Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A new threat to our schools is here, and it is yoga

The New York Times reports that some California parents are upset at yoga being included in their children's physical education curriculum.  They are arguing that it amounts to "religious indoctrination", since it has its roots in Hindu theology.  This seems pretty similar to saying that we shouldn't learn about the historical Vikings in school because it will lead the kids to go on raids seeking glory for Odin, but whatever.

They shouldn't learn about the Minnesota Vikings either, unless it's an engineering lesson on "how to build a stadium in Minnesota that can successfully withstand snow."
ENCINITAS, Calif. — 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!”

Wow, what a horrible thing to be indoctrinating the kids with.  If they go around feeling strong and brave they won't be at all prepared for feeling weak and powerless when they graduate college with fifty grand in debt and have to choose which fast-food establishment they'd most like to earn minimum wage from.  Also, anything involving the word "Peekaboo!" just shouldn't be able to count as religious indoctrination.  It's the least threatening thing ever.  "Our Lord, who art in Heaven, Peekaboo!"  "Allahu Akbar, Peekaboo!"  There's no way that could ever bother me at all.

Though the yoga class had a notably calming effect on the children, things were far from placid outside the gymnasium.

I'm not always a huge fan of children, but I must say that this situation is not uncommon, because children have a pretty excellent capacity for not giving nearly as many fucks about things as their parents do.  I remember when I was a kid they said we couldn't play flag football in 3rd grade anymore, which was upsetting to myself and the other kids for, oh, 30 seconds.  Some of the class parents, on the other hand, were extremely upset about this, to the point of creating an extra-curricular program for kids who wanted to play football that much (meaning kids whose parents wanted them to want to play that much, of course).

Pictured: children, almost all of the time.
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.

"Yes, we're concerned that our children putting their bodies into certain poses will make them likely to replace their current religious beliefs with belief in Brahman and his various personifications.  One day it's stretching, the next they're debating the significance of the hidden avatar in the Bhagavata Purana."

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.” 

We wouldn't want kids to be able to find peace and comfort within themselves, now.  That'd be bad.  In all seriousness, yoga is derived from Hindu practice, but at this point it's also used by all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons.  A large number of professional athletes use it as a flexibility aid and to help prevent injuries, yet somehow I'm pretty sure there has not been a rampant growth in the number of converted Hindu athletes in recent years.  In fact, if you google "Hindu athlete US", the second result is Jim Thorpe's Wikipedia page and the first is not about the U.S.

Why Jim Thorpe?  I have no idea.  The word "Hindu" doesn't even appear on his Wikipedia page anywhere.
The district has stood firm. Tim Baird, the schools superintendent, has defended the yoga classes as merely another element of a broader program designed to promote children’s physical and mental well-being. The notion that yoga teachers have designs on converting tender young minds to Hinduism is incorrect, he said. 

“That’s why we have an opt-out clause,” Mr. Baird said. “If your faith is such that you believe that simply by doing the gorilla pose, you’re invoking the Hindu gods, then by all means your child can be doing something else.” 

Seems reasonable.

Ms. Eady is not convinced. 

“Yoga poses are representative of Hindu deities and Hindu stories about the actions and interactions of those deities with humans,” she said. “There’s content even in the movement, just as with baptism there’s content in the movement.”

So, you're basically saying that moving one's body in certain ways makes one more attuned to Hindu theology.  "There's content in the movement."  That's such a vague way of explaining what's wrong here.  If I start a cult that is devoted to running, will you stop running?  In fact, we can go even further.  If we start cults devoted to each normal way of moving around, we can make sure Ms. Eady and her friends have to walk around in a ridiculous manner so as to avoid accidentally doing anything that's related to another religion in any way. 

It would actually be pretty wonderful if different religions directed their followers to walk in certain ridiculous ways.  I'd spend all day in church.

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