As a citizen of Hopkinton, Chariho graduate, grandparent, and community member who cares about youth, I was curious about the March 23 Chariho School Committee agenda — particularly, a report from the anti-racism task force and a discussion of mindfulness curriculum (which has its roots in Buddhism). The first because I’m writing a book about addressing racism, the second because as an American Christian, I care about religious freedom. Surprisingly, a discussion of the PE curriculum also involved a debate of yoga instruction (which is Hindu in origin).
Bravo to those who doing the hard work of addressing racism in our schools. The spirit of respect for diversity, tolerance, and inclusion was evident. Sadly, this appeared to come apart for some committee members when discussion turned to respect for the religious views of certain citizens.
Several committee members, Catherine Giusti, Gary Liguori, and David Stall (among others), appeared willing to engage in respectful conversation on the issues. Mr. Liguori explained the difference between stretching/flexibility training and specific yoga postures. He communicated his views while also communicating respect. Ms. Giusti respectfully referenced that some students opt out of the pledge of allegiance for religious reasons. Dave Stall, clearly a minority on the committee on these topics, demonstrated respect while striving to fairly represent many parents. He was met with dismissive and belittling comments.
Several committee members appeared confused as to why this was even a conversation when, in fact, it’s a highly debated topic in schools across the country. A quick Google search would have prepared them to approach the conversation with respect for the validity of these concerns.
Even when parents testified to their experiences of children opting out of guided meditation and receiving “0” for that segment of class, no one validated their perspectives. (No one receives a “0” for opting out of the pledge of allegiance.) In fact, they were met with dismissive tones, eye rolls, and headshaking. As if the atmosphere of inclusion and tolerance was suddenly whisked from the room and an anachronistic spirit of superiority and judgment ushered in for this specific conversation.
Many there were referenced as experts — in health education, law, social work or psychology — yet no one referenced that the pastor in the room may, indeed, be an expert at identifying religious practices. I was embarrassed for our community at the disrespect demonstrated, even as it was visibly upsetting several parents.
Many citizens engage in yoga and mindfulness with no thought to their religious origins. People from various faiths see these disciplines as secular and engage without violating their conscience. However, if a group of citizens explains respectfully that engaging in these practices would violate their children’s consciences based on their sincerely held religious beliefs, this information should be received with respect and addressed with attitudes informed by inclusion and tolerance. I wish that’s what I had witnessed at the meeting on March 23. Sadly, it fell far short of the quality of conversation and public debate I believe our community can demonstrate.
Lori Stanley Roeleveld