Marin IJ

School needs to rethink use of TM

Article Launched:10/16/2006 04:39:20 AM PDT

MEDITATION HAS gained growing acceptance in the West as a way to reduce stress and clear the mind.

Terra Linda High School's decision to offer Transcendental Meditation, with the help of a $175,000 grant from filmmaker David Lynch's foundation, as part of a new wellness program is having the opposite effect.

Some parents are upset, concerned that Transcendental Meditation has religious overtones that are inappropriate in a public school.

Those concerns are legitimate.

The high school and the San Rafael High School District should reconsider the decision to accept the $175,000 grant and the use of Transcendental Meditation as part of this new program. TM is the stress management component of a School Wellness Program approved by the district board in June.

The other aspects of the wellness program have great merit: Encouraging students to eat more fruits and vegetables instead of refined and processed foods and increasing physical education.

The issue boiled over at an informational meeting for parents at Terra Linda High on Thursday night that was hosted by Principal Carole Ramsey. Ramsey, who became interested after hearing Lynch speak at the University of California at Berkeley, said the program would not have any religious or spiritual elements. She said it is known for reducing anxiety, depression, behavior problems and insomnia. "It's a technique, not a belief system," Ramsey said.

Transcendental Meditation was founded in 1958 by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, best known for his involvement with the Beatles some 40 years ago when the group became interested in Eastern religion.

The goal of the Lynch foundation is to teach Transcendental Meditation to any child who wants to learn.

Participants at Terra Linda High would take several workshops, including 90-minute periods for four consecutive days, to learn the TM program.

The program is not part of the curriculum and would be offered either before or after school or during breaks.

Transcendental Meditation supporters say it is not a religion or philosophy, even though the founder, Maharishi, is referred to in most instances as "His Holiness." He is about 90 years old and lives on a 65-acre retreat in Holland. His plans include establishing 3,000 marble peace palaces around the world, including one in Marin. The palaces would encourage "yogic flying," an advanced form of Transcendental Meditation in which meditators sit cross-legged and physically lift themselves off the floor. Plans for a 12,000-square-foot Marin peace palace were unveiled in 2003 in Sausalito, but the proposal has failed to get off the ground. The status of the proposal is uncertain.

Six TM experts and advocates, including the headmaster from the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment for grade school children in Iowa, were part of the program in the Terra Linda High library.

After an hourlong presentation on the benefits of TM, Ramsey started taking questions. The meeting quickly dissolved into chaos. Ford Greene, a San Anselmo lawyer who specializes in suing organizations such as the Church of Scientology, started asking pointed questions that dominated the session. A visibly angry parent, whose son is a senior, took the stage and wouldn't leave. She denounced TM, calling it a "destructive cult" and that she had taught TM for 35 years before breaking away.

Ramsey ended the meeting after things got out of hand.

This debate needs to stay focused on what is appropriate for a public school to be offering.

The first thing the high school administration needs to do is ask itself if it made the proper choice in choosing Transcendental Meditation.

Terra Linda High and the San Rafael High School District need to address the issues raised and make it clear that this program is about teaching meditation techniques, not about teaching religion.

There are many forms of meditation. If the school is committed to offering meditation, which has many benefits and millions of fans, the school should explore other approaches that are more generic in nature.

Terra Linda High administrators deserve credit for coming up with a program that is designed to encourage high school students to lead healthier lives. Today's kids are under a great deal of stress. Giving them useful relaxation tools is a positive step - especially something that doesn't involve computers, a television or text messaging.

It is obvious that a big reason the high school selected Transcendental Meditation is because the David Lynch Foundation offered the school a $175,000 grant.

It also is obvious that making Transcendental Meditation part of this high school program was not the most appropriate choice.


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