Of all the plays to perform during the holiday season, you’d think Charles Dickens‘ “A Christmas Carol” is a pretty safe bet for a public school.
But conservatives are complaining after Centerville Elementary School in Pennsylvania canceled its traditional performance of the play not long after a couple of people said it was inappropriate for Tiny Tim to say, “God bless us, everyone.”
As usual, the facts don’t back their story.
It’s true that two parents complained about that line. We don’t know who they are, and it’s not clear if they’re atheist activists. But it’s worth mentioning that church/state separation groups have never raised a concern about performances of this play. Tiny Tim’s line is hardly an endorsement of Christianity; it’s a mild mention of religion that has nothing to do with the main story. No reasonable person would ever mistake a performance of “A Christmas Carol” with a Nativity play.
But that’s not even why the District canceled the performance. They said the complaints prompted them to look at the play, but that’s it. They didn’t act on it — and they shouldn’t have.
The real problem was that the play was taking up a significant amount of classroom time — up to 20 hours — and administrators were concerned that other subjects were being put to the side as a result.
Principal Tom Kramer even said that in a message to parents:
Over the years, preparations had evolved to take 15 to 20 hours of instructional (educational) time to produce this play. Given changes in state standards in recent years, we could not defend the commitment of this kind of instructional time to something not part of the fifth grade curriculum. The teachers agreed that they did not want our students to be put at a disadvantage relative to their peers from other schools in preparation for 6th grade; therefore, the play was cancelled. In addition to focusing on high quality instruction, our decision is rooted in the desire to be respectful of the many cultural and religious backgrounds represented by the students attending Centerville Elementary.
One rumor we’ve been addressing is that one or two families influenced this decision. That’s just not true. The instructional time issue was our primary concern. Alternative solutions were explored for offering the play differently, including the use of non-core instructional time, but it was decided by the building team to not go down this path. We also looked at having rehearsals after school hours, but, at this time, parents nor staff members have stepped forward to take advantage of this possibility.
I’m sympathetic to the performing arts — I enjoyed school so much more because I was always involved in school plays — but if they’re not extra-curricular activities, then there has to be a discussion about how much time can be spent on rehearsals when other subjects have to also be addressed. The school decided this play took up too much time during the school day and they couldn’t justify it.
I would think the same conservatives whining now would be equally furious if a school spent too much time rehearsing a (different) play in lieu of more time in math or English class.
But try telling that to propagandists like Fox News’ Todd Starnes, who took the lie and ran with it.
(Screenshot of Tiny Tim via YouTube. Thanks to Chris for the link)