Nixes Primary School ‘Jingle Bells’ over images of ‘controversial’ slaves in song

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A New York elementary school decided to remove “Jingle Bells” from its curriculum over concerns about the song’s potential to be “controversial or offensive.”

The Rochester Beacon was the first to report on the decision taken by officials at Council Rock Elementary School, a preschool to grade two that is part of Brighton Central Schools in Rochester, New York.

The school’s concern over “Jingle Bells” was in part linked to a 2017 article written by Kyna Hamill, director of the core curriculum at Boston University’s College of Arts & Sciences, according to the Beacon. Hamill’s article explored the song’s origin, which included its existence as a “product of the Boston minstrel scene” in the mid-1800s.

A New York State school has removed “Jingle Bells” from its curriculum over concerns about its “potential to be controversial or offensive.” Above, people in a horse-drawn sleigh take a ride along a trail in Sand Harbor, Nevada on January 31, 2017.
George Rose / Getty Images

The concern also stemmed from possible interpretations of the song’s lyrics which could include images of slaves, according to Allison Rioux, deputy superintendent of curriculum and teaching at Brighton Central Schools.

Rioux told the Beacon that some people “are suggesting that the use of necklaces on slaves with bells to send an alert that they were fleeing is related to the origin of the song ‘Jingle Bells’.” Rioux added that the school “does not take a stand” on the meanings of the lyrics, but “we strongly believe that this line of thinking is not in line with our district beliefs to value all the cultures and experiences of our people. students. “

A diversity and equity page on the district’s website includes “Jingle Bells” on a list of songs that are “no longer in our repertoire” at Council Rock Elementary School in particular. The webpage states that “Jingle Bells” and eight other songs listed as examples have been “replaced with more contemporary and relevant content.”

Hamill told the Beacon that the images of slaves Rioux described in connection with the sleigh bells depicted in “Jingle Bells” had “no connection with the song I discovered” during his research. She told the Beacon that Council Rock Elementary School was the first school to her knowledge that had chosen to stop teaching “Jingle Bells” and suggested that school officials identify a “well-referenced source. for this statement “.

“My article tried to tell the story of the song’s first performance,” Hamill told The Beacon. “I don’t relate this to the popular Christmas tradition of singing the song now.”

She added that she was “actually quite shocked” that the song was dropped from the school schedule. “I have in no way recommended that this stop being sung by children,” she said.

News week contacted Brighton Central Schools for comment, but did not receive a response until publication.


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