, director of curriculum and instruction for Montgomery County Public Schools, said she hasn't heard much about transcendental meditation and that it does not appear to fit into the curriculum.

"There's nothing in our curriculum that this fits in," she said.

But Lisa Stickels of Rockville said meditation could fit into schools. A mother of five children ranging from six to 23 years of age, Stickels said she has practiced transcendental meditation since 1971.

Stickels belongs to a group of women advocating meditation in area schools. She said she came to the meeting Friday to promote the practice.

Some of her children practice meditation everyday, including a daughter who attends Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, she said. Her daughter wants to start a meditation club at the high school with a couple of friends, Stickels said.

The benefits of meditation are great, Stickels said, and she has noticed a difference in her own children who meditate. She said a misconception about meditation is that it makes children passive, but she disagrees.

George Rutherford, director of the center and principal of the Ideal Academy Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., touted Friday the positive effects of meditation on students.

"I truly believe that if we are to change the quality of life for America and all across the country, we're going to have to put transcendental meditation and consciousness-based education into our public schools," he said. "...I think it is the only program that can bring the solution that we need for America."