Man, remember when I wrote this:
Considering how much of a commodity time is in a school environment, I’m always happy to hear about schools who are opting to incorporate some form of wellness in their school. So, when I saw the following, I was actually overjoyed:
By 9:30 a.m. at Paul Ecke Central Elementary School, tiny feet were shifting from downward dog pose to chair pose to warrior pose in surprisingly swift, accurate movements. A circle of 6- and 7-year-olds contorted their frames, making monkey noises and repeating confidence-boosting mantras.
Jackie Bergeron’s first-grade yoga class was in full swing.
“Inhale. Exhale. Peekaboo!” Ms. Bergeron said from the front of the class. “Now, warrior pose. I am strong! I am brave!”
Though the yoga class had a notably calming effect on the children, things were far from placid outside the gymnasium.
Then…the kicker came:
A small but vocal group of parents, spurred on by the head of a local conservative advocacy group, has likened these 30-minute yoga classes to religious indoctrination. They say the classes — part of a comprehensive program offered to all public school students in this affluent suburb north of San Diego — represent a violation of the First Amendment.
After the classes prompted discussion in local evangelical churches, parents said they were concerned that the exercises might nudge their children closer to ancient Hindu beliefs.
Mary Eady, the parent of a first grader, said the classes were rooted in the deeply religious practice of Ashtanga yoga, in which physical actions are inextricable from the spiritual beliefs underlying them.
“They’re not just teaching physical poses, they’re teaching children how to think and how to make decisions,” Ms. Eady said. “They’re teaching children how to meditate and how to look within for peace and for comfort. They’re using this as a tool for many things beyond just stretching.”
Ms. Eady and a few dozen other parents say a public school system should not be leading students down any particular religious path. Teaching children how to engage in spiritual exercises like meditation familiarizes young minds with certain religious viewpoints and practices, they say, and a public classroom is no place for that.
Well, this finally received judgment:
Today, a San Diego County Superior Court judge said yoga classes are not the same as religious instruction, and ruled that the classes may continue.
The plaintiffs and their attorney, Dean Broyles of the National Center for Law and Policy, claimed that giving kids a little bit of yoga twice a week amounts to an unlawful embrace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism or Western metaphysics.
I find that ironic, actually. Usually the argument is over whether devout Christians have the right to practice religion any old public place. But I digress.
Last year, as my colleague Tony Perry has reported, Encinitas school officials accepted a half-million dollar grant from the Jois Foundation, named for the late Krishna Pattabhi Jois, an influential yoga teacher who once lived in Encinitas and promulgated the school of yoga known as Ashtanga. The grant provided trained yoga instructors to the schools for what it describes as a “health and wellness program.”
The foundation, supported by hedge-fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones II and his wife, Sonia, is also funding studies about the effect of yoga on children, which led Broyles to claim in court that the Encinitas school district is using its pupils as “religious beta test subjects.”
But the district had always allowed children whose families objected to be excused from the classes. And that accomodation led to the accusation that the district was depriving the non-yoga practicing children from their state mandated 200 minutes of exercise for every 10 school days. (That was disputed by the district, which said they received their required minutes of exercise in other ways.)
I don’t mean to trivialize the seriousness of the principle at stake: The Sedlocks believed their children were receiving religious instruction. If that had truly been the case, they would have been on the right side of the fight.
But yoga, as it’s often practiced in this country, has long since shed its religion in favor of a watered-down Eastern vibe that sometimes has a cartoonish aspect.
To claim that the yoga being taught in Encinitas schools is a form of religious instruction springs from the same impulse that finds “Harry Potter” books primers on witchcraft, or “Heather Has Two Mommies” a pamphlet promoting lesbianism.
Ultimately, the judge made his decision according to the Lemon test, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a government body may neither advance nor inhibit religion.
“I suppose when you refer to worship, one is free to worship whatever, whomever one wishes, and that can be virtually anything,” Meyer said during the bench trial. “I suppose some people are accused of worshiping a sports team. There are traditional religions and very untraditional religions, and I’m not sure what religion actually is.”
But, like another judge in another famous case, he knows it when he sees it.
And yoga, as taught in Encinitas schools at least, is not religion, by any definition. [source]
Score one for the yogis.
In my dream world, schools would offer a variety of activity so that all kinds can find something they enjoy – sound familiar? – but we all know that money isn’t plentiful in school environments, and we also know that only certain schools and districts benefit from those special grants that tend to pop up and afford kids these kinds of opportunities. If you want to build a solid foundation for fitness, variety – in this case, yoga, but more broadly, being open-minded – is a great way to do it.
Trying to squash that because it’s “unfamiliar” to you, in The Era of Google, just feels lazy and uninformed. More emphasis on the lazy, though.
What do you think?