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Monday, June 9, 2014

No Coney-Island Cheers For the Red, White and Blue This Year...Again

Principal Hawkins with Mayor Bloomberg.  Examine the Details in the Picture:  You Have to Wonder if  Hawkins was Horrified by the Flag Pin on Bloomberg's Lapel?

I read in The NY Post yesterday that Principal Greta Hawkins of the Edna Cohen School in Coney Island has forbidden pre-K kids from singing "Stand up for the Red, White and Blue" at their moving-up ceremony on June 19, 2014.  The story resonated with me on many levels.

According to Hawkins' version, the musical number had not been approved by her.  So, it had to be nixed.  She stated, "Teachers were reminded in meetings and in communiques not to add or remove from what was already approved weeks ago."

Apparently on top of axing the patriotic song, she also axed little flags that the children were to carry in with them.  In such an instance, excluding the obstacle of any insurmountable copyright, I would guess most principals would show their flexibility in light of this charming idea, thank the teachers and give the green light.  

Hawkins is the same principal who nixed the singing of "God Bless the USA" at a 2012 graduation ceremony.   A 2012 piece in the NY Times written by Gina Bellafante, largely in defense of Hawkins, refers to this incident:

...Ms. Hawkins’s rationale for excising the song, Jessica Scaperotti, a spokeswoman for the Education Department said, had to do with the belief that its opening lines, in their suggestion of dramatic misfortune, might unsettle 5-year-old minds. In the same way you might not want a stage full of kindergartners to perform Merle Haggard’s ballads of loneliness, you might opt to have them skip a song that introduces visions of sudden and annihilating material adversity: “If tomorrow all the things were gone/I’d worked for all my life...”      

Perhaps one might have swallowed this in 2012 (even though the children had not yet experienced Hurricane Sandy).  One can no longer swallow this today in conjunction with her adamant refusal of this year's tune and the accompanying flags.  In addition, she eliminated the daily singing of "America the Beautiful."

Last year, my "middlest" child graduated from her early childhood center, singing "God Bless the USA" with her class.  It brought a tear to at least one mother's eyes.  One remembers 9/11.  One remembers World War II.  One remembers all the men and women who have risked their lives and continue to do so in the hopes of making a safer world for the rest of us.  The children also sang a song in which they somehow managed to incorporate the names of all fifty states.  This one left my mouth open.

I don't see these songs as excessive chauvinism and I don't think it's unwarranted.  As a history teacher, I will make sure my students understand the holocaust of slavery in the Americas and the brutal treatment of native peoples.  I am thankful for the freedom we have to address the many wrongs of our national past as well as to question the current direction of U.S. policies.  I will also teach them about our unprecedented experiment with democracy on a grand scale.  I will teach them that diversity has been America's strength, although it has not always been appreciated.  I will teach them that we have always been a country with the highest values; yet, we are still struggling to live up to them even today.  

Principal Hawkins is a veritable magnet for controversy.  In another Post piece in March of this year, it seems aides in her schools were changing parental survey answers to aid the school's report card.  There have been a number of grievances against her. She was required to undergo "sensitivity training."  In a "mass exodus," the school lost half of its staff.  She was accused of hitting an eleven-year old boy as she confiscated his phone.  

In her own defense against these accusations, Hawkins claims to have received racist letters from KKK supporters and had her tires slashed.  If these things be true, it is hateful.  One would hope, however, she could look beyond it to the loving children in front of her, let them sing their songs which express no hate and realize that no song of hatred will make it with mainstream America. 

Personally, I would recommend that the parents en masse send their kids to school in some of the old red, white and blue until she rethinks her own policies!  

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