An overview of contemplative education

Modern educational methods and concepts frustrate many parents and children, especially if students are not being successful and are not learning. Alternatives to traditional education are being sought and, as a result, contemplative education is becoming popular. But, what is contemplative education? Some believe that this new trend is a merger of old Western philosophies about educational methods and Eastern concepts of self exploration. But, it appears to be more than that.

Contemplative education is defined as an educational philosophy in which the teacher and learner embrace experiences through reflection and creativity. Many believe that contemplative education helps a person develop their whole mind through self motivation and self awareness. The method, which seems in tune with Socrates’ philosophy, helps improve learning, personal growth, moral thinking and compassionate living. Under this method, students become free thinkers, culturally aware, and more socially minded.

Since the 1970s, contemplative education has grown more common in the United States. More than just an option for the children of “groovy” or “eccentric” parents, contemplative learning programs offer a positive alternatives to traditional and public schools, which are often overcrowded and underfunded.  In addition to basic reading, math and history, schools offer meditation, tai-chi, yoga and other self-discipline practicing methods.

Schools, such as Waldorf, offer this learning environment for pre-school and elementary school age children. In these schools, students are allowed to explore and self motivate during the day as well as participate in mind disciplining activities and general curriculum. Schools like Montessori have similar philosophies, but are not the same.

Many American colleges offer contemplative programs and degrees. These colleges include:

  • Naropa University
  • Amherst College
  • University of Redlands
  • Hampshire College
  • University of Virginia
  • Smith College
  • Brown University 
  • Mount Holyoke

The numbers of institutions of higher learning offering these programs continues to rise. Also, places like the Garrison Institute provide programs and support to administrators, spiritual leaders and retreats as well as contemplative educational services.

Today, several organizations promote contemplative education programs and professionals. Organizations such as the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (ACMHE), serves an interdisciplinary association that develop tools for those supporting contemplative environments.

Even in this technological age, alternatives to traditional education are heralded as the new way of creating geniuses. Methods that include self motivated exploration for information are in the forefront of these ideas.

The thread that supports contemplative education is that the mind is being trained to be disciplined and balanced. So, contemplative programs can be successful in classrooms or in home schooling environments.

The failure of our modern school system indicates a need for change. As compared with other countries, students in the U.S. ranked 25st in math and 21st in science. Great men, such as Albert Einstein, were startled that our modern educational methods had not completely “strangled” curiosity. And many of these history changing individuals did not conform well to traditional teaching methods and excelled in more contemplative environments. 

Contemplative education challenges the current model for private and public education, which involves standards based instruction, memorization,  studying to tests and stifling of free thinking. It may be the hopeful change the modern American educational system needs to ensure a successful future for this nation.