How the Encinitas yoga controversy is on the cultural war’s cutting edge

In my search for remarks from either the Jois Yoga Foundation or the Encinitas Union School District, I tripped upon something even better regarding the controversy surrounding yoga in schools.

This whole debate might be right on the cutting edge of America’s long-simmering culture war.

That’s the premise of scholar (to bring some counter weight to the lawsuit’s professor) Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, who teaches at The New School.

In a piece back when this controversy was still new (i.e. in December), she suggested that wellness programs, such as what Encinitas has implemented with the Jois Foundation, could be the next front on the education culture war. From her piece:

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.

[snip]

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.

[snip]

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.

My day job involves dealing with public funding streams, so I can attest that there is a growing desire among public officials, both elected and those who might be called “community leaders” (such as principals or superintendents), to find alternative funding streams — or at least supplemental money. Grants such as the Jois Foundation’s $533,000 probably sound good to you. They sound even better to cash-strapped public agencies. And so, as Petrzela’s article suggests, it only seems logical that there will be more programs like the Encinitas yoga one that somehow ruffles someone’s feathers.

Posted by Steve

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Blog highlight: Who is the teacher and who is the student?

Steve’s Sunday Conversation topic got me thinking about teaching. It’s been much on my mind, because I’m in the middle of revising the writing course I teach at UCI. Part of my job is to not just run the course, but to train new teachers of writing, and every time I teach my Led First class at Jörgen’s, I ponder the meaning of teaching because, although I’ve been teaching writing for 28 years, I’ve only just started teaching Ashtanga. So I draw on my knowledge as a mentor teacher (of writing) to inform my role as a new teacher (of Ashtanga). I have a few observations that may answer Steve’s question.

There’s a difference between a guru and a teacher. In one of my teaching circles, in academia, we never use the word guru, of course. It carries some powerful colonial connotations, and none of them wanted. But we do mentor. I can say unequivocally that in every case where I’ve had a mentoring relationship with students, they’ve come to me. Some of these relationships are fifteen to twenty years old now, and I’m always a little astonished by it. I believe the student chooses the guru; the reasons have to do with the guru’s weight and light, but they have even more to do with the student. I used to put a quote from Bruce Lee at the top of my syllabus: “One is taught in accordance with one’s fitness to learn.” I’ve chosen my guru, I have no doubt.

But let’s just stick with the second word after Steve’s slash: teacher. At the start of each quarter, I pass out a long document listing the requirements of the course, my aforementioned syllabus. I always tell my students my syllabus is my contract with them. It’s not just what they’re promising to do in good faith (come to class regularly, work with focus, participate actively, etc.) but also what I’m promising to teach them. They should come to class with an expectation to learn from me. They should tell me when they don’t feel like I’m serving them well, so I can be better. A teacher recognizes that responsibility. When I show up to class, I am there to give knowledge. By showing up, I’m agreeing to do that. I want to do that for my students.

In the same vein, a teacher has to recognize the best way to impart knowledge to any given student is going to be different each day, each meeting, each student. A teacher has to demonstrate alacrity and adaptability, and a keen evaluative eye. One student may require a lot of, shall we say, firm encouragement—you might need to kick some ass. Another student doing the same task, even the same way, may require more support and compassion. You can never do the adjustment the same way twice. Knowing how to adapt requires a lot of experience.

The only way to get experience is to fail and learn. This means that all good teachers are first and foremost good students of their own art. When you set the right learning environment, students are willing to join you on this journey, accept your failures to serve them well, accept your apology, and try again with you. That process of learning the best way to learn—together—is an amazing experience, a sort of electric moment when the student no longer needs you, and you will now know more about how best to teach. The posture is now done with lightness and joyful confidence, and you can both move on.

So ultimately, the goal of all teachers should be to teach yourself into redundancy, to let go and point the way forward, beyond you as a teacher, into the art itself—to teach the student to be his/her own teacher. This is really the goal of learning to write well. It has some similarities to being an Ashtanga teacher.

Posted by Bobbie