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Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and author of Meditation in the College Classroom: A Pedagogical Tool to Help Students De-Stress, Focus,...
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Teaching Students to Be “Digital Samurai”

The Samurai were fierce warriors of Feudal Japan (we’re talking 1100 to 1800s). They lived during times of constant fighting, whether between warring lords in Japan or against invading enemies, such as the Mongols.

Samurai had to be incredibly sharp, focused, centered, calm, and ready to leap into action at any moment. This explains why they were drawn to the practice of Zen Buddhism and training the mind through meditation.

Today, the enemy or constant threat isn’t so much people but rather information and distraction. It’s estimated that more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of data is generated each day. Here’s some more mind-boggling statistics (that occur each day) courtesy of futurist and thought leader Bernard Marr:

  • Snapchat users share 527,760 photos
  • Users watch 4,146,600 YouTube videos
  • 456,000 tweets are sent on Twitter
  • Instagram users post 46,740 photos
  • 32 billion people are active on Facebook daily
  • We send 16 million text messages
  • There are 990,000 Tinder swipes
  • 156 million emails are sent
  • 15,000 GIFs are sent via Facebook messenger

Crazy right?

As educators, we are trying to teach students in a time of unbelievable amounts of data being produced, consumed, and shared. We also have the massive responsibility of preparing these same students to inherit a world of even more data, as Artificial Intelligence applications such as ChatGPT are being rolled out.

As young people are bombarded with information every minute of the day, what are we doing to help them cope, to help them train their minds to grapple with these avalanches of data? Are we preparing them to be “samurai” in this modern age, possessing mental strength to face the constant threats, opportunities, and ideas and respond swiftly and confidently? Or will they be swallowed up by the sheer amount of data infiltrating their lives?

To help students become what I am calling Digital Samurai, I have a few suggestions:

  • Students should learn contemplative practices that increase awareness, help them center, improve focus and clarity of mind. Like samurai, who trained in Zen meditation, students need opportunities to learn methods and practices (in age-appropriate ways) to harness the powers of their mind. This could involve mindfulness activities, meditation, yoga, visualization, and breath work. Here’s one meditation you can try with students.
  • Educators must strive to help young people balance technology use, so it serves them as a tool to enhance aspects of their life. Students should be aware of research showing the negative impact of too much screen time and also be aware of their daily technological habits. I have undergraduate students complete a short project, where they analyze their daily screen time using their I-phones, track habits and behaviors, and develop “plans of action” if they see areas that need to be addressed.
  • Teachers need to have authentic discussions with students about how technology continually shapes our lives and creative ways to work with it rather than against it (certainly, in the case of  the AI that’s coming). Topics for discussion could be the impact of social media on society, spotting “fake news,” and productive uses of technology, that actually enhance their life, for instance, conducting a job search, researching a career path, or marketing a business.

Simple actions steps in preparing students for this incredibly, cognitively demanding world are 1) provide them awareness tools for the mind, 2) bring awareness to their own tech usage, and 3) have regular, open discussions about technology. Help students prepare—to become mentally fierce warriors— for the waves of information attacks that will continue to only grow stronger as technology advances.

Steve Haberlin is the author of Meditation in the College Classroom: A Pedagogical Tool to Help Students De-Stress, Focus, and Connect. His new book, Calming Student Stress in K-12 Classrooms: Mindfulness, Meditation, and Other Strategies to Reduce Anxiety and Enhance Learning, is due out early 2024. He currently facilitates workshops for k-12 teachers and higher education faculty. He can be reached out [email protected] for more information.