The Missing Link in Education: The Human Element
In this modern age, a student who has not learned to manage stress and negative emotions in a healthy way has not been fully educated. Yet, currently, most students are not taught these skills in school. The Youth Empowerment Seminar (YES!) held in classrooms across America teaches students how to manage stress and negative emotions and provides lessons in human values such as respect, responsibility, friendliness, and integrity that are universally valued by all people irrespective of race, nationality, or religion. Somewhere along the way as a society, we have overlooked this human element in education, but it is a link that young people are hungry for.
YES! is taught by the International Association for Human Values (IAHV), a humanitarian NGO affiliated with the United Nations. The founder of IAHV, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, has written: “We need to revisit the education system and create an environment where learning is more interesting and joyful. The approach to education should aim to restore pride in being peaceful, responsible, and non-violent.” YES! also provides young people with tools to cultivate an empowered, resilient mind and take responsibility for the direction of their lives, offering education on stress management, health and nutrition, community service, conflict resolution, teamwork and leadership, and preventing violence and substance abuse.
Stress Education and Improved Academic Performance
When you ask high school students, “How do most adults deal with stress?”, their responses are remarkably consistent: drinking alcohol, violent or aggressive behavior, smoking, taking drugs, and overeating. Having seen the negative effects of these coping mechanisms, youth are grateful to learn the healthy methods of managing stress taught by YES!. The breathing techniques they learn remove toxins from their nervous system, clear their minds, and infuse them with greater energy and awareness.
One high school freshman said, “It seems like my brain has gained more space or something like that. You know, sometimes when your head is all clogged up and you can’t think that well, and you be gettin’ mad and upset trying to do your work. Like, now I’m calm, I’m working right, I’m understanding.” Practicing YES! breathing techniques cleanses the mind of stress and gives students greater receptivity to learning, An increased ability to focus and study and improved grades are welcome side effects.
In YES!, students learn that each moment presents a choice: they can allow other people to push them into angry reactions that often have negative consequences or they can choose to maintain control of their own mind and “be buttonproof.” As one young man from Chicago said: “I used to get so frustrated when people would say anything to me, insult me. I used to be ready to fight, but now since you taught me this breathing technique, it feels much easier to relax and just brush it off my shoulders, just look at them and laugh, walk away.”
The lessons in responsibility taught by YES! bring profound changes in the way students respond to difficult situations. Students learn that they can get stuck in the habit of complaining or can instead choose to take responsibility and become more powerful in their actions. Taking responsibility for stress in a healthy way gives students the greater ability to make a healthy choice when a friend encourages them to take drugs.
Human Values Education
As summed up by a high school principal who has seen YES! working in his school for three years: “Schools focus primarily on academic education [and] our students need that knowledge, but we don’t have a mechanism for teaching them about mental health: how to balance their stress, control their anxiety, understand their emotions, and to really be the best people that they can be. Bringing in the YES! program has helped us to address some of those issues that don’t get addressed in the normal high school curriculum.”
The difference in quality of life resulting from the healthier life choices that YES! imparts is truly remarkable. As National Director of YES! for Schools, I have seen thousands of students, teachers, and school administrators on five continents profoundly affected by learning these tools, and I have seen my own daughter thrive as she has grown up with the influence of this timeless wisdom in her life. I know that any young person from any demographic group in America can benefit profoundly from this education in human values and managing stress. To me this is the essence of education.