Book Reviews

Book by Linda Sanders
Review by Liz Murdock LaFortune
Academic Advisor, First Year of Studies
University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN


Why should and how can institutions of higher education harness the energy of the inner life of their students with a goal of maximizing learning?  A collection of writings introducing the reader to contemplative education research and practical application, Contemplative Studies in Higher Education - Number 134 of the New Directions for Teaching and Learning series published by Jossey-Bass – asserts that academic units across the curriculum can optimize student learning by employing elements of contemplative studies appropriate to their respective disciplines.  In Thomas B. Coburn’s chapter, “Peak Oil, Peak Water, Peak Education,” he lists the key characteristics of contemplative education as “theism and secularism, listening to others, diversity, and listening to oneself” (p. 6) and argues for moving beyond previous educational assumptions that relied on “an emphasis on intellectual achievement while ignoring emotion and intuition” (p. 10).

In Chapter 2, “Contemplative Science: An Insider Prospectus,” the authors offer a particularly compelling argument for the inclusion of contemplative practices in the science curriculum in an effort to address misconduct in research and the challenges facing medical schools in the preparation of young physicians. As a pre-med advisor, I immediately thought of “MCAT 2015.”  The behavioral competencies to be assessed by the new version of this medical school test may call for the introduction of contemplative education in the preparation of scientists. An equally strong argument is made for the contemplative learning initiatives in law school. The emphasis on training students in mindfulness as an instrument of stress reduction and heightened concentration also seems to be an effective response to the needs of the students whom we advise.

This volume, which includes research, theory, and pedagogical examples, would be helpful to those who realize the need to educate students as whole persons: mind, body, and spirit.  Advisors intuitively sense the importance of this approach to education.  Contemplative Studies in Higher Education offers examples of classes and other initiatives, including seated meditation and reflective exercises, which can contribute to a holistic approach to learning in public, private non-religious, and religious institutions of higher education.

Academic advisors help their students become more engaged in the learning process.  As Marc Lowenstein (2007) writes, “An excellent adviser does for students' entire education what the excellent teacher does for a course: helps them order the pieces, put them together to make a coherent whole, so that a student experiences the curriculum not as a checklist of discrete, isolated pieces but instead as a unity, a composition of interrelated parts with multiple connections and relationships."  The research and methods of contemplative education highlighted in this text offer a way to achieve that goal, and advisors may be uniquely positioned to implement the recommendations in Contemplative Studies in Higher Education.

Reference:

Lowenstein, M. (2007, February 12).  The curriculum of academic advising: What we teach, how we teach, and what students learn.  The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal. Retrieved from http://dus.psu.edu/mentor/old/articles/proc01ml.htm.


Contemplative Studies in Higher Education. (2013). Book by Linda Sanders (Ed.), Review by Liz Murdock LaFortune. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 112 pp., $29.00, (paperback), ISBN # 978-1-118-70098-3
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