Compassionate Critical Thinking: How Mindfulness, Creativity, Empathy, and Socratic Questioning Can Transform TeachingA Book by Ira Rabois

Dialogue has often been an important part of the [Buddhist/spiritual] path, but it does not always receive the attention it deserves. Ira Rabois shows the way to do it, and what it can mean for those who engage in such conversations sincerely and openly. This is what education should be about.David Loy, Philosophy Professor, Zen Teacher, and Environmental Activist, Author of A New Buddhist Path: Enlightenment, Evolution, and Ethics in the Modern World.

Ira Rabois has written a straightforward and nuanced guide for anyone who wants to blend emotional honesty with the craft of teaching, based on 27 years of reflecting on his own experiments and discoveries as a teacher. Full of illuminating stories, suggestions, and insights, Rabois’ book will demonstrate to educators, parents, and administrators that attending to students’ emotional responses to classroom materials can lead them to think more critically. This book shows how to do justice to the emotional complexity of teaching and learning.Susanna Siegel, Ph.D. Edgar Pierce Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University, and author of The Rationality of Perception.

Rabois’ innovative approach places students at the center of learning, encouraging deep thinking about themselves and the world around them. A timely antidote to conventional education — and stultified thinking in generalSasha Lilley, Host of Pacifica Radio’s Against the Grain, Author of Capital and Its Discontents

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Compassionate Critical Thinking

Compassionate Critical Thinking, by Ira Rabois

Compassionate Critical Thinking: How Mindfulness, Creativity, Empathy and Socratic Questioning Can Transform Teaching takes readers inside a classroom to witness an engaging way of teaching in tune with current neuroscience. In a time when education is under attack and teachers and students report high levels of stress and anxiety, the book offers a method to improve instructional effectiveness with increased student participation and decreased classroom stress. Using mindfulness and a Socratic style of questioning, the book guides teachers and readers in methods to help themselves and their students learn about their own emotions and develop critical thinking skills. Classroom vignettes capture dialogue between teacher and students illustrating how challenging questions stimulate and direct inquiry and discovery. Not only teachers, but administrators wanting to improve the relationship between teachers and students, students who want to develop their thinking skills on their own, parents, any reader interested in reducing stress and increasing clarity might be interested in the book. Many books teach mindfulness, but few provide a model for teaching critical thinking and integrating it across the curriculum.

My intention is to demonstrate just how insightful, open, and willing to learn students can be when presented with material they consider challenging and real, and classes are structured to relate to their inner lives.

My intention is to demonstrate just how insightful, open, and willing to learn students can be when presented with material they consider challenging and real, and classes are structured to relate to their inner lives. One year in a Psychological Literature class, we read an anecdote about a person putting his own life at risk to save someone drowning in an icy river. I asked, “How can a person do that? Does it show that humans are compassionate or altruistic by nature?” I was surprised by the response by many students. They said that the situation was unreal. Maybe a rare person would put their life at risk to help someone else, but most people—never. Altruism was a rarity. There was too much cruelty in the world for altruism or compassion to be natural.

So I asked, “Imagine you were standing by that river. What would you feel seeing the person drowning?” At first, there were some uncomfortable jokes. But then students said, “I’d feel awful.” Another said he’d be haunted by the situation for the rest of his life. Another said she would have jumped in. “If the situation would haunt you, then were you feeling empathy? If you would have jumped in, then were you feeling compassion? Altruism?”

In the abstract, compassion might seem unreal, especially since many students grow up in a competitive environment and read about and feel so much violence in the world. But when questioned, their inner reality is uncovered. This is the nature of compassionate critical thinking. It incorporates the big questions into the curriculum. Assumptions are challenged. Discussions become mindfulness and compassion practices. This is the core of my book.



Compassionate Critical Thinking, A Book Worth Owning and Sharing

Compassionate Critical Thinking is beyond a book. It is a method, an outline, a story, a passionate drama and more…to have us realize that when we quiet down and settle in, we learn to learn through compassion, questioning and thought. This process gives us greater freedom to ground the emotional and social realities we live with. As I read and reread…I am moved by the profundity of Mr. Rabois’ dialogue with his students and his knowledge of educational psychology.
Eileen J. Ain, DSW, LCSW-R, Clinical Social Work, Musician

Reading this book strongly affirms the role of relationship, both to self and others, in the learning process. Rabois provides a clear path for using mindfulness in the classroom to foster empathy and genuine connection with the material being explored together in class, empowering both students and teacher. The book guides the reader through a process of helping students learn more about themselves and their own learning processes as they make meaningful personal connections to class material.
Sarah Jane Bokaer, Secondary School English, Humanities, and Drama Teacher and Mindfulness Practitioner.

