Scott Cawelti: It’s about time for “Quiet Time”

This Quiet Time article appeared in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. It is published here with permission from the columnist, Scott Cawelti, a retired professor of English at the University of Northern Iowa, freelance writer and musician. Contact him at cawelti@forbin.net. Click here to see Scott Cawelti BIO. Photo by Doug Hines.

It’s about time for “Quiet Time”

January 11, 2015 6:00 am  • 

Nothing succeeds like success, as they say, and I’m here to report two genuine successes. One is small, the other large, a possible game-changer.

The small success involves my own daily meditation practice. It began over 30 years ago and continues to this day.

As a young assistant professor teaching anywhere from 90 to 250 students in three classes, struggling with writing conference papers, grading piles of student essays, meeting with students, attending multiple faculty committees, facing constant pressure to do more and do better, I was stressed. I mean, stressed out, exhausted, short-tempered and chronically anxious. I was staying afloat, but barely.

In those days, Cedar Falls had a Transcendental Meditation Center down on Third and Main streets, and a couple of friends each recommended I try TM.

Scott Cawelti

Scott Cawelti

I did, and it worked. Within a few days of twice-daily meditation, I began feeling relaxed, then peaceful, then downright blissed out. Well, not quite, but close.

And it continued. No one was more surprised than I.

Over the years I’ve attended meditation workshops, modified my practice slightly, and still continue meditating twenty minutes, twice a day. It has made all the difference in my stress level, and I’m still alive, well and pushing 72.

I’m convinced regular brain-quieting has given me more, and better, years. That’s what meditation does, by the way: quiets our always-buzzing brains.

I recommend some form of meditation for anyone who feels overwhelmed with pushes and pulls beyond their control. If it worked for me, it will work for you.

Beyond my own small life, there’s a much larger meditation success story that recently made national news.

At Visitacion Valley Middle School in San Francisco, they began a program in 2007 of twice-daily “quiet time” breaks for the entire school. This particular school sits in a rough, even violent, neighborhood. Attendance, academic scores and teacher and student retention were dismal.

Teachers and students alike hated the chaos of school days. In other words, the school made no progress toward anything but failure.

Now, after over seven years, they can judge Quiet Time’s success. It’s been dramatic, schoolwide and heartening. This is how David Kirp, a professor of public policy at Berkeley, describes the results:

“In the first year of Quiet Time, the number of suspensions fell by 45 percent. Within four years, the suspension rate was among the lowest in the city. Daily attendance rates climbed to 98 percent, well above the citywide average. Grade point averages improved markedly. About 20 percent of graduates are admitted to Lowell High School – before Quiet Time, getting any students into this elite high school was a rarity. Remarkably, in the annual California Healthy Kids Survey, these middle school youngsters recorded the highest happiness levels in San Francisco.”

Amazing but true. Kirp continues:

“On the California Achievement Test, twice as many students in Quiet Time schools have become proficient in English, compared with students in similar schools where the program doesn’t exist, and the gap is even bigger in math. Teachers report they’re less emotionally exhausted and more resilient.”

Incidentally, students are not forced to practice TM. They can simply close their eyes, daydream, nap — as long as they’re quiet during those two 15-minute periods.

Parents must give permission if they want their child to learn the meditation technique.

I can hear objections: wasting valuable school time, returning to hippie-dom, imposing a religious practice in a state school. All of these seem to be satisfactorily answered, since the program’s success with the parents’ permission for seven years speaks for itself.

Best of all, Quiet Time costs virtually nothing, and it affects whole schools so positively (based on real data) it’s at least worth a look.

My own small success story offers unqualified support.

Much more power to them.

# # #

Quiet Time at Visitacion Valley Middle School

Principal James Dierke first implemented the Quiet Time Program at Visitacion Valley Middle School in San Francisco. As a result of his school’s dramatic turnaround he was selected NASSP National Middle School Principal of the Year in 2008. Principal Dierke wrote an article about it (a Quiet Transformation) for Leadership, a publication of the Association of California School Administrators. He concluded, “I retire with the lowest blood pressure I have had in 10 years and a great optimism about our ability to realize this vision for education.”

NBC Nightly News reports on the Quiet Time Program

NEW VIDEO: With the successful transformation of Visitacion Valley Middle School several schools in the San Francisco Unified School District also incorporated the meditation-based Quiet Time Program with amazing results. Cynthia McFadden visited both Visitacion Valley Middle School and Burton High School and filed a report on December 30, 2014 for NBC Nightly News: San Francisco Schools Transformed by the Power of Meditation. Visit the David Lynch Foundation for more on the Quiet Time program in schools.

Edutopia reported on Quiet Time at Visitacion Valley Middle School

David Markus, former Editorial Director of Edutopia, had visited the school and produced this report: Risking Peace at a Troubled School. Below is the video: How Daily Meditation Improves Behavior. Here is another video on the school’s program: Meditation in San Francisco School Improves Learning

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