Monday, March 11, 2013
One definition of irony from Dictionary.com is "an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected." You recognize it by critical thinking, and get a feeling of surprise that something isn’t quite right.
I got that very feeling last week when I came across a civil rights lawsuit against the Encinitas Union School District near San Diego. A brief outline of the case is that last summer the school district received a $533,000 grant to incorporate yoga practice into their physical education program in the elementary schools. The grantor foundation would provide teachers for 60 of the 100 required weekly physical education minutes with the intent of promoting the "gospel" of Ashtanga (the eight-limb path) yoga. Some parents were upset that the program seemed to mix stretching exercises with religion, or at least a philosophy based on Eastern religions of Hinduism or Buddhism.
I can understand the parents' concern of confusing young children by teaching what seems to be religious thought in public schools. Those who were concerned enough to withdraw their children from these classes were not provided an alternative, so the kids were not receiving the required hours of physical education.
This all makes sense to me, so far, but let me take a slight educational detour. The first subpart of the very first limb of Ashtanga is called ahimsa in Sanskrit. It means not harming, and provides the philosophical background for vegetarian practices and non-violence (a la Ghandi) among other things. There is a common Sanskrit chant associated with Ashtanga yoga, “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu” which basically wishes peace and serenity to all creatures.
With that background we move to the parents' final objection, found at the bottom of page 16 of the filing: “Several children who opted out of the EUSD program have been teased, harassed, and bullied by children who participate in the Ashtanga yoga classes.” If this is true and it is the yoga-trained kids who are being mean to their classmates, the teachers are failing to pass along the very yoga philosophy that the parents are objecting to. That’s what struck me as ironic.