Council Rock Elementary School, “Jingle Bells,”And When Something Trivial Demands A Strong Response (Part One)

Those in charge of Council Rock Elementary School in Brighton, New York have decided that the school won’t include “Jingle Bells” in its music curriculum and holiday events any more because of the song’s possible connection racist minstrel shows and slavery. They are utter fools, but more importantly they carry an unethical social and intellectual malady that must be addressed and snuffed out if democracy, free thinking and reason are to survive in the United States of America.

Too strong? I don’t think so. I do not even know where Brighton, New York is (though I know Brighton, Massachusetts well) and I would feel no great loss if I never had to listen to “Jingle Bells” and its hack second verse (“Upsot?”) again for the rest of my life. But the “Jingle Bell” censors and and their like carry a fearful, dim-witted determination to cauterize the variety, history and joy out of life in teensy-weensy slices that nobody sane feels are worth the trouble to fight about. They will destroy our culture and the richness of life if they aren’t stopped. The “Jingle Bells” idiocy is as good a place to make a stand as any.

The school banned “Jingle Bells” for two equally stupid reasons, both sub-reasons to the lazy, irresponsible and submissive goal of being politically correct in all things and never, ever challenging the demands of race-grievance bullies who use such minutia as a wedge to gain political power. They will then use that power to inflict their own version of bigotry and bias on the nation. They already have.

An obscure theater historian named Kyna Hamill (though she is Boston College’s Director of the College of Arts & Sciences Core Curriculum and Master Lecturer affiliated with BU’s School of Theatre and African American Studies.) published a scholarly paper in 2017 challenging the origins of the song, because that’s the kind of trivia that scholars spend their time on, and purporting to show that “Jingle Bells” was first performed by a blackface performer in a minstrel show.

The reasoned and reasonable response to this breathtaking revelation, assuming arguendo that it is true, must be “So what?” People with the orientation of Hamill and their acolytes among the Council Rock administrators appear to believe that racism operates like the curse in the horror movie “The Grudge.” In that okay genre film based on a Japanese original, an evil curse attaches to any house where someone has died in the throes of terror or fury. Thereafter the evil latches onto and destroys anyone who comes in contact with the house, no matter how innocent of wrongdoing they may be. In the “Jingle Bells” thesis, racism begat minstrel shows which employed blackface; any performer who performed in such shows was tainted by racism by doing so, and any song or music that such performers performed were cursed as well.

It follows, therefore, according to this whacked-out hysterical belief in an endless chain of guilt by association, that anyone subsequently singing said curse song or, I would think, listening to or enjoying such a song is racist too. Maybe anyone who associates with such a person is also racist. That makes as much sense as the rest of the construct.

The second stupid reason is even dumber and more intellectually dishonest than the first. The district assistant superintendent for the school told a reporter that “some” have suggested that the “bells on Bobtail ring” lyric suggests the use of collars with bells on slaves (Bobtail is clearly a horse) and may thus be connected to the racist origins of the song. Even though the school couldn’t be sure this theory was true, it was enough that some people had “district beliefs” that it was.

Ethics Alarms discussed a related episode in 2014, when NPR suggested that ice cream trucks were evoking racism by playing the tune “Turkey in the Straw.” That folk tune once had racist lyrics used in minstrel shows, and the NPR hit job led to another article article titled ““So It Turns Out Your Beloved Ice Cream Truck Is Actually Super Racist.” Most commenters here thought the attack on the song was ridiculous, though two reliable social justice warriors (now gone with the wind) tried to defend or rationalize the complaint. (Did Good Humor ban the tune after that? The trucks here no longer play it.)

Now the race-baiting, culture-erasing, leftist censors and political correctness fascists are in the ascendant far more than they were seven years ago, meaning that they pose a danger far greater than silencing ice cream trucks. These fanatics need to be exposed, berated, mocked, isolated, shunned and neutralized, and quickly. Schools run by people who can tar “Jingle Bells” as racist cannot be trusted with the minds of children.

The great advantage of the aspiring culture-censoring and mind-controlling left is that their targets so often seem unworthy of a fight. Oh, fine, take down that statue of John C. Calhoun if it upsets you so much. Oh, all right, I’ll call you whatever silly pronouns you want. Have it your way, Brandies students, I won’t use any of those words and phrases you think are “harmful” and that make you feel “unsafe.”

And I’ve got more important things to worry about than “Jingle Bells.”

But that is wrong. This is a slippery slope being ever-so slowly crafted into a fast track, and every little bit gives more power to those who want to constrict knowledge, creativity, association and the pursuit of happiness through indoctrination.

Well, this is too long; I was hoping to get it covered in a single post. However, the fatuous statement of Brighton Central School District Superintendent Kevin McGowan defending the “Jingle Bells” ban demands a proper evisceration. I’ll take that up in a subsequent post.

25 thoughts on “Council Rock Elementary School, “Jingle Bells,”And When Something Trivial Demands A Strong Response (Part One)

  1. One of my longtime Usenet allies once noted:

    The difference between the “racism” people complain about today and what I saw and experienced as a kid is the difference between the “misogyny” of Alec Baldwin yelling at his daughter and Richard Speck.

    – Christopher Charles Morton, dba Deanimator

    Of course, today I would write, the difference between “racism” people complain about today and the racism Chris saw and experienced when he was a kid is the difference between the “misogyny” of a man not letting his 14-year-old daughter go to an unchaperoned coed slumber party and Richard Speck.

