I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

A professor fired for threatening Christians. Christians fired up about Trump the Blasphemer. Christian colleges on the rocks. And, yes, racist organic farmers in Indiana. All these stories and more made our list this week:

How can a professor get fired in Iowa? By saying, “It’s not pretty, and I’m not proud, but seeing what Evangelical Christians are doing to this country and its people fills me with rage, and a desire to exact revenge.” At IHE.

White evangelicals once changed their minds about lovin a president. Will Trump be next? At WaPo.

“Whether we like it or not, a major problem we face as evangelical Christians today is the identification in the popular mind of the religious position we represent with the Nixon administration and its actions. We are ‘middle America,’ the group sector that gave President Nixon his ‘mandate.’ We are the war party, the white backlash (if not racist) party, the Watergate scandal party.”

nixon graham wapoSome evidence that younger white evangelicals are already giving up on Trumpism, at 538.

But there are increasing signs of a generational rift: Younger white evangelicals have not fully bought into Trump’s politics and are less receptive to Trump’s message of cultural decline. The age gap among white evangelicals in some ways just mirrors the age gap among the public overall with regards to Trump, but in conversations with a number of younger white evangelical Christians, many said they are reexamining the way their faith informs their politics and whether the two have become too tightly intertwined. . . . Two-thirds (66 percent) of young white evangelical Christians (age 18 to 34) say that immigrants coming to the U.S. strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents, a view shared by only 32 percent of white evangelical seniors (age 65+). A majority (54 percent) of older white evangelical Christians believe that immigrants are a burden on American society.

evangelical youth and trump 538

…still a lot of Trump-ism in there.

…or maybe all the blasphemy will drive evangelicals away? At WaPo.

Trump is neither the “Second Coming of God” nor the “Messiah.”. . . .

I am a conservative evangelical who cast my vote for Trump for the very same reason many other evangelicals did: his conservative stance on issues concerning abortion and religious freedom. I visited Washington last October for a briefing at which faith leaders listened to White House officials address many policy issues. . . .

We must . . . vocally denounce [Trump’s] blatantly egregious actions, including not only Wednesday’s tweets but also his consistently negative interactions and dialogue with people of different races, genders and ethnicities.

Christian mom vs. teacher-led school prayer, at Christianity Today.

Though I understand it’s pleasant for some to hearken back to a day when a tight-bunned teacher led children through a crisp Pledge and a Prayer (no matter what her heart, mind or soul actually believed) as somehow holier, better, safer, they weren’t. Schools with teacher-led prayer refused to admit black children. Schools with teacher-led prayer burnt to the ground. Students were still bullied. They still had sex, got abortions, and got high. Homes were still broken. Kids were still confused and frightened by their sexuality. Even back then. Even with all that prayer.

Yoga: Banned in Alabama, at CBS42.

“I don’t know if it is the school system or if it is a polarized subject, like abortion or common core,” Gray said. “It’s one of those things that people think is bad.”

Another good time not to be the mayor of Bloomington, Indiana. What are they supposed to do with racist organic farmers at their farmers’ market? At NYT.

Bloomington has declined to remove Schooner Creek from the market. Mayor John Hamilton said the farmers had First Amendment rights to their personal views as participants in a city-run market, and said the farm did not appear to be breaking any written rules about how vendors should behave at the market.

While some in Bloomington want Schooner Creek to leave, others said they wished protesters would drop their cause. In late July, an associate professor at Indiana University was arrested as she held up a paper sign in front of the Schooner Creek stand. Protesters yelled “Shame, shame!” as police officers escorted her away from the market.

racist farmers NYTTough times for evangelical colleges, at WORLD.

Nyack College, a Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) school in the New York City area, received an independent audit in 2017 with an opinion any institution dreads: “substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern.”

What will the future hold for LGBTQ exemptions? Will evangelical institutions be forced to comply? At The Atlantic.

