Debating Yoga and Mindfulness in Public Schools: Reforming Secular Education or Reestablishing Religion?

By Candy Gunther Brown | Go to book overview

Conclusion
Secularization Reconsidered—Best-Practice Recommendations

Public schools have a societal mandate to encourage student flourishing and civic responsibility without endorsing or disfavoring religion. Twenty-firstcentury schools, teachers, students, and parents face notable challenges. This book has interrogated common assumptions that school-based yoga and mindfulness are fully secular, safe techniques to improve health and cultivate moral and ethical virtues formerly instilled by religious instruction. The concluding chapter reconceptualizes secularization in terms of transparency and voluntarism and recommends best practices to educators, courts, and families. It argues for an opt-in model of informed consent.

The public-school programs assessed in this book have secular purposes and effects and also communicate assumptions, values, and world views that have both historical and ongoing associations with religion. Science is often heralded as proof that these practices are effective and safe—and fully secular. Claims about secular benefits of yoga and mindfulness often exceed the strength of the evidence and underrepresent challenging, adverse, and/or religious effects. Research suggests that overtly religious meditation, prayer, and Bible reading produce similar benefits through similar mechanisms—and that certain health effects of secularized versions result from their religious effects.

In contending that nominally secular programs are also religious, I invite the question of whether yoga or mindfulness (or for that matter any classroom subject) might ever be taught in a fully secular manner. If so, where is the line, on one side of which a practice is religious and on the other side fully secular? As convenient as it might be to draw such a line, I do not think it can be done. Overlaps between the secular and religious are inevitable. Courts recognize this in asking whether the “primary” purpose and effects are secular and whether government entanglement with religion is “excessive.” Public schools are tasked not with banishing every trace of religion but with avoiding religious endorsement and coercion. Subtracting religious language and adding scientific framing may not go far enough. Many nominally secular school programs (informed by Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, or other traditions) remain grounded in metaphysical, contested assumptions, values, and world views that address whether there is a self to save or connect with human or tran-

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