Monday, 14 November 2011

Meditation in the classroom – followers of The Beatles' guru look to establish more free schools

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Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was "spiritual
advisor" to The Beatles in the 1960s
Followers of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – the Indian guru who became "spiritual advisor" to The Beatles in the 1960s – have applied to open three more state-funded "free schools", having opened their first in Ormskirk, Lancashire earlier this year.
At the existing Maharishi Free School, which operated as a private school for 25 years before converting to a free school in September, pupils practise the guru's "Transcendental Meditation" (TM) as part of their school day. According to the school's admission policy, once a child has been offered a place at the school they are expected to begin practising the meditation before beginning to attend, and it is expected "that at least one carer/parent also learn TM at the same time as the child". As the British Humanist Association point out, the second expectation is particularly bizarre, as it "in effect places a requirement of faith-based practice upon the carer/parent".

The Maharishi School Trust has now applied to open three new schools – one in Suffolk, one in Hampton and one in north London. In an Evening Standard report on the Hampton proposal, the trust's Richard Scott espouses the virtues of a Maharishi education:
"Kids think more clearly, the mind is quieter and they become more responsive as a result of the meditation, and it comes through in their results."
However, the BHA, which campaigns against the growth of faith-based academies under the new free schools legislation, has questioned the benefits of TM, telling the Standard:
"There is no robust evidence to show that transcendental meditation is more effective than other meditation and relaxation techniques, or well-taught health education."
The BHA's opposition to the Maharishi schools is expressed in more detail on it website, in a statement from Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson:
"The BHA have serious concerns, which we have been voicing for some time now, that Free Schools are extremely attractive to evangelical and pseudoscientific groups, who previously would not have been able to set up state-funded schools. The fact that the Maharishi School Trust is now proposing to create three schools, which would not previously have existed even outside the state sector, shows that this concern is becoming a reality.

Just as we oppose schools that propose to teach a particular faith as true, or as we oppose the teaching of creationism, we would also oppose schools that teach other beliefs not supported by scientific evidence but instead based on irrational dogma."
If the Maharishi applications are successful, the three new schools will open for the beginning of the school year in 2013.

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