A twist on the classic Aspen snowflake
A new-to-Aspen controversy landed in town 17 years ago last month: yoga in the public elementary school. No, not yogurt or yurts (because Aspenites have long supported the bacterial fermentation of milk, as well as tents of all shapes and sizes), but yoga, the 5,000-year-old discipline that combines physical and mental training based on Hindu philosophical traditions.
While it may be difficult to imagine in 2019 Aspen how yoga could ever have been impugned — if the sun rises and sets in Aspen and nobody is around to take a hot Power Flow class in a $52 Lululemon Energy bra, does it even count as a day? — there once was a time when some community members believed that a “stretching and breathing regimen…meant to help children relax and focus on their schoolwork” was too riddled with “religious underpinning(s)” for a public school, according to a Sept. 5, 2002, Aspen Times article.
Steve Woodrow, then the pastor of Aspen’s First Baptist Church and now directional pastor at Crossroads Church (which is a current Aspen High School Booster Club sponsor, and whose West End church also served as the location for the AHS Class of 2019’s Baccalaureate ceremony), featured prominently in the 2002 Times piece for “leading the charge” against the so-called Yoga Ed. program, in part because he said terms like “mantras,” “transcendental meditation” and “chanting” indicate “religious practices.”
The Onion and Aspen Times were mistaken for each other once again last week when the latter published a story about some parents troubled with what was characterized as the Aspen School District “espousing liberal doctrines and discussing the perils of climate change in settings that should be politically neutral.” The Sept. 20 Global Climate Strike, while not sanctioned by the district but still saw more than 400 students participate (during school hours, although not on school property), was among the events that prompted an outcry during the ASD’s Board of Education meeting Oct. 7.
The parents who spoke implied the existence of a larger conspiracy, including among teachers accused of “marching and leading political chants” despite no actual known teacher participation.
“Is the agenda really climate change?” one parent asked. “I’d say no. The agenda is against capitalism. Climate change is a way to get there, to fight capitalism and get to the socialist narrative. Why are the teachers driving this? What is their agenda?”
Of course what Aspen teachers are driving is a curriculum, and in this case, it’s called science. Just because there are those who deliberately, stubbornly or naively mislabel climate change as Beltway politics instead of what it is, which is real, quantifiable, valid and urgent, doesn’t negate its obligation to be taught.
But why stop at condemning science for the politics projected onto it? Will the same parents also advocate for the district to eschew financial sponsorships from churches with social views considered discriminatory and offensive by many?
In what amendment to the public school constitution is filtering education exclusively through a white, Western and Christian lens guaranteed? Politics and religion far predate U.S. history; their inclusion, however major or minor, on a class syllabus is hardly a radical-left dog whistle. It may be Aspen, but not even here is there a subversive campaign to indoctrinate students with Henna tattoos while pledging allegiance to the Green New Deal.
The irony in refuting the severity of climate change because of its politics is how that ends up further exacerbating the environmental damage being done. Eliminating or limiting the scope of what’s taught because of background noise neither negates its existence nor tricks anyone into believing the subject is free from controversy. Heck, the ASD administration offices alone could be an IB course in scandal and intrigue.
Keeping yoga (and science!) out of school or silencing budding activists won’t (and shouldn’t!) shield kids from religion and politics. On the other hand, partisan politics could be prevented from seeping into the classroom if parents on all sides of the aisle stop sending it to school with their kids. Arguing that subjects targeted by politics can’t be taught, though, should be reason enough to keep the discussion going.
More at MeredithCarroll.com and on Twitter @MCCarroll.