For religious groups and institutions that teach that homosexuality is a sin, and that men and women were created as such by God, the prospect of this kind of legislation is worrying. “It would be years of litigation—that’s what we would look forward to under the Equality Act as currently drafted,” Shirley Hoogstra, the president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), told me. For the nearly 140 Christian institutions that are members of her organization, she said, the bill “would put federal funding, it would put accreditation, it would put hiring rights, it would put campus student-life policies all at risk.” Fundamentally, these kinds of groups want to be able to preserve what they see as religious integrity in their own spaces—and they object when that is described as bigotry. “The Equality Act as currently drafted has caused Christian institutions to really wonder about whether their particular educational contribution is valued in America,” Hoogstra said.

Send in the clowns: A historical review of clownish leaders at HNN.

Making fun of those who have power over us is a small blow against authority. But the clown princes go further. What could be more anti-elitist than to take politics to the polar opposite extreme? Elitists read books, use evidence to make arguments, rely on science, demand proof; the clown prince needs no such intellectual crutches; they rely on passion, emotion, feelings. Lashing out is their feel-good option.

Women, transgender women, and sports. What is the fair solution? At Arc.

Free speech on campus: A new book argues that conservative gripes are bogus, at IHE.moskowitz IHE

Is denying someone admission to a college a threat to that person’s free speech? Is failing someone in a class a threat to their free speech? Is a student not being able to disrupt a class whenever they want a threat to free speech? We take these limits as a given, and even a positive in colleges, yet when it comes to students requesting or demanding that colleges not allow professors or students to say racist, transphobic and other offensive language without punishment, that becomes a step too far for administrators. So I would question whether they’re really afraid of limiting speech (which, as I said, they do all the time), or whether they’re afraid of confronting just how common and ingrained transphobia, racism and other forms of oppression are on their campuses.

 

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I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Your humble editor spent most of the week buried in the NSB, but a few stories still caught our attention:

White evangelicals still love The Donald, at PRC.Pew evangelicals and trump

How has religion contributed to political polarization? An interview with Peter Wehner and Melissa Rogers at R&P.

What I think is much more disturbing is this enthusiastic embrace of Trump. That I think is inexcusable. Because Christians, above all, ought to be people who understand that they’re citizens of a different city. There ought to be some distance from politics and the ability to speak truth to power. It’s fine for Christians to praise particular court appointments and particular policies, but when Trump engages in an effort to annihilate truth, when he engages in dehumanizing tactics, when he is cruel, when he unleashes his cascade of lies, they ought to speak to that too and unfortunately a lot of prominent white evangelical Christians don’t.

Another lawsuit: Christian parents accused of banning yoga in GA public school.

What’s wrong with high-stakes testing? They warp the system, at Curmudgucation.

When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

Mayor deBlasio condemns racial segregation in elite NYC high schools, at Chalkbeat.

What You Need to Know about: Yoga in Public Schools

The most recent case is enough to make anyone’s head spin. It involves a disgruntled former school administrator, yoga stretches, and community prayer rallies to help “Jesus to rid the school of Buddhism.” Sic.

yoga in sschools

Look out! Flying Buddhists!

Here’s what we know: This case has roots back to 2014, when Cobb County (Georgia) elementary principal Bonnie Cole introduced a yoga program into her school. Local parents protested. Cole was transferred and is now suing the district. She claims that pro-Christian religious influence unduly hurt her career.

Cole insisted that her use of yoga was not at all religious. She used it for purely secular reasons, to help students stay healthy and manage stress. The school already removed some religious elements of yoga practice. For instance, they didn’t allow students to say “Namaste” or press their hands to their hearts. Students were also not allowed to color mandalas.

In this case, though, the specific lawsuit isn’t about whether or not yoga is a religious practice. Rather, it is about whether or not Christian protesters exerted undue religious influence on the school to ban yoga. Principal Cole explains that parents would press their hands up against her office window to put prayer-pressure on her to stop teaching yoga. And in this case, that Christian influence is the legal issue, not the notion of yoga as a religion (or not).

Clear as mud!

In an effort to clear up some of the religion-in-school fog, we’ve dug through our ILYGYBTH archives for relevant background material. Here’s some earlier coverage you might find interesting:

wellness programs are likely the next theater of battle in our ongoing but evolving educational culture wars… in which the earnest claim of the Encinitas superintendent that “it is just physical activity” sounds ever more naïve.

