"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance

 and a people who mean to be their own governors

 must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Same Song – Different Day

How is it that people that advocate multicultural education and diversity are often times the same ones that ban Christmas music from being performed in our public schools?

To answer that question we thought it would be helpful to define the meaning of the term “multicultural education” and highlight the policies and stated objectives of the Maplewood, NJ school system. We chose Maplewood because we’re a New Jersey blog and the school system’s ban of Christmas music has been written and talked about across the country

The National Association for Multicultural Education provides the following definition: Multicultural education is a process that helps students develop a positive self-concept by providing knowledge about the histories, cultures, and contributions of diverse groups.

From page 26 of Maplewood’s 2002 School Diversity Inventory we learn: A goal or objective of an education program should be to increase understanding and appreciation for persons of various faiths or religions.

Well, based on the authoritative definition of multicultural education and one of Maplewood’s diversity objectives we would think Christmas music would fit very nicely into the school’s education programs. So our researched continued.

This led us to review the Maplewood School District policy # 2270.- Religion In The Schools. This is the policy cited by the School Board for banning Christmas music, including instrumental renditions. The relevant passages are quoted below:

Music, art, literature, dance and drama along with religious customs and traditions, which have come to us from various elements of our national population, may be used to broaden our pupils’awareness of the many elements that comprise our diverse American culture.

Religious orientations and institutions have had a profound impact on human experience, past and present. An education excluding such a significant aspect would be incomplete.

The practice of the South Orange Maplewood School District will be to permit the inclusion of religious literature, music, drama, dance and visual arts in the curriculum provided that it achieves specific goals of the written curriculum in the various fields of study; that it is presented objectively; and that it neither inhibits nor advances any religious point of view.

Religious music, like any other music, can only be used if it achieves specific goals of the music curriculum. Music programs prepared or presented by student groups as an outcome of the curriculum shall not have a religious orientation or focus on religious holidays.

Did you notice anything about the policy? The policy makes sense until the last sentence. However, we would argue that the majority of Christmas music in not “religious music” but instead is “folk music". And here’s why.

Religious music is defined as a genre of music composed for performance as part of religious ceremonies. We would argue that the majority of “Christmas songs” do not conform to the definition of religious music, especially when performed in a secular setting such as in a public school, a town hall or public square. When performed in these settings, they can better be characterized as folk songs.

Folk songs are defined as songs traditionally sung by the common people of a region and forms part of their culture. The folk music of a culture is the music that is passed down from one generation to the next. It includes many different kinds of music: lullabies and children's singing games, tunes that people enjoy singing together or dancing to, songs for celebrations, ceremonies, and holidays. Since ancient times, folk music has been the music of ordinary people and not the ruling class. Let’s look at an example.

Although banned by the Maplewood School Board, I think we can be certain Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was not composed for performance as part of a religious ceremony. Rudolph is a folk song. In case you have forgotten the words or are unfamiliar with the song, here are the lyrics:

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose,
And if you ever saw it,
You could even say it glows.
All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names;
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games

Then one foggy Christmas Eve,
Santa came to say:
"Rudolph with your nose so bright,
Won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"
Then how the reindeer loved him
As they shouted out with glee,
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,
You'll go down in history."

Yes, Christmas Eve and Santa are mentioned in the song, but the message does not focus on the Christian religion or the even the Christmas holiday. It teaches some very valuable lessons and valuing diversity is one of them. So, if Rudolph can’t pass the Maplewood policy test, even when performed as an instrumental, then all traditional Christmas songs are off limits.

So we suggest Maplewood skip all the flowery language about permitting the inclusion of “religious music”; broadening pupils’ awareness of the many elements that comprise our diverse American culture; and educations excluding such a significant aspect being incomplete. The School Board policy need only state that students may not perform in any manner, music or songs that have been, or may in the future be, associated with any faith, creed, religion, or holiday.

Finally we would suggest that Christmas songs are among the most popular examples of American “folk music” and they are despised in certain circles for that very reason. These songs are an integral of part of our culture and a concerted effort is underway to remake the cultural from the top down. As in ancient times, folk music is the music of ordinary people and not the ruling class. Nothing’s changed, the ruling class still looks down its nose at our quaint traditions and music, while the cranks cheer them on.


At 10:09 PM, Blogger GoldFish said...

Really enjoyed your take on this issue. Sent a link to National Review Online (www.nationalreview.com. It's a great magazine and website - if you don't read it now, you may want to check it out. You may want to consider adding a favorite site or blog list to your page - links may beget links back to you. Keep up the good work, we needed a blog that covers New Jersey

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