Monday, January 20, 2014

Contemplative Education and the Cultivation of Diversity Skills

A young man sits to think as the ocean flows before mountains.
Contemplating the World
Image by Chris Preen

Faculty who teach diversity classes or engage in diversity training can help initiate deeper change in students when they choose the Contemplative Approach.

There is a place for Contemplative Education in the study of cultural diversity. Whatever a student’s religion, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, learning style, political affiliation, or other diversity trait, he or she can greatly benefit from diversity courses taught by professors who weave and intermingle the two areas of study. Whereas in diversity courses students are often asked to respect and appreciate differences, when using the contemplative approach, students are taught how to cultivate respect and appreciation from the depths of their own psyches, which allows for real change and learning to take place.

What is Contemplative Education?

According to the Institute for Contemplative Learning Web site, Contemplative Education is an “educational approach” that “introduces people to the maturational goals and contemplative practices of the spiritual traditions, and teaches them to use these practices as a resource for resilience, well-being, and peace-promoting responses to conflict.” Students are taught, in a contemplative approach, a deeper sense of what it means to get along in a world where values, ethics and morals seem to continuously shift and hide in murky politics, business practices, celebrity gossip, and conflict. Students are taught various methods for coping with the world, including traditional methods of prayer and meditation, creative practices, honest communication, and diversity skills.

What Are Diversity Skills?

"Diversity skills" is the name given to any skill subset or methods people use to appreciate and respect differences, either the differences of individuals or the differences among and between groups. When people appreciate and respect differences, it leads to open and respectful conversation, an understanding of cultural or individual values, and a productive environment where everyone's individual strengths are recognized and encouraged.

That said, diversity skills are more effectively cultivated when taught using the contemplative approach or contemplative methods. Respect, appreciation, and understanding stem from much deeper places in the human psyche than can be glossed over by simply asking students to write a paper or participate in in-class skill-building exercises.

What is the Link Between Contemplative Education and Diversity Skills?

Richard Bucher, author of the diversity textbook Diversity Consciousness; Opening Our Minds to People, Cultures, and Opportunities, consistently refers to ideas that overlap the contemplative approach to education throughout his text. For example, managing conflict, overcoming barriers to success, and having respect for the self and others are key ideas emphasized in every chapter. Just as in teaching using the contemplative approach, the goal for developing diversity skills is to instill students with a sense of empowerment, and teach them the skills needed to develop “resilience, well-being, and peace-promoting responses to conflict” (Institute for Contemplative Learning, n.d.).

However, although his book often provides examples that approach demonstrating lifelong change and a core establishment of respect and appreciation, he continuously returns to the idea that diversity skills make the workplace a more profitable place. Therein, he doesn't quite tap into differences among students; students who are not motivated by money, or money alone. Not to pick on Mr. Bucher, whose text is one of the best examples of utilizing contemplative methods, many books and textbooks written for diversity classes fall short of meeting the needs of faculty who are trying to provide a grounding of respect and appreciation for all students, no matter their motivations.

Rachel Kessler, in her book entitled The Soul of Education; Helping Students Find Connection, Compassion, and Character at School, includes a discussion of how a contemplative approach in the classroom can help teachers and students truly connect with one another during diversity sessions.

In the "Creativity" chapter of her book, there is a section called "Bridging Differences." In this section of the book she gives an example that is not only inspirational, but fits into the definition of effective diversity training given by Bucher. Bucher defines one of the traits of successful diversity training as “Trainees return to a supportive organizational environment and apply what they have learned” (Bucher, 2010, p. 64). Kessler, working not from the office, but from the classroom, describes the diversity breakthrough as “possible only in a climate that supports both honesty and possibility, safety and risk” (2000, p. 102). Essentially, the concepts discussed in the Diversity Consciousness text and the ideas discussed in Kessler's contemplative text, are one in the same. However, in the Bucher text, the motivation for diversity he emphasizes is profit. Kessler, on the other hand, provides an example that shows the reader how diversity workshops can change the human heart, a life.

Faculty who teach diversity classes or engage in diversity training can help initiate deeper change in students when they choose to broach the topic using a contemplative approach. The two areas of study already overlap, but by emphasizing real change through the cultivation of respect and appreciation as living concepts, first, the students will more easily be prepared to apply these "unmeasurable" verbs to the study of diversity, later.


  • Institute for Contemplative Education (n.d.). What is Contemplative Education? Retrieved from
  • Kessler, R. (2000). The Soul of Education: Helping Students Find Connection, Compassion, and Character at School. Alexandria, Virginia:ASCD.
  • Bucher, R. D. (2010). Diversity Consciousness: Opening Our Minds to People, Cultures, and Opportunities (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Want to read more about pedagogy and critical thinking? Try

Assessing Critical Thinking

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
Originally published Nov 5, 2011 by Amy Lynn Hess.

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