  • In that Encinitas case, Professor Candy Gunther Brown of Indiana University thought the judge goofed. As we observed at the time, Prof. Brown thought that certain forms of yoga practices—and certain deep-pocketed devotees—insisted that yoga practice would “automatically” lead people to god, “whether they want it or not.”
  • The controversy over yoga as a religious practice in school is nothing new. As far back as the 1970s, religious conservatives—Christian ones—were protesting against such “religious indoctrination” in public schools.
  • Last but not least, evangelical Christians are divided over the religious implications of yoga. As we noted, some think the practice can be done in purely secular fashion, one acceptable for public schools. Others disagree.

Of course, none of this helps us sort out this most recent case from Georgia. Legally, after all, the religious nature (or not) of yoga is not in dispute. Bonnie Cole accuses the school district of succumbing unfairly to Christian pressure. Of course, underneath that complaint festers the unanswered question of yoga’s religious nature.

Under current rules, if yoga constitutes religious practice, it shouldn’t be taught by teachers in public schools. It could be taught about, of course, but yoga classes actually engage students in yoga practice. On the other hand, if yoga is done as a secular pursuit for purely secular reasons, it would be okay for public schools. However, in that case, religious devotees of yoga would likely complain—with good reason, IMHO—that the school districts were unfairly appropriating their religious practice and mutilating it into something it shouldn’t be.

Just another example of the ways nobody knows quite what to do about religion in public schools!

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

This week’s review of the latest news ‘n’ views from around the interwebs:

Atheists for Jesus: Pulling evangelical voters to the left at FA.

Peter Greene on why teachers join unions.

rockwell teacher union thugTexas school board gives history another once-over, and Hillary Clinton is out. At DMN.

Surviving purity culture at NPR.

In this culture, men and boys are talked about as being sexually weak and women and girls are supposed to be the holders of all sexual purity. So ultimately women and girls are responsible for the sexual thoughts and feelings and choices that men make, and it’s women and girls’ responsibility to dress right, to act right, to talk right, to do everything just right to ensure non-sexuality for all people — and if they don’t, they potentially risk being categorized as impure or as a harlot.

Parents in Leiyang riot over school quality, at The Economist.

A liberal ex-evangelical finds a church home, at NR.

Still no-go for yoga in many public schools, at The Atlantic.

What is behind the coddling of the American mind? It’s not just “safetyism,” says reviewer at IHE.

Students have not been coddled, they’ve been defeated.

Concerned scientists weigh in on removal of climate change and weakening of evolutionary theory in Arizona standards, at NCSE.

Queen Betsy misquotes Professor Haidt, at CHE.

Let’s call it ‘Haidt’s choice’: Pursue truth or pursue harmony.

Yoga in School? Yes, No, Maybe So

Is yoga a religious practice?  Can it be taught in public schools?

Here at ILYBYGTH, we’ve been following the story in Encinitas, thanks to contributions from Natalia Mehlman Petrzela.  In that case, the judge said yoga was okay, in spite of the powerful argument made by religious studies scholar Candy Gunther Brown.

Today three evangelical writers weigh in at Christianity Today.  Can yoga be part of public education?

Laurette Willis says no way.  Yoga, she warns, turns children’s minds towards the “idols” of Hinduism and Buddhism.  Even if the practice is taught in a secular, physical way, it instills in young children “warm fuzzies” about Hindu imagery and theology.

Matthew Lee Anderson says, “It depends.”  If it is taught as physical exercise only, then it should be fine.  If it is used to proselytize for Hinduism, then no.

Amy Julia Becker says bring it on.  Yoga as physical exercise should be encouraged in public school.  What’s more, yoga as spiritual exercise should also be encouraged in public schools.  It is important for people of all religious faiths, Becker argues, to insist on the rights of children to engage in spiritual practice in public schools, as long as that practice is student-initiated and student-led.  Just as evangelical Christian students insist on their right to form public-school prayer groups, so evangelical Christian groups should insist on the rights of students of other religions to form their own spiritual groups.

