In an era where American public education is dealing with serious crises like chronic absenteeism, falling grades and an exodus of students as the result of the pandemic, a rather unconventional new ‘rule’ from the Mayor of New York City is raising eyebrows. Mayor Eric Adams recently announced a requirement: all public school students from kindergarten through high school starting this fall must participate in two to five minutes daily of ‘mindful breathing’. An initiative the Mayor calls a “game-changer,” but has critics taking a skeptical and potentially significant deep breath of their own.
We live in a time of toxic social media communities, constant news flashes, and unfiltered alerts, all leaving a toll on the mental health of our young people. We're giving our kids the tools to take back control.
Mindful breathing can be done by anyone, anywhere, and anytime.… pic.twitter.com/M7cbu9wpwj
— Mayor Eric Adams (@NYCMayor) June 27, 2023
Mayor Adams has championed these breathing exercises as an ancient and yet innovative method to help students manage their stress. “Thousands of years ago, other cultures were learning how to breathe,” he said during a Tuesday press conference. According to him, these exercises are more than just air passing through nostrils. Rather, they represent a “science” to stress management. Yet, the decision, while innovative, has not met with universal acclaim from all quarters.
Keen observers of the New York education system like Tim Hoefer, CEO of the Empire Center for Public Policy, has accused the Mayor of diverting his oxygen from the real crises confronting public schools. “Our children are not being taught how to read, if they’re even showing up to class at all,” Hoefer noted. He emphasized the need to focus on fundamentals – achieving literacy and mathematical proficiency – before breathing exercises become an integral part of the school day.
Similarly, Kayleigh McEnany, former White House press secretary under the Trump administration, suggested this new rule as a pet project of the Mayor, citing her own survival through a swath of academic institutions without such ‘breathing lessons.’ McEnany argued that while breathing techniques may work for some, they may not be the panacea for the deeply entrenched problems in America’s education system, particularly the recent surges of violence in schools. “If you think the violence in our schools is going to be stopped from breathing, good luck, Mayor Adams,” McEnany remarked.
Fox News host Kennedy splits with her colleagues, says she backs NYC mayor Eric Adams' call for "mindful breathing" in schools.
"This is one of the few things I’ve heard from a public servant that could have a positive benefit in schools." pic.twitter.com/WQ2qtymkDK
— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) June 28, 2023
The criticisms aren’t simply related to existing school issues either. Adams has proposed a $5 million cut to mental health initiatives in high schools as he plans to instill his breathing program. Dawn Yuster, director of the School Justice Project at Advocates for Children, acknowledged mindful breathing could have a real impact, but cautioned that it could not replace other critical services currently at risk of discontinuation in NYC schools.
All these discussions are happening as new national data reveals that math and reading scores are at their lowest in decades, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, otherwise known as the Nation’s Report Card. Meanwhile, there’s a mass exodus of students from public schools across the country as parents continue to struggle with the grim reality of learning loss, pandemic restrictions, and controversial curriculum content.
In conclusion, the introduction of mindful breathing in New York City’s public schools as a stress-management tool could foster a new dimension of mental well-being. However, the mixed reactions towards this new rule underscore the careful balancing act needed between innovative practices and the fundamental tenets of education. As Mayor Adams embarks on this experimental initiative, one must question whether a keen focus on basic literacy and numeracy would be a breath of fresh air desperately needed in the city’s struggling schools, not merely the metaphorical oxygen of mindful breathing exercises.