Ask a School Psychologist|
by Beth Bruno, Ed.M., M.A.
Do Christmas Songs and Decorations Belong in Schools?
QUESTION: We are a Jewish family living in a predominantly Christian community. There are other religions represented in the community, too, yet the public schools only seem to recognize one. During the weeks preceding Christmas and Easter, the halls and office glitter with Christmas or Easter decorations. Music selections, art activities and even academic lessons revolve around these Christian holidays, as well, to the exclusion of other religious traditions. Isn't there supposed to be separation of church and state? Why aren't teachers required to avoid religious content in the curriculum, unless they decide to teach something about all of the major religions as a history lesson?
ANSWER: You ask an excellent question. Parents who practice religions other than Christianity have told me that they keep their children home from school when they know there will be a party or gathering at school that celebrates a Christian holiday.
One elementary school principal with whom I worked completely agreed with parents who objected to the practice of shaping lessons around Christian traditions and forbid teachers to continue it. No one was allowed to place Christmas decorations on school grounds, inside or outside the building. The principal suggested hundreds of other topics for teachers to emphasize, such as seasons, environmental issues, economics, non-religious traditions or philosophies from countries around the world (encouraging parent participation in developing these lessons), and a host of others. Teachers complained but complied, and the curriculum was greatly enriched for their efforts.
QUESTION: I am a music teacher, kindergarten through high school, and enjoy showcasing student talent during two concerts every year, one just before Christmas and the other in late spring. Last year the superintendent asked me not to include Christian music or the audience sing-along of Christmas carols at the end of the concert, because he said it offended non-Christian parents. After the concert was over, several parents and students complained about the omission, saying that singing traditional carols was the best part of the concert every year and they really looked forward to it. Some of the most glorious choral music ever written has been played and sung in Christian churches for centuries. I can't win! How do I resolve this dilemma?
ANSWER: If you plan your programs carefully, you can introduce wonderful songs from around the world, each one celebrating a different religious or ethnic tradition. Many cultures produce contagious sing-along music, too, that your audiences will enjoy learning. Don't throw out audience participation just because your audience doesn't know the words to these songs! They will enjoy learning words from other languages and the simple stories, lessons or feelings that the songs convey.
The superintendent may allow you more program flexibility in the future if you embrace the "music" from his message by discussing program selections with him each year and explaining your reasons for making each choice. A selection from Handel's "Messiah," for example, may pass muster if you have chosen famous pieces from other ethnic and religious traditions for the rest of the program.
What are your thoughts about this subject, readers?
World religions index
Separation of church and state
Beth Bruno firstname.lastname@example.org
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