 

Yoga—Not for Public Schools

 

Does the Constitution allow US public schools to teach religion to children?

Only if that religion is not about the Bible, according to religion scholar Candy Gunther Brown.

Thanks to contributions from Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, we’ve been following a case from Encinitas, California.  Some parents complained that teaching yoga forced religion onto their children.  The program had been funded by the Jois Foundation, though classroom teachers developed the specific yoga curriculum on their own.  Recently, Judge John Meyer ruled that public schools may use yoga as an exercise program without violating the Constitution.  The school district, he decided, had sufficiently purged the religious heritage of yoga and engaged in yoga for sufficiently secular purposes.

One of the participants in that trial was Professor Brown.  In a recent interview at the Oxford University Press blog, Brown explains why she thinks Judge Meyer got it wrong.

As she testified at the trial, Brown explains why the yoga practices are inherently religious.  Such practices, in the vision of Ashtanga devotees,

will “automatically” lead practitioners to experience the other limbs and “become one with God,” in the words of Jois, “whether they want it or not.”

Brown argues that the practices in Encinitas would be—and indeed had been—perceived as religious by objective outside observers.  As she puts it,

EUSD teachers displayed posters of an eight-limbed Ashtanga tree and asana sequences taught by the “K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute”; used a textbook, Myths of the Asanas, that explains how poses represent gods and inspire virtue; taught terminology in Sanskrit (a language sacred for Hindus); taught moral character using yamas and niyamas from the Yoga Sutras; used guided meditation and visualization scripts and taught kids to color mandalas (used in visual meditation on deities). Although EUSD officials reacted to parent complaints by modifying some practices, EUSD classes still always begin with “Opening Sequence” (Surya Namaskara) and end with “lotuses” and “resting” (aka shavasana or “corpse”—which encourages reflection on one’s death to inspire virtuous living), and teach symbolic gestures such as “praying hands” (anjalimudra) and “wisdom gesture” (jnanamudra), which in Ashtanga yoga symbolize union with the divine and instill religious feelings.

Furthermore, Brown charges, Judge Meyer ignored crucial evidence and even got his facts wrong.  School district teachers, Brown says, used Jois Foundation funds to take children to an Ashtanga conference.  Nor did teachers secularize the practice as much as Meyer implied.  Meyer stated in his decisions that religious terms such as the “lotus” position had been renamed with neutral names such as “criss-cross applesauce.”  But Brown points out that the term “lotus” appears 194 times in the spring curriculum guide.

So is yoga religious?

Brown makes a powerful case.  Simply because some teachers did not engage in the practice for primarily religious reasons does not make it a secular practice.  Simply because Judge Meyer did not think children would see the practice as religious does not make it so.

Atheists could pray for secular reasons, but teaching children to pray in public schools would not be constitutional.  Similarly, in other religious-dissent cases, the perception of religion has been decided by those who feel marginalized.  For instance, in the Schempp case (1963), the feelings of non-religious people that school prayer forced religion upon them carried legal weight.

The question forced upon us by Professor Brown is a good one: Do we allow yoga in public schools simply because we like it?  To be fair, do we need to recognize the dissent of conservative Christians who find the practice religious and therefore offensive?

 

UPDATE: Yoga Okay for Public Schools

When is a school prayer not a prayer?  According to Superior Court Judge John Meyer, once the “lotus” position has been transformed into “crisscross applesauce.”

As historian Natalia Mehlman Petrzela argued in these pages months ago, the fight in Encinitas, California over the teaching of yoga in public schools flipped some culture-war themes on their heads.  In this battle, conservative Christian parents fought against the use of religion in public schools.

Spearheaded by the National Center for Law and Policy, a conservative activist organization, Christian parents complained that teaching yoga amounted to promotion of a set of religious notions.

Judge Meyer ruled yesterday that the school district had stripped the yoga routine of its religious nature.  An objective observer, Meyer decided, would not perceive the practice as religious.  The program had been funded by a half-million-dollar grant from the Jois Foundation.  The judge found this entanglement “troublesome,” but not enough so to abandon the health program.

