Elementary School Yoga: Religious Education or Just Plain Exercise?

At Paul Ecke Central Elementary School in California, yoga has become part of the curriculum for all of the students. Children practice meditation, flexibility, and improve self esteem. While kids are repeating positive statements like “I am strong! I am brave!” while doing the warrior pose, a group of parents are protesting the class, saying that it is  forcing Hindu beliefs on their children. What really is happening is a whole lot of misunderstanding.

Read New York Times article here.

Photo credit: New York Times

Reading the article I tried to understand the other side’s perspective. I understand that our society prides itself on “separation of church and state,” but at what point is removing religion from schools removing the ability to learn from other perspectives? And what constitutes religious education as in conversion and education of religions that exist in the world?

Here is a statement from one of the mothers who protested:

“They’re not just teaching physical poses, they’re teaching children how to think and how to make decisions. 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.”

Now, this could just be me, but I’m trying to figure out what in that statement is a bad thing. Last I checked, the purpose of education was to teach children how to think and how to make decisions. Creative problem solving, reason, and logic are all things that we teach children in school so that they can go on to be successful. Secondly, what is so terrible about peace and comfort? Religious or non religious, isn’t that something that we are all looking for? So I guess the real question is what is it that is causing all of the protest?

Fear and ignorance. There is clearly a lack of understanding about the Hindu religion, and for many the knee-jerk reaction to something that they don’t understand is to get rid of it completely. Rather than learning about something foreign, people just want to pretend to it doesn’t exist. However sheltering their children from an opportunity to learn about other cultures is not the answer.

Now to say that this is a situation that could benefit from some sort of dialogue would be a vast understatement. If I were on the school board at this particular school, I would spend one of these meetings talking to the parents explaining more about Hinduism. Granted that’s easier said than done, but I firmly believe that education is the way to combat ignorance such as this. All of that being said, the school board currently is doing a pretty good job with being accepting of multiple faiths:

“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.”

If only the religious tolerance went both ways in this situation, maybe we’d see the parents doing the gorilla pose side by side with their young kids.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s