Middle Schoolers Confront Bias with Mindfulness

What happens when a group of seventh-graders read To Kill a Mockingbird and recoil from its racism? Mindfulness practice helped this class in Cambridge, MA through uncomfortable truths and illuminated new insights within themselves.

Shady Hill teacher for Tahira MIRLAt Shady Hill School last year, a teacher asked for my help. Her students were so uncomfortable with the “N-word” in To Kill a Mockingbird that they voted to only say it aloud when reading the text. We wanted to continue supporting students to constructively address the hatred in the book and use this crucial opportunity to talk about bias and inclusion their lives.

Our students were experienced with practicing mindfulness — we had practiced a range of lessons and exercises together. They trusted me when I asked them to try a “noting” practice, labeling their moment-to-moment reactions. I asked them to label each moment in a non-reactive way, as “pleasant,” “unpleasant,” or “neutral.” While they sat quietly with eyes shut, their teacher read aloud one of the most difficult, racist passages that included the “N-word.”

In the following discussion, our students came to realize that mindfulness can help when facing difficult emotions. If we try to shut emotions down, they can actually increase. By noting our reactions, we have time to develop a different response. This takes practice; we need to be patient with ourselves. Mindfulness can help strengthen us for more encounters with hatred.

I am eager to create more curriculum that will intertwine mindfulness and inclusive conversations.

Tahira Wilson-Guillermo was Literacy Specialist at Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA, from 1994-2016 and served as their Director of Inclusion & Multicultural  Practice for two years. She is currently writing curriculum that integrates multicultural and mindfulness practices and also addresses bias. Tahira graduated from our Year-Long Certification Program in 2016. To learn more about her work, contact her: twilsonguillermo@gmail.com.

Mindful Schools transforms school communities from the inside out. Founded in 2007, Mindful Schools’ graduates have impacted over 750,000 children worldwide. You can learn more about our online course offerings, Mindfulness Fundamentals and Mindful Educator Essentials, and our Year-Long Certification at mindfulschools.org.

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