Residents in upstate New York have become outraged over a decision reached by school administrators to remove the teaching of "Jingle Bells," the New York Post reports. The administrators alluded the song's origins may have ties to 19th-century blackface minstrel shows.
According to the Rochester Beacon, administrators reached a decision not to teach the song over concerns that "slaves with bells" may have held a part in the song's origins.
Council Rock staff and assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction with the Brighton Central School District, Allison Rioux, writes that "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."
But according to Boston University professor Kyna Hamill, whose research into the song's origins appears to have inspired the decision, she says that she was "actually quite shocked the school would remove the song from the repertoire."
"I, in no way, recommended that it stopped being sung by children," Hamill stated according to the New York Post.
"My article," she adds, "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."
Despite Rioux's claims of "not taking a stance" of the song's origins being true or not, for Brighton Central School District Superintendent Kevin McGowan, who defended the decision not to teach Jingle Bells, the performance of the song in blackface minstrel shows "actually does matter."
"It may seem silly to some," McGowan stated, "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," he added. "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."
"This wasn't 'liberalism gone amok' or 'cancel culture at its finest' as some have suggested."
"Nobody has said," he added, "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."
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