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Friday, September 25, 2009

"John Brown's Body Lies A-Mouldering in the Grave"

There seems to be some concern about an Elementary School in New Jersey, where the young children sing a song in praise of President Barak Obama.  Here is one link to this event.

The big thing that bothers me is the fact that at one point the children are singing to the tune of "John Brown's Body."

I have to go back to Fifth Grade, when as a student in Wenonah, New Jersey, I had moved from the newer school building (K  through Four, plus Shop) to the older building (Five through Eight).

In Fifth Grade (first floor, East side, me sitting on the south end of the classroom) we were taught music. We learned to play the flute  We also learned songs—"The Whiffenpoof Song," "Rachel, Rachel" (turns out I was wrong, it is "Reuben, Reuben") and the standards like the "Star Spangled Banner," "America the Beautiful" and "God Bless America."

The problem was, we also learned other songs, one of which was a definite gateway to the other, both of them having the same music. There was "John Brown's Body" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."  I am worried that what is happening today in New Jersey is that at the B. Bernice Young Elementary School they are getting ready to introduce them not only to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," but worse, to "John Brown's Body."

The first, of course, violates the separation of church and state, which we invented after I left Fifth Grade.

The second, though has bothered me ever since I learned the words to the song.  Of course, I didn't learn the proper background for the song, which is that it was invented by a group of soldiers from some US Civil War Battalion raised in Boston, singing about Sergeant John Brown.

I thought it was a reference to Abolitionist John Brown, who had fought slavery in Bloody Kansas and then had staged the raid on the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, where he was captured by Colonel Robert E Lee, leading a detachment of US Marines.  What was I supposed to think?  Was I to be honoring John Brown for knowing the evils of slavery and fighting against that evil? What about the role of law and order?

With all this backstory, I am worried about what the children are learning when they move beyond the "Obama Song" to the verse in "The Battle Hymn of the Republic:"
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on
Then there is this verse (third, I think) from "John Brown's Body:"
John Brown's knapsack is strapped upon his back! (3X)
His soul's marching on!
Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah! his soul's marching on!
So, in Fifth Grade my social consciousness was raised and the question of what was a proper response to evil was not answered.

I am hoping the students at the Elementary School are not being led down the same path, the same way.

In the mean time, I hope they continue to show respect for our current President, just as they were taught to show respect for his predecessor. They were taught to show respect for President George W Bush, weren't they?

My only advice to the Principle is that in this day and age one has to expect that anything done could be on the front page of some newspaper or in the six o'clock hour of some news show.  A little thought is always helpful.  A little expectation of what people could make of the current activities is needed.  The kids were cute and I doubt if any lasting damage was done to them (unlike my Fifth grade experience).  However, if this kind of thoughtless musical meandering from common sense starts to spread across the nation it will be time to remember the lessons of Fifth Grade and John Brown and start a movement to abolish our current public schools and to start all over.


Law Professor Ann Althouse, who reports elsewhere that she voted for President Obama, is not too happy with this.  As of this posting she has garnered 115 comments.

Regards  —  Cliff

  Actually, not Kindergarten, but "Beginners."
  Or, in my case, not.
  Isn't that a strange combination?


Renee said...

In ten or twenty years we have no idea how we will see Obama's Presidency.

I recently pulled out an old Lowell Sun dated July 25, 2000 while cleaning out a closet. I didn't know what my husband kept it. I was about to recycle it out, but by mother read it, nostalgically, that the media headlined in an AP story praising Bush on picking Cheney as a VP nominee because of his lack of negatives and in the classifieds a person without experience or education could get a full time job/healthcare benefits and on the job training.

Still even just short nine years, the newspaper was a time capsule. It was pre-9/11. Pre-Iraq and Afghanistan. Pre-collapse of the real estate market and recession, even though there was a good dip in the marker in April 2000 due to inflated tech stocks.

We also found on page 26, a feature lifestyle story on my father-in-law, even pictured, when he was planning a cooking demonstration at the Lowell Folk Festival. Glad I didn't throw it out.

C R Krieger said...

This comment came via EMail and I have taken the liberty to post it (and I get to thus comment on the comment—which I trust is fair).

I agree the song is creepy and inappropriate, but the comment from your link on the event that the left wings are taking over the schools depends on your point of view. (Consider schools in the Bible Belt where creationism is still taught as fact and how that plays with the separation of church and state.) Also, your conclusion of abolishing elected school committees offers no solution. Do you really want centralized control of our schools absolutely?! Talk about fear of crossing the line in government intervention... cheers, Jackie

My Comment:

I agree that I linked to a provocative "right wing" source for background, but thought my own comments were fairly calm.  And, I agree that different regions in this large nation have different senses of what is right and wrong.

However, I was not for abolishing independent School Boards.  I like them and shudder a little when I see something on the Editorial Page of The Lowell Sun about eliminating ours.  I was saying that if the schools in toto became dysfunctional we would need to start over—the idea of abolition fitting in with my reference to John Brown, the abolitionist.  Which circled back to my unresolved issues from Fifth Grade.

What can I say?  The first eight years of my school career were pretty traumatic for me.  Heck, maybe all the years, excepting Eighth Grade.

Regards  —  Cliff