This kerfuffle resurrects some old school-prayer controversies in new ways.  First of all, does this case reveal a bias against Christian prayer?  That was the complaint of Dean Broyles of the National Center for Law and Policy.  As Gary Warth of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, Broyles claimed, “If [the school practice] were Christian-based and other parents complained, it would be out of schools. There is a consistent anti-Christian bias in cases like this that involve schools.”  Could a case be made that non-Abrahamic religious traditions get more leeway in public schools?

Also, does this case open the door for a new spate of school-prayer policies?  In the early 1960s, the US Supreme Court ruled in Engel v. Vitale that school-sponsored prayers violated the Constitution.  The prayer in that case, however, had been composed by the State of New York as a broadly ecumenical prayer, one thought to offend no one.  Could this precedent open the door to a new sort of ecumenical school prayer?  A secular prayer?  If religious groups could argue the health benefits of a prayer and find a prayer practice sufficiently stripped of sectarian meaning, could Judge Meyer’s argument apply here?

Of course, as I’ve noted elsewhere about the Engel v. Vitale case, most evangelical Protestants supported the SCOTUS decision to ban a bland ecumenical prayer.  Would any conservative religious people want to include a prayer in public schools if that prayer had been secularized?  If Jesus on a cross had been transformed to “crisscross applesauce?”

 

Scooping the New York Times

“All the News That’s Fit to Print” . . . eventually.

An article in yesterday’s New York Times describes the controversy over a yoga program in Encinitas public schools.  The same controversy that guest blogger Natalia Mehlman Petrzela analyzed in these pages a week ago.

I imagine NYT writer Will Carless had a stricter word count, but whatever the excuse, yesterday’s article doesn’t come close to matching the depth or context provided in Professor Mehlman Petrzela’s account.

Sorry, Grey Lady, ILYBYGTH got there first…and better.

School Wellness Programs: The Latest Frontier in the Culture Wars?

By Natalia Mehlman Petrzela

It was “showdown day” last Tuesday at a packed-to-capacity meeting of the Encinitas, California school board, during which the board faced angry threats of litigation in a heated dispute far afield of those predictable curricular lightning rods, sex education or science instruction. The embattled program is yoga.

Yoga?

In late October, about 60 Encinitas parents approached the board to strenuously oppose an Ashtanga yoga curriculum offered 30 minutes twice weekly to students district-wide. “I will not allow my children to be indoctrinated,” one parent insisted. Another expressed “a deep concern [the District] is using taxpayer resources to promote… religious beliefs and practices” on children “being used as guinea pigs.” Anxieties that opposing parents were forced to “segregate their children” reached fever pitch – one said kids opting out faced ostracism, comparing the situation to Nazi Germany.

As the local and national press has been quick to report, this vocal minority of parents “bent out of shape” or “in a twist” about savasana at school want the program terminated immediately. Their attorney, Dean Broyles, whose firm National Center for Law and Policy, is devoted to defending “faith, family, and freedom,” as well as “traditional marriage” and “parental rights” articulates the core issue as “the EUSD using taxpayer resources to promote Ashtanga yoga and Hinduism, a religious system of beliefs and practices.” The yoga community in Encinitas and beyond has responded fast and furiously, gathering over 2,500 signatures on a petition to preserve the program.

California is no stranger to heated educational controversy – beginning in the 1960s when the state was known (renowned by some, reviled by others) for its breakneck pedagogical innovation, the region became ground zero in some of the nation’s fieriest debates over sex education, character education, ethnic studies and bilingual education.  Such progressivism, conservatives charged, was expensive, immoral, academically unserious, and even un-American. Perhaps worst of all to grass-roots groups like POSSE (Parents Organized to Stop Sex Education) and CPR (Citizens for Parental Responsibility), the emphasis on critical reflection shared by these diverse initiatives undermined parental prerogative to determine their children’s worldview.

Encinitas might just be the perfect theater for a contemporary battle in these culture wars pitting traditionalist parents advocating for “the 3 Rs” against “hippie” pedagogies. The beachfront community embodies the cultural extremes defining California: Encinitas is known as a mecca for kale-eating freethinkers who seek out the diverse yoga practices with local strongholds and the open-minded environment, while surrounding San Diego County remains one of the country’s most politically conservative regions.

