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Is someone all wet on “sound baths” – River Forest school psychologist silent on this SEL content

The Roosevelt Middle School (RMS) psychologist and District superintendent refused multiple requests to address simple questions on the use of 50-minute “sound baths” in communications class, a meditative practice meant to influence mental health. The thrust of the questions – what evidence supports the prophylactic use of “sound baths” in 7th and 8th grade, and has there been an impact of “sound baths” on students beyond the anecdotes. 


The questions for District 90 come on the heels of Abigail Shrier’s new book Bad Therapy – Why the kids aren’t growing up.   Feisty and intriguing, Shrier describes an infectious “therapy-culture” in schools and posits one source of decline in youth mental health is coming from too much time and money on the “whole child” and not enough focus between the ears. Is this District 90? 


The simple questions on “sound baths” seemed particularly relevant following the 2016 pivot from high expectations and teacher-led instruction to the new “effective, efficient, and child-centered school district”.  Comprehensive change to curricula and instruction that included removing the word “education” from its mission statement would soon send academics and feelings twisting toward the drain.


Had the canard called “social justice equity” included an oversized D90 feelings blanky called Social-Emotional Learning?  We can dig a little, but first what is a “sound bath”.


Medical News Today reports there are no qualifications necessary for administering “sound baths”, a practice may have origins in Tibet, and as practiced in District 90 “may have emerged from a contemporary Western or New Age spiritualism.”  On effectiveness, the article cites a few favorable reports and concludes “Most of the evidence about the benefits of sound bathing is anecdotal” and warns “they can be intense experiences that bring up both pleasant and unpleasant feelings.” 


Psychology Today warms up the reader citing one favorable report and takes a practical temperature on the situation saying the “Science is still catching up to understanding how sound heals”.  This statement presumes feeling relaxed from “sound baths” is the same as “healing”.  If sticks and stone break your bones, then Chapter 6 alone may justify your investment.  Now back to digging.


In a separate request, the RMS principal confirmed the “communications class is an exploratory class taught nine weeks per school year” and school leadership concluded the “course covers material (“sound baths”) enabling students to meet state standards in communications and social emotional learning”. 


Indeed, Illinois state law requires districts to integrate social-emotional learning or character education into the school curriculum if they wish to collect state funding (~$2M or ~6.7% of total budget in 2023).  As of July, 2023, EducationWeek reports 27 states have SEL competencies as part of standards.  Try Chapter 4 on for size.


Standardized tests are to academic achievement as survey’s are to measuring the social-emotional status of schools. If you just felt a rush of dopamine, then Chapter 7 may be for you. 


E3 first reported a social-emotional problem among teachers when a decline in all nineteen teacher-response categories occurred from 2017 to 2019.  By 2023, fifteen of nineteen categories remained below their 2017 level with teachers pointing to low standards, disruptive classrooms, and poor training as sources of angst.  District 90 is silent on the trend.


Block scheduling was adopted so RMS students had more time to….well, just scan the 2023 student survey results to see what’s most popular – “sound baths”, snow days, or block scheduling.


Roosevelt Middle School isn’t the only one wanting more L on student S and E.  Take a look at the 2024 Illinois Youth Survey for 8th graders and see if this conjures up any emotions not healed with a singing bowls. 


“Lowering the ceiling” meant the math and reading wars were back on in River Forest.  The students were losing the battle and reinforcements were necessary.



More student voice, more affirmation, more validation of feelings in response to new SEL content, and more accommodations would come through a larger district payroll. Administrators hired 31 (18% more) additional full-time employees from 2016 to 2017 to help implement policy-induced learning loss, and probably to offset the predictable resignations that would follow.  It was a point of inflection for public education in River Forest, and local media pandered to the adults instead of caring for the kids.


Whereas one school psychologist worked across all three buildings when academics and mood were high (now resigned).  Now, a bevy of young new social workers and school psychologists work in each building.  Having begun long before covid, it sounds a little like the conjoined education/SEL industry Shrier speaks of.


Without evidence or measurements from the district, the questions on “sound baths” may remain in the cyclical grip of chicken or egg.  Hopefully, unlike literacy instruction, current board members will demand more of administrators than a post hoc analysis of student mental health.

 

But wait, where else does one look for feedback "sound baths?"


The use of “sound baths” and questions for the RMS school psychologist were posted online and met with a range of reactions visible to the scroller-by. 


The fewest fell into the category of unserious and predictable.  The ‘how dare you ask a question’.  The same, few, staunch supporters of equal outcome that wouldn’t sign the petition begging to end the mask mandate. 


Most responses were more nuanced, inquisitive, and generous.  With trust as cornerstone, some seemed to lean into the good intentions of teachers, suggesting intentions may be more powerful than the psychological impact of “sound baths”.  They were giving benefit of the doubt, and open to asking for evidence.


There was also an appeal for SEL curricula and practices that could yield the opposite of what recent climate surveys have measured in the district. Who doesn't want better for kids?


It was pointed out not all kids are the same, and some might benefit more than others from a “sound baths”.  It seems reasonable; still, the idea it could be a waste of class time or even unpleasant for some couldn’t be thumbed in that digital arena.


Separately, one anonymous teacher remarked that giving “sound baths” is easier than teaching, and a culture that lacks accountability might enable teachers to do other things.


It was a final, anonymous, non-scroller that seemed to incorporate the social and emotional with the recent policy and curricula turmoil of District 90.  It is critical, deeper thinking, and the only response to acknowledge how children continue to suffer most in this silly power struggle among adults.


“Addiction to gold stars from authority figures distracts students from pursuing healthy self interest in the form of portable knowledge.  Adult gold star addicts are pushers who spread this gratification system to youth. It’s much easier to get a gold star for an emotionally correct response than it is to be awarded one for a measurable achievement.”


“Also, the subjective nature of emotionally correct benchmarks gives any authority figure, in a position to award gold stars, far more power than handing them out for objectively measured achievements ever could. The result is an education system without any real metrics to determine competency with a whole lot of power over parents and children.”


"Sound baths", SEL content, gold stars, and the important of mental health. Lots of questions and still no easy answers.


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