Mysticism for kids

"Mysticism for kids" Continued...

Issue: "The Purge," Sept. 12, 2009

In October 2008, the objecting parents accepted a compromise: Students could practice yoga movements during class, but it would be called "Raider Relaxation" (named for the school mascot), while those interested in delving further into the underlying philosophies of yoga could attend an after-school club.

The battle over yoga in public schools is an old one. In 2002, some Aspen, Colo., parents argued successfully for the removal of yoga from the local curriculum. In 1999, a group of Bedford, N.Y., parents filed a federal lawsuit over certain instructional activities, including yoga.

The Aspen controversy prompted former Brooklyn teacher Tara Guber to create Yoga Ed, a system of yoga instruction that would pass muster in public schools. Yoga Ed presents yoga as "an ideal discipline for mind/body fitness" and the development of "self-awareness." At least 150 schools in 27 states have adopted the program, while some public-school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, also offer training for Yoga Ed trainers.

Los Angeles schools were in the news last April for another program that has its roots in sectarian faith. Some parents and constitutional scholars raised questions about Spirituality for Kids, an ethics program sponsored by the Kabbalah Center of Los Angeles and taught on campus during school hours. Popularized in recent years by celebrity adherents such as Madonna, Kabbalah is a mystical form of Judaism that concerns itself with ontological questions such as the nature of the universe and the nature of existence, and attempts to explain the relationship between an infinite Creator and His finite and mortal creation.

Spirituality for Kids (SFK) began when Karen Berg, co-founder of the Kabbalah Center, "after working with adults for many years . . . realized that to create global change we must empower our children with the universal truth that all possibilities lay within us, and through our choices we can influence the world around us," the SFK website explains. "This is a truth that breaks the boundaries of religion, culture, economic background, race, and gender."

SFK spokeswoman Jane Gideon said the program boils down to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. "That's a universal concept," Gideon said. "No matter what religion-Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism-that precept runs across everything. To love your neighbor as yourself."

Charles Haynes, a scholar at the First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C., said SFK blurs the boundary between spirituality and religion. "There is no bright line separating the two, and some people simply don't believe that a program that's 'spiritual' raises the same constitutional concerns as a program that's specifically 'religious.' Some programs try to look nonsectarian by packaging themselves as 'spiritual,' but when they're rooted in a religious tradition, that's constitutionally problematic."

SFK teaches kids that an "inner light" will guide them into right choices. While "inner light" could be interpreted as an engaging, child-friendly term for "conscience," it is actually the English translation of pnimi, a Kabbalah term for one of two divine forces at work in humans and in the spiritual world. Meanwhile, the philosophy that "all possibilities lay within us" is not a universal truth. On the contrary, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam teach precisely the opposite: That all possibilities lie outside humanity, in the palm of God.

Lynn Vincent
Lynn Vincent

Lynn is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine and the best-selling author of 10 non-fiction books.


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