But the Encinitas yoga battle is more than just a new skirmish in an old fight waged by familiar combatants; it represents what will likely be a new theater of war in the educational culture wars in the 21st century.

The complaints among conservatives about yoga promoting Hinduism and mysticism are hardly of a piece with recent resistance to Christian Texas cheerleaders reading scripture at football games, as some press accounts have assumed. The rhetoric of the Encinitas parents’ protests may nominally be to free schools of religious influence, but the mission of Broyles’ firm is actually to defend the very principles the Christian cheerleaders espouse. A linchpin of the traditionalist perspective since the 1960s has been that liberals “took God out of schools and put sex [or Chicano studies or black children or the New Math] in,” as said one disgruntled father in the late 1960s. In the Encinitas case, however, the complaint is that there is too much God in the schools, just the wrong deity. This shift speaks to a transformation in how conservatives and liberals envision the appropriate role of spirituality at school… here conservatives position themselves as the defenders of civic secularism, in stark contrast to the stance which first galvanized their movement.

1960s culture warriors of any stripe couldn’t have fathomed the popularity “school wellness” would attain in the last two decades — enfolding not only yoga but also gardening, cooking, exercise, and meditation– and contemporary advocates of such curricula have difficulty understanding how these innocuous initiatives can inspire controversy. The press, the EUSD, and scores of online commenters expressed shock that anyone would suggest, “a little stress-reducing exercise ever hurt anyone,” especially in the context of a much-discussed “obesity crisis.” The Los Angeles Times couldn’t believe the degree of the plaintive parents’ worries, as yoga is regularly practiced in San Diego spots as disparate as the Camp Pendleton naval base and the Jois yoga enclave, which funds the school program. Glamour commented, “most people associated with the controversy are scratching their heads,” quoting similarly incredulous Jois chief executive: “It’s hard to know how to respond to someone who says if you touch your toes, you’re inviting the devil into your soul.”

Onlookers should not be so surprised at the perspectives Broyles raises, and should expect expanding wellness programs to generate more concerns, on the right and left. Encinitas parents are not the first social conservatives to oppose yoga; there’s even a cottage industry of Christian alternatives to the practice. Moreover, historians remind us that yoga’s well-scrubbed image today – think wholesome spectacles such as children doing yoga on the White House Lawn to celebrate Easter – elides the practice’s overtly spiritual and erotic origins. On the other end of the political spectrum, the field of Fat Studies argues the whole “obesity crisis” that provides the rationale for many wellness programs – including that in Encinitas – is fundamentally flawed, based more on our cultural aversion to fat bodies than on any objective health criteria. Michael Pollan, patron saint of the “real food” approach core to so many wellness programs, acknowledges that this new cultural terrain “mixes up the usual categories” even as the origins of the food and wellness movement are the same 1960s impulses that fueled the first round of the polarizing culture wars.

A familiar indignation over squandered tax dollars fuels the frustration of the Encinitas parents, though here it is largely misplaced, as the program is financed by a $533,000 grant from the private non-profit Jois Foundation. If the wellness movement suggests a newly fraught educational politics, so too does this funding situation. Nationwide, budget constraints are making public districts increasingly dependent on private initiative, especially for offerings such as wellness, which despite their popularity are usually deemed as “enrichment” rather than as a core academic need. As outside groups step in to fill curricular gaps and districts have fewer resources to shape these interventions, wellness programs are likely the next theater of battle in our ongoing but evolving educational culture wars… in which the earnest claim of the Encinitas superintendent that “it is just physical activity” sounds ever more naïve.

Natalia Mehlman Petrzela is Assistant Professor of Education Studies and History at Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts and is also co-founder of HealthClass2.0, a school-based wellness
program (www.healthclass.org). Her forthcoming book on culture wars in education is tentatively entitled SCHOOLED RIGHT: THE EDUCATIONAL ORIGINS OF CONTEMPORARY CONSERVATISM.