Christmas in Public Schools? Yes, We Can!
- Monday, December 01, 2008
That first year, when I asked the principal why Christmas carols had not been included, she said, “Well, there were – Jingle Bells, Jolly Old Saint Nicholas. . . .”
“But those aren’t Christmas carols,” I said. “What about the birth of Jesus?”
She looked at me like I’d gone mad. That a parent might suggest singing songs about Christ at Christmas!
“You know, I understand we’re trying for multiculturalism,” I forged on, “But we’re part of the culture too. What about representing us?”
Today, our family lives in Virginia, where the phrase “In God We Trust” is posted in every public school because it’s required by law, and where educators seem to have a better grasp of what is legally permissible and what is not.
Still, there are always threats to our freedom. I remember waiting after one middle school event to shake the principal’s hand and express my gratitude. A very tall, very unhappy looking father got to her first and began berating her for a biblical reference he noticed in his son’s literature class. I saw her confident, generous smile fade and her shoulders sag. Out of 1200 families at that school, this one angry man might in the end have the most impact. Sure enough, the Spring Concert at that school – for the first time – was completely secular.
Since then, I’ve made it a point to befriend this principal, sharing the information she needs to counter this tyranny of the minority and rejoicing to see the school shift back to religious inclusion. But I’m just one individual. While I have more impact than most with my large family spread among several schools, I still feel very much like the Dutch boy sticking his finger in the dike.
When we see signs of Christian history, art, music, and culture wane, what we need to understand is that it’s not anyone’s fault but our own. Legislators and courts have already done their part to uphold religious freedom. The question is: Have we done ours?
Christian parents need to recognize that even when we delegate responsibility for our children’s education to public schools, we are still responsible for oversight. We are still responsible for challenging censorship of Christian elements in literature and the arts.
The Christmas season reminds us that our job is to stay informed and involved year-round. Don’t wait until something goes wrong to complain. Build relationships with principals and teachers. Know the law and be prepared to share it. But also learn as much as you can about the relationship between Christianity and the arts so you can discuss the importance of our cultural history in a winsome way.
I’m reminded of one high school teacher whose penchant for medieval music guaranteed a Winter Program filled with sacred music. Here's his reaction to one complaint: “When they write other music that’s any good, I’ll use it. My job is to teach music, and I only teach the best.”
Whether this teacher is a believer or not, Christian parents can learn from him. We need to stop thinking defensively and start taking back ground that has been lost through intimidation and fear in public schools.
The fact is that taking Christ out of Christmas doesn’t hurt Christianity – after all Jesus said that even if his disciples were silenced, the rocks would cry out (Luke 19:40). But the historical interconnectedness of faith, inspiration and artistic expression means that any anti-religion attacks on music, art or literature in the public schools must be resisted for the good of all students.
Which is exactly why the law is on our side – and why we need to defend it.
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