I am excited to recommend Ira Rabois’ new book. As an adolescent psychotherapist, my work focuses in part on assisting patients to gain insight into their internal world, to come to understand their autonomous selves and to be able to articulate this understanding to others rather than simply to act them out. The practices outlined in this book wonderfully integrate the education and psychotherapy processes. They are extremely important, effective and fitting for enabling a young person to both gain better self-awareness and grounding, and to better focus on the learning process.
Robert Heavner Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist, Adolescent and Adult Psychotherapy

Ira Rabois – a 21st century renaissance man – has taught karate, philosophy, psychology, English, Social Studies, and drama to secondary school students for over three decades. Drawing on this wealth of experience – and using illustrative vignettes of his students’ voices – he takes us on a journey, showing how he has combined mindfulness meditation, creativity, empathy, and Socratic questioning to engage young people in a rich, collaborative learning process he calls Compassionate Critical Thinking.
Dr. Dave Lehman, Secondary School Principal, Educational Consultant, Author, Editor of Connections, for the National School Reform Faculty

I fell in love with Ira Rabois’ book on the first page. As a master teacher of heart and mind, Rabois encourages his students to understand and express their inherent wisdom. Trusting that each child has an important viewpoint and perspective, he guides classroom discussions that lead to self-understanding, clear critical thinking, and compassionate awareness. Any teacher who reads this book and uses its methods will find new inspiration for their students and for themselves.
Elaine Mansfield, Counselor and Blogger on Grief, Nutrition and Women’s Health, author Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief

Definitely a book worth owning and sharing with others. Thank you Ira for being able to articulate and gather together so much wisdom in this form! I am deeply grateful to have it in my life.
Sharon K. Yntema


Rabois ends this amazing little book with a two-page conclusion from which I offer the following summarizing quotes [bold are my own for emphasis] – “One gift that a teacher brings to students (and vice versa) is the mere fact of companionship; you live the school year together…. You become family for a time. What kind of family will you be? What kind of person will you be as a teacher?….The more you use mindfulness, the better you hear what students have to say, the better they hear you. Feeling is not secondary to academics but at the heart of it….The class is a refuge for students and an example of what is possible in life….The process of compassionate critical thinking is critical thinking, questioning, and solving problems with added benefits. It is a process that integrates how to live and accept yourself and all aspects of your life…. You teach students not only what the world is but how to break out of conditioned limits and realize what is possible. Now that is a fulfilling life.
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Dave Lehman – NSRF Connections

Teachers can’t add any more minutes to a school day, but with mindfulness they can add depth to the moments they do have with students in their classroom. “Compassionate Critical Thinking: How Mindfulness, Creativity, Empathy, and Socratic Questioning Can Transform Teaching” by Ira Rabois (recently retired from the Lehman Alternative Community School, a public secondary school in Ithaca, NY, where he taught English, Philosophy, History, Drama, Karate, and Psychology for 27 years) demonstrates how to use mindfulness with instructional effectiveness to increase student participation and decrease classroom stress, and it turns the act of teaching into a transformational practice. Many books teach mindfulness, but few provide a model for teaching critical thinking and integrating it across the curriculum. The purpose of “Compassionate Critical Thinking” is to show teachers how to create a classroom culture of compassionate critical thinking. When students feel a lack of meaning and purpose in their school lives, they resist learning. Using a Socratic style of inquiry, “Compassionate Critical Thinking” changes the classroom dynamic to encourage self-reflection, insight, and empathy. Vignettes capture dialogue between teacher and students to illustrate how mindfulness practices elicit essential questions which stimulate inquiry and direct discovery. What bigger mystery is there, what more interesting and relevant story, than the story of one’s own mind and heart and how they relate us to the world? Impressively written, organized and presented, “Compassionate Critical Thinking” is especially recommended for college and university library Teacher Education collections in general, and student teacher supplemental studies reading lists in particular. For the personal reading lists of classroom teachers and school district in-service training curriculums, it should be noted that “Compassionate Critical Thinking” is also available in a paperback edition (9781475828825, $22.00) and in a Kindle format ($13.19).
Midwest Book Review

Compassionate Critical Thinking by Ira Rabois is an insightful, thought-provoking, and highly practical book. Critical thinking and “mindfulness” are two hot topics in education. This book is the only one I know of that illuminates the connections between these practices—connections that we need in order to promote peace in ourselves and in our communities. We are living in a world that urgently needs to work on cultivating “compassionate critical thinking”—what the author describes as “reason deepened by empathy and by valuing of the welfare of the countless others who inhabit the world with us” (p. xi). The book is written in an inviting, accessible style, offering many examples of how theoretical ideas work in classroom practice. It provides cross-curricular step-by-step guidance for classroom instruction. I came to this book with an interest in mindfulness practices and the role of imagination and emotional engagement in learning. I have learned much more than I anticipated about these topics, as well as about critical thinking, empathy, and Socratic questioning and how these ideas—and ways of teaching—can transform my work. I highly recommend this book for all educators.
Dr. Gillian Judson, author of Engaging Imagination in Ecological Education, blogger, lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University, a Director of the Imaginative Education Research Group