As science is continually discovering, practicing yoga can bring many benefits and can be useful for a whole variety of purposes – but educating children about slavery is almost certainly not one of them.
The world found this out the hard way after footage emerged of a Delaware kindergarten teacher attempting to use yoga poses in a Black History Month lesson labelled “culturally insensitive, offensive” and “disturbing” by some parents, according to local media.
A clip of the pre-recorded lesson, reportedly shared to Facebook by a concerned parent at the McIlvaine Early Childhood Centre, showed the teacher using yoga poses in an apparent attempt to foster empathy with the plight of US slaves taken from what she mistakenly called the “country of Africa”.
“African people came to America on boats to become slaves,” the teacher can be heard saying. “So here’s the great big country of Africa. They crossed the Atlantic to come over to America”, adding: “So right now, I need you to get into your boat pose.”
She continues: “Africans were treated very poorly, even though they farmed the land and ploughed the fields to make America beautiful and help grow our food ... They worked in the fields all day. Now if you’re at home, you can try the plough pose.”
Delaware Online carried comments from parents in the school district, one of whom said: “I can’t believe this is real.”
“It’s 2021, you’d think this stuff would have ended a long time ago,” parent Jessie Welch was quoted as saying. “But it hasn’t because of ignorance. And this is an educator who’s supposed to be teaching our kids.”
Caesar Rodney School District said in a statement that it is investigating the lesson, and said it is “unacceptable and not consistent with” the district’s values.
People were quick to express their outrage on social media.
It comes amid calls for a significant overhaul of the way that African-American history is – or isn’t – taught in US schools, with slavery a subject that for decades has been sanitised and now is largely taught as separate to US history – or only during Black History Month.
“The best textbooks maybe have 20 pages, and that’s in an 800-page textbook,” Maureen Costello, director of the Souther Poverty Law Centre’s Teaching Tolerance programme told The New York Times in 2018. “At its best, slavery is taught because we have to explain the Civil War. We tend to teach it like a Southern problem and a backward economic institution. The North is industrialised; the South was locked in a backward agricultural system.”
But some believe it’s not enough to give an unflinching look at the horrors faced on American soil without informing pupils about the African societies people were torn from.
“I feel like we’ve missed several generations of learning,” Dr Daina Ramey Berry, an American history professor at the University of Texas told NBC Philadelphia in June.
“Those that populated the colonies were free people from communities in Africa with large scale civilisations that had tax systems, that had irrigation systems, that had universities – they came from civilised nations that were advanced.
“That’s where the curriculum should begin, that’s the biggest omission from my perspective. It’s an erasure of culture and heritage so that identities of African Americans for some are that of slaves and those fighting for their freedom.”