Sunday, June 10, 2012

Coney Island School, 'Offensive' Song, and 'Foreigners'

I understand how deeply offensive "God Bless the USA" can be. I've lived in this country all my life - and grew up two blocks from a college campus. "Understanding" isn't "agreeing," though, and I think this principal made a mistake:
"School pulls patriotic song at graduation, but Justin Bieber's 'Baby' is OK"
Susan Edelman, New York Post (June 9, 2012, Updated June 10, 2012)

"A controversial Coney Island principal has pulled the plug on patriotism.

"Her refusal to let students sing 'God Bless the USA' at their graduation has sparked fireworks at a school filled with proud immigrants.

"Greta Hawkins, principal of PS 90, the Edna Cohen School, won't allow kindergartners to belt out the beloved Lee Greenwood ballad, also known as 'Proud to be an American,' at their moving-up ceremony....
I've gotten the impression that what upsets some Americans most about foreigners is that the foreigners - well, they're just not "American." They haven't learned the conventional establishment attitude yet. I'll get back to that.

"We Don't Want to Offend - - -"

"...It was to be the rousing finale of their musical show at the June 20 commencement. The kids, dressed up for their big day, would wave tiny American flags - which, as the lyrics proclaim, 'still stand for freedom.'

"But Hawkins marched in on a recent rehearsal and ordered a CD playing the anthem to be shut off, staffers said.

"She told the teachers to drop the song from the program.

" 'We don't want to offend other cultures,' they quoted her as explaining...."
(New York Post)
Not wanting to "offed other cultures" is, in my experience, a fairly common reason cited by the establishment. It's almost as popular a reason for suppressing unwanted behavior as "un-American" was in my teens.

The Establishment: New Faces; Same Old Attitude

'The establishment' has changed in some ways. In my 'good old days' Americans who held positions of authority and influence were almost exclusively white men. That's a photo of Principal Greta Hawkins, from the New York Post article. Obviously, it's not 1965 any more.

Today's establishment doesn't look like it did a half-century ago, and has a new set of hang-ups. But the old notion that "freedom" means "doing things my way" is still there.

Let's see how the foreigners feel about being, ah, protected by the principal:

"Move to America to Live Freely"

"...'A lot of people fought to move to America to live freely, so that song should be sung with a whole lot of pride,' said mom Luz Lozada, whose son, Daniel, is in kindergarten.

"The song has been sung at previous school events. Last year's fifth-graders, including another Lozada child, performed it at graduation.

" 'Everybody applauded and whistled,' the mom said. 'They gave it a standing ovation.'

"Parents - many immigrants from Pakistan, Mexico and Ecuador - 'love it,' Lozada said.

"A teacher agreed: 'It makes them a little goosebumpy and teary-eyed. I've never come across anyone who felt it insulted their culture.'..."
(New York Post)
When I was an 'English as a second language' tutor, I got to know a few folks who had recently moved to America. One of them was rather emphatic about preferring America to the country he'd escaped from.

Folks who grow up here don't, I think, always have opportunities to learn why, for almost 236 years, people have been moving to America. On the whole, I like being a country that folks try to break into, and that's another topic.

"Too Grown Up"

The local Department of Education backs up Principal Hawkins. In a way, it's nice to see higher levels of management back up staff decisions.

On the other hand, I'm not sure that the government school bosses are on quite the same page as parents, when it comes to what's "too grown up" for the kids:
"...Department of Education spokeswoman Jessica Scaperotti gave The Post an explanation staffers said they never heard - that Hawkins found the lyrics 'too grown up' for 5-year-olds.

"The song starts: 'If tomorrow all the things were gone, I'd worked for all my life. And I had to start again, with just my children and my wife, I'd thank my lucky stars, to be livin' here today.'

"Scaperotti said the department supports the principal's decision. 'The lyrics are not age-appropriate,' she said....
(New York Post)
"...But Justin Bieber's flirty song about teen romance, 'Baby,' was deemed a fine selection for the show. Hawkins had no problem with 5-year-olds singing lines such as, 'Are we an item? Girl, quit playing.'..."
(New York Post)
I'm familiar with the idea that a song is "too grown up" for five year olds if it expresses love of country, contains the word "God." That sort of belief has, in my experience, often been associated with the belief that kindergartners should start thinking about teenage romance. 'It's never too early to start,' and all that.

I don't agree that it's 'cute' to think of little girls as prepubescent sexpots: but I'm familiar with the idea.

Heavy-Handed Suppression, and Remembering the '60s

What's at issue here is not, I think, the Justin Bieber song's lyrics. It's the heavy-handed suppression of an 'offensive' song.

I don't see a problem with kids saying 'offensive' things like "I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free...." (

I do see a problem with someone in authority marching in and banning what kids and their parents enjoy singing. The establishment did that sort of thing in my youth: and now we've got a new establishment.

Come to think of it, maybe Hawkins's heavy-handed suppression of free speech will help this country in the long run. Particularly if more Americans start thinking about 'not what you can do in this country, but what this country's doing to you.'

Immigrants, 'Foreign' Ideas, and Hope

I hope today's immigrants hold on to their 'foreign' ideas, at least for another generation or so. They have the new ideas, old appreciation of freedom, and enthusiasm it takes to make a new start: and help make America better.

Home Schooling, the Government Schools, and Me

Not all school administrators I've dealt with are like Principal Hawkins. But America's government school have a culture and attitudes that I think are good for the establishment: but not good for kids.

That's a major reason why my wife and I home schooled our kids, starting when they entered seventh grade.

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