Thursday, August 15, 2019

More on TM in Chicago schools: Allegations of coercion, inducements and "bribe rewards"

As reported on here at the TM-Free Blog a few days ago, on July 26 (2019) the Chicago Tribune reported on the appearance of a Chicago high school student and teacher at a Board of Education meeting, objecting to an ongoing program by the David Lynch Foundation (DLF) and the University of Chicago that introduced Transcendental Meditation (TM) into Bogan High School.  Shortly after their appearance before the Board of Education, that student, along with another recent graduate of the school, and a parent spoke of even more disturbing experiences with school teachers, personnel, and meditation teachers who were part of the TM program in their high school, in two Facebook videos.


Read the original story here at the TM-Free Blog:
Chicago Tribune reports on allegations made by high school students, that they were coerced to practice TM  

The Chicago Board of Education hearing was recorded, and the testimony of the student and teacher, which were described in the Tribune article, can be viewed directly on YouTube. They raised objections before the Board, to the obvious religious content of the “puja” ritual, which is central to the instruction of Transcendental Meditation - which, according to a 40 year old Federal appeals court ruling, disqualifies such programs from being offered in public schools. Dasia Skinner, the teacher and school employee, told the Board that 60 students that she spoke with all had similar accounts of having gone through the “secret” puja ritual. “All of this was done without parents’ knowledge or the students’ understanding,” she said, and that students were told, “whatever happens in this room, stays in this room.” They both alleged that students were coerced to join and continue with the program, and were disciplined if they did not comply. 


About a week later, in a Facebook video, these allegations were repeated with considerably more detail during interviews conducted by Dasia Willams. Two students stated that they were offered tangible rewards, and that some other students were offered money, to join and to continue participating in the program. 


Former Bogan High School student Amontae Williams repeated what the DLF’s “Quiet Time” facilitator, a TM teacher, told him: “that it [TM} should help me feel good, to practice it every day." This is part of the usual instruction that TM teachers have long been known to give to meditators - it’s even part of the pitch that promoters of TM have always used - but if this program were to be considered part of a formal scientific research study, such a statement in this context would constitute a questionable coaching of a research subject since it creates an expectation of a positive result. 


Amontae went on to describe the “secret” ritual while standing at a table that they’d set up similarly to that which TM teachers have long used to perform that devotional ceremony while performing meditation instruction. Working from the students’ memory of the ritual, that table contained candles, a flower, fruit, rice and a glass of water placed in front of a picture of an Indian guru.  


He was told, as all TM meditators are at this point, to keep the ritual and the mantra secret and never to discuss them with anyone. “They told me to keep it a secret. They didn't really give detail on why they wanted to keep it a secret, but they would ask me, make sure you don't tell your mantra to another student, or a teacher, because everybody has a different one." The lists of mantras given to TM teachers, that were publicly revealed years ago, only contain a handful of mantras - ten or less in total - that would be given to anyone in the age groups likely to be high school students. Thus, it’s likely that many students taught TM at a sizeable public high school would be given the same mantra. 


Amontae also repeated what Dasia said during the Board meeting:  "they said not to explain what was done in that room while the door was closed to anyone," and then added, “just to be part of the program the best that I could, participate, and I would be rewarded for it."

Dasia asked, what what type of rewards did students get for participating in the Quiet Time program? “Bribe rewards, pizza, candy, other stuff like that," he replied.


The discussion moved on to the issue of penalties for noncompliance. Amontae expressed his disagreement with the school’s administration, saying, "I don't believe I should have been put under discipline for not feeling OK and for not wanting to participate."


Amontae spoke of the castigation he received for not continuing with the program and speaking up against it, and how that motivated him to do his own research and to work to have the program removed from his school. “Twice, I was sent to the principal's office and they went off on me about it, they asked me to not say anything else about the program because I didn't work there and didn't know what I was talking about. That's what drove me to look into it, what it was really about, that's when I found out what they didn't tell me about it, I had already signed to be a part of it and now we're here."


This disciplinary action against Amontae was later confirmed by his father, Darrell, in another video the following day. “My son was given several instances of suspension because he refused to participate.”


Jade Thomas, a Bogan sophomore who’d earlier made her own statement before the Board of Education, echoed Amontae’s account of coercion, intimidation, and discipline of students unwilling to meditate. “They kind of make us do it so it's not free will, it seems that people are forcing you to do it, or that if you don't do it you get in trouble for it,” she said. “I haven't personally been sent to the office, but a couple of students I know have been sent to the office, they tell them to go to the dean's room. My friend said that she wasn't going to participate [during] quiet time, she didn't want to be quiet for the 15 minutes, that she didn't want to do the meditation stuff. They tell her to go down, talk to the principal, tell her how you feel, so she can see if she can handle that problem. The principal came to our classroom and told us there was nothing religious involved, we shouldn't worry about it, if we had any further questions, come to her office and speak to her personally with a parent."


Her account suggests that school administrators and teachers, for whatever reason, were completely unwilling to consider the students’ views, despite the easily verified and obvious religious nature of the ritual they had been a part of to begin the program, and the connotations of the mantras that they later learned about. “Basically, they make us do this stuff and they may get irritated when we wonder, or ask if it's religious," she said.


Amontae and Jade then together spoke of the kinds of incentives that they’d witnessed or heard about, that were offered to get more students to meditate in the program. Amontae alleged that some students were paid outright to participate. “Another form of getting more students lured into the program, maybe some of the more popular students got paid money, 200 dollars, 80 dollars, 50 dollars, just another form of getting more students, if you all want to make money, come and meditate."


Jade described a “celebration” that was organized for meditating students, bringing food from restaurants like Olive Garden and Pizza Nova. She characterized the food “that they brought was pretty expensive, it wasn't like it was cheap food." "It’s not like they didn't have money involved, they had people behind them to help them with it, students were okay with it because they were given payment, treats and snacks and stuff."


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Those of us who are familiar with the tactics and methods that have been used to promote Transcendental Meditation for almost the last half century have been quite familiar with these sorts of allegations, which have as their root, the unwillingness of the founder of TM and his followers to simply come clean about the nature, origin and goals of their organizations, including the David Lynch Foundation. For a very long time, they’ve demonstrated a clear unwillingness to respect basic expectations of disclosure and informed consent when dealing with prospective meditators. They misrepresent the state of scientific research into their claims and the efficacy of their technique, and at one time, they’ve even advertised an outrageous hoax to gain attention - that people could levitate, become invisible, or gain knowledge of almost anything, instantly, simply by practicing their techniques. 


It may seem incredible that such an organization, run by the same people who were very much present for all of those literal flights of fantasy if not complete lunacy, is in any way being taken seriously today by people who work for some of this country’s most trusted, respected institutions, and major school systems. It seems to me that many people in positions of responsibility have demonstrated a negligent, complete inability to do some background checking and due diligence, when they’re approached with a product or service that’s almost too good to be true, that defies common sense if not basic science, and that is aimed at those who are most vulnerable, and least able to seek redress when they’re confronted with constant evasion of the factually obvious. 


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