The Mind & Life Education Research Network (MLERN) was formed in 2006 to create a multidisciplinary intellectual forum dedicated to exploring issues at the intersection of mind, brain, education and contemplative practice. This intersection was very novel; there was little in the way of systematic developmental-educational thinking in the Buddhist traditions despite interesting sets of practices such as debate in the training of young monks. Because of this, a primary agenda of MLERN became scientific and intellectual dialogue and discovery. A primary goal of the network for the entire three years was to explore, from various scientific, applied and contemplative perspectives, with various assembled groups of individuals, questions such as:

  • Do any contemplative resources regarding mental training for children and adolescents in the Sanskritic traditions of India exist?
  • What does science tell us about the prospects for the cultivation of self-regulatory skills such as impulse control, and interpersonal skills such as empathic listening in children, adolescents, and emerging adults through various kinds of mental and physical training?
  • What are the social-emotional, attentional and interpersonal skills young people need today, in addition to their academic skills and knowledge, to be successful, happy and socially-responsible members of school first, and society and the global community later? How can we cultivate these same social-emotional, attentional, and interpersonal skills in educators and parents so they can serve as positive role models for young people in these regards?
  • Might contemplative practices have anything to offer with respect to the mental training of “21st century skills” in young people and educators and parents alike – those that foster calming and centering, concentration, clarity, compassion, and interpersonal and intercultural ease of presence?
  • How can we design age-appropriate measures of these kinds of 21st century skills so we can measure their development all across the lifespan and in the context of interventions that employ contemplative practices?
  • What are promising extant programs for children, adolescents, emerging adults and educations that could serve as “testbeds” for the development of measures and preliminary studies of the efficacy and effectiveness of such programs?
  • What are the risks and cautionary tales of history we should be aware of as we explore the idea of introducing mindfulness and compassion practices in secular cultural settings like public schools?

Three Pilot Studies Were Funded as part of MLERN

  1. Amishi Jha, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania
    Developing age-appropriate attention and working memory measures for use in mindfulness-based training with children and adolescents
  2. Mark Greenberg, Ph.D., Penn State and Tamar Mendelson, Ph.D., M.A., Johns Hopkins University
    Feasibility and preliminary outcomes of a school-based mindfulness intervention for urban youth
  3. Robert W. Roeser, Ph.D., Portland State University and Kim Schonert-Reichl, Ph.D., University of British Columbia
    Testing the acceptability, feasibility and effectiveness of a mindfulness-based professional development program for public school teachers

A Collaborative White Paper was Produced by the MLERN I Core Members

Contemplative practices and mental training: Prospects for American education
White Paper Summary:
Drawing upon research in neuroscience, cognitive science, developmental psychology and education, as well as scholarship from contemplative traditions concerning the cultivation of positive development, we highlight a set of mental skills and socio-emotional dispositions that we believe are central to the aims of education in the 21st century. These include self-regulatory skills associated with emotion and attention, self-representations, and prosocial dispositions such as empathy and compassion. These positive qualities and dispositions can be strengthened through systematic contemplative practice. Such practice induces plastic changes in brain function and structure, supporting prosocial behavior and academic success in young people. These beneficial consequences call for focused programmatic research to better characterize which forms and frequencies of practice are most efficacious for which types of children, adolescents, and adults. Results from such research may help refine training programs to maximize their effectiveness at different ages and to document the changes in neural function and structure that might be induced.

MLERN Generated a Public Mind & Life Meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama

A direct result of the MLERN research was the 2009 public meeting Mind & Life XIX – Educating World Citizens for the 21st Century: Educators, Scientists and Contemplatives Dialogue on Cultivating a Healthy Mind, Brain and Heart.

This conference brought together world-renowned educators, scientists and contemplatives, with His Holiness the Dalai Lama presiding, to explore new avenues for science and educational practice related to the cultivation of these positive human qualities —mindful awareness, self-control, social responsibility and concern for the welfare of others –among children, youth, and the adults who educate them.

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