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University of Nebraska-Lincoln students and faculty and members of the Lincoln community can learn how yoga and mindfulness can impact public schools on Thursday evening.

Candy Gunther Brown will lecture about the popularity of and controversy surrounding yoga and mindfulness in public schools at  5 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 10, in Bailey Library in Andrews Hall. Brown will also sign copies of her book “Debating Yoga and Mindfulness in Public Schools”and answer additional questions after the lecture, according to Max Mueller, an assistant professor of classics and religious studies and the host of Thursday’s event.

Mueller said questions regarding religion in public schools today are based on Supreme Court rulings from the 1960s that declared that the inclusion of established religion and prayer in school curricula violate the First Amendment and, therefore, are unconstitutional.

“Many of our students went to public schools and many of our students might teach in public schools,” Mueller said. “Many of our students might have children one day in public schools, and these questions aren’t going anywhere.”

Brown said her lecture will include material from her book in which she suggests that students, parents and teachers in public schools should be given the opportunity to opt-in to participate in programs, such as yoga and mindfulness, rather than opt-out if students or teachers have obligations to participating. 

“Public schools reflect, by their very nature in some ways, the communities they serve,” Mueller said. “They’re going to reflect the values, the world views, of the communities they serve.”

These programs exist in public schools across the nation, Brown said, but teachers, principals and other school faculty have not addressed the ethical and legal variables involved in assessing the validity of these programs. Previous court cases reviewed prayer and established religion in schools, but programs that include yoga and mindfulness have seldom been debated.

Brown said she first started looking at yoga and mindfulness after researching alternative medicines. In 2013, she said she was asked to serve as an expert witness in a California Courts of Appeal case where a foundation promoting Ashtanga, a type of yoga associated with Hinduism, donated money to a California school district for the program. The judge, Brown said, ruled in 2015 that yoga was religious but students may not notice, making the practice legal by that logic.

Brown said she spent the six years following that case writing her book and learning more about yoga and mindfulness programs in public schools. 

These practices, she said, trace roots to Hinduism and Buddhism and are not fully secular. Teachers who implement these programs may believe that they are just introducing a new form of instruction into their teaching but may not understand its background, she said.

Mueller said Buddhists and Hindus in the United States have recently begun trying to reclaim mindfulness and yoga, respectively. The act of reciting the ancient Indian language Sanskrit and practicing yoga poses may relax some individuals, but they may not understand the philosophical and religious views behind them, he said.

Brown invites all to come hear her lecture and look at the debate on mindfulness and yoga in public schools.

“This is all about the future of public education,” she said. “I’m not trying to argue for or against yoga or mindfulness, but my position is that there are ethical and legal reasons to work towards transparency and voluntarism with these programs.”

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