Council Rock Primary: School slammed for banning 'Jingle Bells' calling it ‘offensive’

Council Rock Primary School, in Rochester's Brighton Central School District, has instead chosen to use other songs that are not 'controversial'


                            Council Rock Primary: School slammed for banning 'Jingle Bells' calling it ‘offensive’
Council Rock Primary has found itself amid controversy (Brighton Central Schools)
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A New York school has reportedly banned the use of 'Jingle Bells' because it was apparently first performed in an 1857 minstrel show by White actors who wore blackface. Council Rock Primary School, in Rochester's Brighton Central School District, has instead chosen to use other songs that are probably not “controversial and offensive”.

Council Rock principal Matt Tappon said that "'Jingle Bells' has been replaced with other songs that don’t have the potential to be controversial or offensive.” The principal and other staff members of the school reportedly took the decision after reading an article by professor Kyna Hamill, director of Boston University’s Core Curriculum. A report by The Rochester Beacon stated that Hamill’s piece “a deep dive (nearly 12,000 words including appendices and footnotes) into the origin of ‘Jingle Bells’ the life of its composer, James L Pierpont, and the popularity of sleigh songs in the mid-1800s. She found documents showing that the song’s first public performance may have occurred in 1857 at a Boston minstrel show. Minstrelsy was a then-popular form of entertainment in which white actors performed in blackface.” 

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However, many including Hamill expressed their shock and frustration over the festive song being removed. In an email sent to The Rochester Beacon, she said, “I am actually quite shocked the school would remove the song from the repertoire. … I, in no way, recommended that it stopped being sung by children. My article tried to tell the story of the first performance of the song, I do not connect this to the popular Christmas tradition of singing the song now. The very fact of (‘Jingle Bells’) popularity has to do (with) the very catchy melody of the song, and not to be only understood in terms of its origins in the minstrel tradition. … I would say it should very much be sung and enjoyed, and perhaps discussed.”

But in response to Hamill’s email, Allison Rioux, Brighton Central School District assistant superintendent for curriculum, stated, “Some suggest that the use of collars on slaves with bells to send an alert that they were running away is connected to the origin of the song Jingle Bells. While we are not taking a stance to whether that is true or not, we do feel strongly that this line of thinking is not in agreement with our district beliefs to value all cultures and experiences of our students.”

Rioux added: “For this reason along with the idea that there are hundreds of other 5 note songs, we made the decision to not teach the song directly to all students.” Besides, Brighton Central School District Superintendent Kevin McGowan also issued a letter explaining the reason behind the ban. The letter read, “...it may seem silly to some, but the fact that ‘Jingle Bells’ was first performed in minstrel shows where white actors performed in blackface does actually matter when it comes to questions of what we use as material in school. I’m glad that our staff paused when learning of this, reflected, and decided to use different material to accomplish the same objective in class.”

“It is also important to note that a song so closely related to a religious holiday that is not celebrated by everyone in our community was not likely a song that we would have wanted as part of the school curriculum in the first place. Our staff found that their simple objective could be accomplished by singing any one of many songs in class and therefore they chose to simply choose other songs,” it continued.

McGowan’s statement also dismissed the claim that the song was banned as part of some “woke” thing. He added, “This wasn’t ‘liberalism gone amok’ or ‘cancel culture at its finest’ as some have suggested. Nobody has said you shouldn’t sing “Jingle Bells” or ever in any way suggested that to your children. I can assure you that this situation is not an attempt to push an agenda. We were not and are not even discussing the song and its origins, whatever they may be. This was very simply a thoughtful shift made by thoughtful staff members who thought they could accomplish their instructional objective using different material.”

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