01 April 2009

Maharishi Academy of Total Knowledge

Total Knowledge awaits
All-boys boarding school hopes to teach with meditation

A unique type of boarding school will open this fall on the grounds of a long-defunct college nestled in the foothills of Antrim.

The Maharishi Academy of Total Knowledge expects just a handful of students this year but hopes to eventually host 400 high school boys on the former Hawthorne College campus. The school's founders plan to use transcendental meditation to promote academic achievement without the all-nighters, junk food and social dilemmas that can contribute to stress at other boarding schools.

Meditation and healthy living, the school's founders said, keep students' nervous systems happy and ready to learn. There's also evidence that meditation increases creativity and self-esteem and decreases the likelihood of anxiety and substance abuse.

"We wake up the child," said Headmaster Alan Colby. "It doesn't train them to be someone they're not. It wakes them up to who they are. It relieves the stress in the nervous system. Our education system is so stressful that many students, by the time they get to secondary education, are ready to quit or are only there for the social aspect."

Like most lifelong educators, Colby champions the power of good teachers, good curricula and well-run schools, but he's also spent the past quarter century promoting transcendental meditation as a way to prime students to learn. Before moving to New Hampshire, he led a popular Maharishi day school in Iowa that became a model for similar programs around the world.

The philosophy he promotes is, in some ways, analogous to government-subsidized meals in public schools. Kids, that policy reasoned, can't think as clearly if they're undernourished.

"If you don't feel well, you don't think well," Colby said.

Transcendental meditation is a nuanced practice that devotees - and some scientific studies - say helps clarify thought and makes the brain work more effectively. It's used in prisons, large corporations and schools, and it is not considered a religion.

"You're not thinking about God or love or self-improvement," Colby said. "You're just not thinking as much. In a way you become more general, more expanded."

The idea for an all-boys boarding school came from the movement's founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who died last year. An organization that promotes transcendental meditation purchased the 450-acre campus more than a decade ago. The land was used occasionally for retreats, but major renovations didn't start until last year.

When classes begin, students will have access to two buildings, a dormitory/dining hall that will also house administrative offices and a gymnasium with classrooms. Long-range plans for the school involve a cluster of small dorms, more classroom buildings and athletic fields.

Students will meditate twice daily, eat organic, vegetarian food on campus and be encouraged to get plenty of sleep. Teachers will employ posters and graphics to enhance understanding of core academic subjects.

Other than that, the academy's founders said it will resemble many other New England boarding schools, with sports teams, clubs and frequent excursions into the New Hampshire wilderness.

"If you start to realize the interconnectedness of things both intellectually and in terms of personal experience, then students are more creative, better able to make judgments," Colby said.

For more information on the school or transcendental meditation, go to maharishiacademy.org.

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