Friday, April 11, 2003


Here’s a look at three education issues around Nebraska:

Children’s Yoga Program in York Points Up Problems

An alert reader in York, Neb., sent in a notice about a children’s yoga program scheduled for Saturday as part of the Week of the Young Child celebration in that town.

Children from ages 4 to 10 are invited to the free event.

The reader said that yoga has been taught along with meditation and relaxation techniques across the state as part of physical education or regular classroom relaxation exercises. An Internet search showed that at least one yoga instructor says that she has taught yoga in the Omaha Public Schools and in District 66, for example.

But the reader wasn’t aware of yoga for children as young as 4, and wondered if yoga was spreading as part of the school curriculum.

Well, if it is, parents shouldn’t be happy about it. Experts on New Age religions such as Marcia Montenegro, a guest on Omaha radio station KCRO’s Paul & Marty talk show recently, warn parents that yoga is not good for kids. See her yoga article on


She says yoga postures combined with breathing and relaxation techniques can and do produce a light trance state -- an altered state of consciousness -- especially in vulnerable young children who lack the reasoning powers and ego defenses that could prevent such a change in consciousness.

This is dangerous for several reasons. Not the least of them is that yoga conditions children to seek to lose their self-awareness, define their own reality, and empty their minds –- all of which are anti-intellectual and may contribute to later use of drugs and alcohol to induce that lesser state of consciousness. That would seem to be the opposite of what a solid education is supposed to be about.

According to Ms. Montenegro and other yoga critics, yoga comes from the Sanskrit term to “yoke” or “unite” with the divine, impersonal, unknowable, inexplicable force that the Hindus describe as “God” or “Brahman.” That’s in direct contradiction to the Judeo-Christian concept of “God,” described in the Bible as personal, relational and knowable.

Further, yoga postures honor Hindu deities such as the sun, tiger, tree and snake. So the idea of instructing young children to arrange their bodies to resemble those Hindu deities is problematic.

Hindu documents show that the purpose of yoga is for the imaginary union of the coiled serpent they believe is lying at the base of one’s spine – “the goddess Shakti” –to unite with “Shiva,” her “consort,” who resides at the center of the forehead between the eyebrows. Yoga arouses the serpent power of Shakti so that this can happen, and supposedly provides the yoga practitioner with special psychic abilities and sinless perfection.

Even if yoga instructors don’t know a thing about the background of yoga and aren’t teaching all of that to the kids, that doesn’t excuse or justify what they are doing.

Also problematic is the fact that all physical yoga exercises are acknowledged precursors to the spiritual exercises of Hinduism. The whole idea is to deny your individual identity and “lose yourself” – and presumably your “stress” – by melting in to the “God” that the Hindus say is in everything and everybody.

That’s also in direct contradiction to the religious beliefs of the vast majority of the children who would be involved in the yoga activities.

Last, but not least, if yoga is taught in school, it constitutes the use of the public’s tax money to teach and promote the religious practices of one particular faith – obviously a violation of the First Amendment.

Whether it’s in a preschool setting or a public school classroom, a community program or a private class, wise parents and educators will investigate yoga thoroughly before they ever expose young children to the activity.

Alliance Parents Jam School Board Meeting Over K-4 Split

So many parents crowded into the recent school board meeting of the Alliance (Neb.) Public Schools to protest a planned split of the grade schools that the school board tabled the change and scheduled another public meeting for later – a classic defense maneuver by a school board that realizes it has made a boo-boo.

According to the Alliance-based online newspaper, www.Xpressnews.com, the school board sought to divide the two grade schools in Alliance, Grandview and Emerson, into one school that would hold grades K-2, and another that would hold grades 2-4.

Past news stories have indicated that there is more poverty among the children in one of those schools than the other, and low-income children have more intense learning needs than others. So it was proposed to mix the low-income learners with the middle- and upper-income kids to try to offset those problems.

The trouble is, that is perceived as improper social engineering by many parents. They packed the school board meeting to share concerns about safety, busing, supervision, splitting families, halting cross-grade interaction, academic setbacks caused by frequent school changes, and so on.

Of 24 parents who testified, 20 favored keeping the grade schools as they are, one was for the school board’s proposal and the others were neutral.

It is believed to be one of the largest turnouts of parents at a school board meeting anywhere in Nebraska this year.

Elkhorn High School Solves First Amendment Conflict

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter at Elkhorn (Neb.) High School is one of the most popular student activities available. As many as 100 teens gather on Wednesday evenings at school to shoot hoops, do good deeds and talk about how their faith shapes everything they do. There are adult chaperones present, but it’s the kids’ gig and they set the agenda and plan the activities. They play together . . . and they pray together.

But complaints were lodged by a local woman with a daughter at the school who has been on record against any mention of religious activities or opportunities in the schools because her family does not have a religious faith and she feels the girl is being isolated and diminished by school offerings in which she will not or cannot participate.

The woman said it could be misconstrued that the school was sponsoring the FCA because the FCA’s activities, although held in the evening, still took place in the school building, and were promoted at school, including posters and published articles about upcoming FCA events in the student newspaper.

Reportedly, the school was about to censor all mention of FCA in that newspaper until another parent stepped in with journalistic and legal evidence that showed that censorship would be wrong.

Ironically, the clincher was a nationally famous First Amendment case stemming from a conflict at nearby Omaha Westside High School. A dozen years ago, a student there wanted to have an after-school Bible Club with the same access to the school paper and other support and promotional services as other student clubs that are for kids but are not curriculum-related, such as the chess club and the pep club. School officials wouldn’t allow it and fought her all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Court eventually ruled against Westside officials, saying that student-initiated and student-run clubs must be allowed at public schools as long as they don’t disrupt the educational process, and neither treated with favor nor hostility in comparison with other noncurriculum clubs (Board of Education v. Mergens, 1990). Anything less than that is a violation of the students’ free speech rights and freedom of assembly.

In response to the FCA matter, Elkhorn officials decided against censorship, and for allowing FCA articles in the student paper under the heading of “Student Sponsored Groups” instead of “Club Hubbub,” the heading for official school-sponsored clubs.

Journalism advisor Judy Obert called it “a very workable solution.”

For more on religious freedoms in public schools, see the U.S. Department of Education’s manual.

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