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Lions Roar : January 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2007 71 THE ONE MILLION STUDENTS, 80,000 teachers, and 1,400 schools of The New York City Public School system form one of the largest, oldest, proudest, and most beleaguered school sys- tems on the planet. A city within a city, it’s a legendary place, regularly depicted in books, movies, and TV shows. It is also a very real place. In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks in 2001, the trauma experienced by young people was felt most acutely in New York City’s classrooms, particularly in Lower Manhattan. For Linda Lantieri, a prominent education activist who founded a post-9/11 schools program, “This hor- rible crisis was also an opportunity to acknowledge that both teachers and children have an inner life, and that their inner life needed to be nurtured to bring them to recovery.” Project Re- newal: Building Resiliency from the Inside Out (a project of the Tides Center, which provides infrastructure for non-profit pro- grams) started in the spring of 2002, with the goal of equipping “school staff and parents with the tools, skills, and strategies to strengthen their inner resiliency in order to take positive action in the face of grief and trauma and to model these skills for the young people under their care.” Its target population was twelve schools in and around Ground Zero. Lantieri defines resiliency as “not only bouncing back, but finding a state of well-being beyond our normal experience,” and her concern for inculcating it in children radiates far beyond Ground Zero and crisis management. She has been an educator for thirty-eight years, and a daily meditator for even longer. She taught for many years in a middle school in East Harlem and went on to become an assistant principal, a school director, and a college teacher. She co-founded the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program, one of the most widely adopted social and emotional learning methodologies. When she put together the anthology Schools with Spirit; Nurturing the Inner Lives of Children and Teachers, which came out in the fall of 2001, Lantieri was turning a corner. “Having first included the heart in education, through all the work with social and emotional learning,” she says, “I gradually moved further to wanting to include the spirit, so that all of a child’s self could show up in the classroom.” Project Renewal–Tides Center is currently focusing on the twelve schools as demonstration sites for a variety of progressive techniques. It is widely acclaimed as an important pilot project that will provide valuable research to support approaches that aim to educate the whole child. Lantieri feels that “contemplative” is often simply equated with “meditation” and may often carry a reli- gious connotation. Even though she acknowledges that “mindful- ness is well on its way to becoming a secular term,” she is reluctant to have a module with that name. She prefers to think and talk in terms of “nurturing young people’s inner lives, which includes activities that we might call ‘contemplative’ and ‘mindful,’ but it can include a lot more. One of the challenges of this developing field is building common ground and finding a common lexicon for discussing students’ and teachers’ ultimate questions about meaning and purpose, the spiritual dimension of learning, and the connectedness we have that goes beyond our own mind and emotions. This work includes what we might call ‘contemplative’ techniques for quieting the mind, but also the arts, storytelling, and spending time in nature, and I’ve certainly noticed that it is not at all difficult to get children excited about this kind of work.” Lantieri stresses that academic performance is important but that it should come in the context of a new and broader defini- tion of what it means to be educated. “A child who doesn’t have a sense of meaning and purpose, a child who is fearful and anxiety ridden, is a child who can’t learn,” she says. “A bigger vision of With these techniques, children can learn to slow down and notice their bodily sensations. It helps their ability to reflect on their own thinking. They are learning that they are not their own thoughts. −L INDA WALLACE