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Religion in Schools
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Religion in Schools
Dear Parents & Educators,
I heard my 9 year old son joyfully singing yesterday, and then I realized
the songs made reference to ''Lord O Lord'' and ''take me to Mt. Zion,
Lord''. My son said he learned these songs in music class, which
infuriates me since he attends public school. On one hand, it's great that
my kid is getting a music/singing class, but I am upset because what's
done is done and I can't change the fact that now my kid knows these
songs, despite my own highly feminist, everything-with-a-grain-of-salt
agnostic beliefs. Do I have any grounds for recourse? What can I do?
Isn't this a violation of our first amendment rights???
I have to say I'm of mixed emotion about this issue. I did a lot of singing
in all of my public education (choirs up through college at a UC) and the
majority of western music out there is christian-themed. The musical
masters of the past many centuries did this presumably becuase everyone did
and the much more authoritarian church of the time pretty much demanded it.
However, these are great pieces of music no matter what the words are
I too am some flavor of agnostic or athiest or something, and am very
disenchanted by how most people of the world are doing the exact wrong
things with their religious beliefs (ie using them for hatred, wars,
elitism, etc). But on the other hand if I were ever to be a music teacher
in a public school, I imagine a fraction of the songs I'd do would be older
classics, which means some will be religious. As long as the teacher isn't
trying to convey a lot meaning to the students from the words in these
songs, I wouldn't worry to much about it, personally. Similarly I wouldn't
be upset by my kids learning some songs/games/dance from other cultures that
happened to be relegious in origin.
If you don't allow your child contact to any religious songs in
school, you are depriving him of some very beautiful music. Goodby to
all the Bach cantatas, for that matter, nearly all early music such as
Gregorian chants, bye-bye to major pieces that have an important place
in our culture such as Handel's Messiah and Beethovan's Ode to
Joy... the beautiful Masses and Requiums of Mozart... many other
beloved composers who wrote for the Church or to honor religious
holidays. Not just Christian music but for other religions too. And
there is a wealth of more recent American music that you'd have to bid
farewell to .. goodby to a lot of bluegrass, the great old country
songs, and all those soul-stirring gospel tunes -- much of the music
from the Civil Rights era was either adapted from earlier church music
or used directly. Goodby Paul Robeson and Marion Anderson. Goodby to
all the gospel tunes of Aretha et al. Personally, speaking as a
non-believer and a major music fan, I would be much happier if my
children were learning Hark the Herald Angels & Go tell it on the
Mountain instead of pap like Rudolf & Frosty!
I am totally in favor of separation of church and state! But, I also
believe that knowledge is power, and ignorance is not bliss. My daughter
attends a local public school and has learned Jewish songs (we are not
Jewish), Christian songs (we are not Christian, either), and so on. But,
although these songs are religious, they are also (at this point) American
Folk Songs. They are part of the fabric that makes up this multicultural,
multireligious Bay Area. I would be a bit worried if she came home and told
me that they were praying in school, or something like that, but to sing a
song that has (or once had) a religious meaning seems fairly harmless,
especially when that song has become one that belongs to us all, not just
the religous among us. Enjoy your child's voice!
This would freak me out too! What about the children in that music class
whose parents are raising them in a Muslim, Buddhist, Druid, or Atheist
family, etc.? In my opinion, a public school should not be teaching songs
that reference deities from a specific belief system. You have every right
as a parent to contact the school administration and ask that they examine
the music teacher's song list and ask that this teacher remove the songs
that are inappropriate for a public (funded by the government) school.
I am sorry to hear that your child is doing something that offends you, but
please put this into perspective before you approach the subject. Are you
only upset because it is Judeo-Christian? What about the new Muslim
teaching that includes the children reading from the Koran, dressing up for
Ramadon, etc? Does that upset you? If you are against all forms then by all
means please talk to your principal. I don't like the increasing trend of
parents not being able to stand their children uttering something for which
the Country was founded, but openly embrace all other forms of ''religious
enlighening'' from the public schools. I hope that you think before you
act. Tolerance is not only for those who must tolerate your beliefs.
Concerned Parent who wishes she could sign without reprocussions from the
There is a distinction, I think, between singing a song in the context of a
music class and singing that same song during an involuntary religious
ceremony. These songs are not being used to worship a deity, and have as
much religious charge as 'Old MacDonald Has A Farm.' This country has a rich
musical tradition of bluegrass and gospel songs that do contain religious
references but are sung in a secular context.
If your child learned songs with Christian overtones in the Berkeley Public
Schools, I'm actually glad to hear it -- but surprised. It's been my
experience that the schools here are TOO concerned about what you call
''Separation of Church and State'' -- and almost paranoid regarding any hint
I think you should relax and be guided by the fact that your child did not
feel traumatized by this event...
The school is not teaching him religion. He learned a song that includes
religious words. (a parallel would be teaching sex education -- learning
ABOUT it isn't the same as having it or forcing others to).
You are the most important influence in your sons life. You can use the
incident as a stepping off place for a discussion of religion. Tell him what
you do (or don't) believe, and why. In your place I would be teaching him
that tolerance also includes respect for, and interest in the religions of
others, even Christians.
OK, I know I will be in the minority here, but I don't think this is so
terrible. At age nine, I'd be happy he isn't belting out the lyrics to some
Nine Inch Nails number. If there are other signs of religious brainwashing
at the school, OK, protest, but the fact that these songs have what sounds
like some sort of basis in the Old Testament to me doesn't make them
automatic anathema. You say your own philosophy is take it with a grain of
salt - I'd take this with a grain of salt too, and perhaps a pinch of humor.
Personally I don't see this as a separation of church and state issue. There
is a difference between teaching and preaching, and just because a teacher
covers a topic that may be related to a specific religion doesn't mean that
they are preaching it.
In fact, our state has adopted standards of education in every subject, and
at every grade level that include teaching children about different cultures
and religions. Here is the link to the state's curriculum standards:
I did a cursory look into the Visual and Performing Arts standards and at
about every grade level it specifies that students are to learn about
varieties of music, and to analyze it from different historic and cultural
perspectives. Based on that, I would say that your child's music teacher is
simply following the standards she is required to teach.
By the way, I don't recall if you said what grade level your child is in,
but if singing a spiritual song in music class is upsetting, then I would
advise you to brace yourself for the future. In Social Studies your child
will be learning about different religions as part of the state's
As a teacher I have had some parents who questioned why I taught certain
subjects. Believe me, it is not to promote my religious or cultural
preference. I teach Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity because they are all
required topics. I don't think that learning about these topics is
detrimental to students anyway. We live in a diverse society. If the
students aren't taught about different cultures and religions they can't
help but have a very narrow view of the world. I suggest to parents that
they read the text book that we use in class, that they talk to the students
about what we are learning, and that they discuss their own beliefs with
their children. Kids understand that not everyone is the same. They can
handle knowing about something other people believe in with out adopting
as their own.
a mom who is a teacher
I just want to add a little to discussion. Not only are these ''religious
songs'' part of our culture, remember, they were often full of double
meanings during slavery and the Underground Railroad. Another reason
are used so much is they are often limited in vocal range and are easy,
repetitive melodies, good for inexperienced singers.
this page was last updated: Jun 16, 2006
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