Rochester Elementary School Bans Jingle Bells, Questionable Past Cited
Christmas may be over, but the controversy over a popular holiday song continues in a school district in the Rochester area.
According to the online publication the Rochester Beacon, Council Rock Elementary School in Brighton has decided to remove “Jingle Bells” from its song list due to its questionable past.
The Beacon says principal Matt Tappon confirmed the song and several others have been replaced with different songs that don’t have the potential to be controversial or offensive.
The factor in the decision reportedly came from research published in 2017 by a Boston University professor.
The research finds the first public performance of “Jingle Bells” may have occurred in a minstrel show 150 years ago, where white actors performed in black face.
Some also suggest the use of collars on slaves with bells may be connected to the origin of the song.
Brighton Central School District Kevin McGowan issued the following statement to the school community:
First, we couldn’t be more proud of our staff and the work they continue to do to reflect on what they teach and how they teach in an ongoing effort to be more culturally responsive, thoughtful, and inclusive. Let me be very clear, their work has been and continues to be smart, thoughtful, and well intentioned in every way. We stand behind their work without hesitation or question. They are doing work that they have been asked to do and they are doing it exceptionally well K-12 in every discipline.
Second, 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.
Third, choosing songs other than “Jingle Bells” wasn’t a major policy initiative, a “banning” of the song or some significant change to a concert repertoire done in response to a complaint. 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. The change in material is also not something being forced on children or propaganda being spread. The teachers have never taught about the song in any way when it was being used then or in the midst of deciding not to use it. In other words, suggestions that this situation is somehow being used as a way to indoctrinate children just doesn’t make sense either. It is as simple as this, we are using different songs, and we are not teaching about their history at this level. Nobody is discussing politics about the song or anything regarding its history with students. This is not a political situation, it was a simple, thoughtful curricular decision.
Finally, if there is ever a question as to whether or not something might be experienced differently by someone else, shouldn’t we be respectful of that? Is singing the song “Jingle Bells” so important that it outweighs the question about its past or its potential to not be inclusive in a variety of ways. If many, many songs are available to accomplish the same objective, then why wouldn’t we use those songs? I think our teachers answered that question very thoughtfully and I’m proud of their work.