  2. Let’s set aside woke madness for a moment.

    Do school districts not realize they are putting a target on their town with this crap?

    • I bet all the media and Dem operatives already had their hagiographic copy ready to go as soon as his prognosis was issued to all the usual suspects, probably months ago. It’ll be all over the media tomorrow. “He was a giant in the tradition of Ted Kennedy!” — John Heinz 57 Kerry.

    • Brighton is a suburb of Rochester NY. Rochester NY is about half way between Buffalo and Syracuse in the western part of New York State.

      Brighton is a prosperous suburb, mostly inhabited by households in the upper middle class or professional classes. The suburb of Brighton is contiguous to the City of Rochester. The Brighton Central School District student performance consistently ranks among the 10 best school districts in all of New York State. This has a lot to do with the characteristics of the households who live there, as well as the quality of the teachers and the curriculum.

      It’s worth mentioning that a Brighton zip code, 14618, is possibly the “most Jewish” zip code in New York State west of the Hudson River Valley. I live in 14618–offhand I can think of 5 synagogues within a 2 miles of my rhouse–two of them are pretty large by local standards. A Jewish friend of mine pointed out to me that I actually live within an “eruv” (look it up–it was news to me!). I mention this because observers have long noted the tendency of Jewish Americans to lean liberal or Left. The most conservative suburb of Rochester is probably Greece, NY to the NW of Rochester. Brighton tends to be a liberal suburb–upper middle class and liberal–perhaps smugly liberal.

      Probably part of the factor here is “virtue signaling”–there is no shortage of houses with “Black Lives Matter” and similar yard signs since the death of George Floyd. Most of the people who live in Brighton are either phenotypically white (Jews included) or educated “visible minorities” such as East Asians, South Asians, Middle-Easterners, etc. The population of Black Americans in Brighton is not large. In that sense, Brighton is noticeably different from Shaker Heights in Cleveland, OH which is perhaps 1/3 Black as well as historically Jewish. Brighton is not a “Black” suburb but a smug white one. Blacks moving out of Rochester proper tend to end up in East Irondequoit, Henrietta, Gates, or Greece far more than Brighton, because it is expensive to live here.

      The Brighton Central School District newsletter last year included in its letter from the superintendent the assertion that the Brighton Schools supported “Black Lives Matter.” I’m not certain what that means, but there was a big Black Lives Matter sign (in Brighton’s blue and white school colors) in front of the Twelve Corners Middle School (TCMS) where the Brighton Middle School grounds abut the very busy “Twelve Corners” intersection.

      The Brighton Central School District recently changed the name of their team mascot from “The Barons” to “The Bruins.”

      My guess offhand, without any direct knowledge, much less proof, and who knows how anything can be proved in this regard, is as follows.

      1. Virtue signaling is cheap and it’s easy to go along with the vocal minority that wants to change superficial things such as music curriculum, the team mascot, and putting up a “Black Lives Matter” in school colors at a busy intersection.

      2. Perhaps there is an element of the “purity spiral.” The enthusiastic fringe may seek a new cause after having gotten everyone to go along with the last couple cosmetic changes. It’s not hard to change the curriculum in music instruction, so it may be “low hanging fruit” for those who are in a purity spiral. One can be drawn into a purity spiral without knowing it. The internet has definitions of “purity spiral”–no need to belabor the point here.

      3. Perhaps there is…what word to use…frustration? despair? disappointment? anger? guilt? … at one’s good fortune to live, work, teach, or study in Brighton compared to the conditions next door in the city of Rochester. The Rochester area tends to be highly segregated de facto on the basis of race and class–similar conditions might be found in someplace like Milwaukee, WI or Hartford, CT. Homicides in Monroe County are way up over three years ago–this year the homicide count in Monroe County is the highest ever.

      I will elaborate: within the last five years we had one particular year in which the Monroe County homicide rate was roughly 30–currently we are at 81 for this calendar year. Rochester’s outgoing mayor, the first mayor who was both Black and female (Lovely Warren) has just departed under a cloud, with a variety of scandals involving her and her husband. Her husband with whom she lived was recently arrested and charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and possession of an illegal handgun. Wikipedia has details, as does the local newspaper and the courts, regarding the various scandals in Rochester politics and policing.

      Rochester City School District performance consistently ranks among the worst in all of New York State. Brighton ranks among the best. Social problems can be easily “racialized,” for lack of a better term, even when underlying factors may not be racial in nature. “Household factors” independent of race but correlated with race are one likely cause, I would argue.

      As a final note, Richard Reeves’ book _The dream hoarders_ published by Brookings is worth reading. One might assert with some evidence that many of the dream hoarders in Monroe County live in Brighton. What’s a dream hoarder to do? I suspect some of my neighbors know they are dream hoarders and seek to demonstrate that they are not part of the problem and their hearts are in the right place.

      Racial issues can be a “third rail” in local politics and school administration. Making concessions on hot button issues of an apparently trivial nature is easier and safer than pushing back and saying “I don’t think you’ve adequately made your case for deleting Jingle Bells.”

      I am reminded of Denis Prager’s claim that “courage is the rarest good trait.”


      Charles W Abbott

      P.S.: I have trouble with this comment editor. I hope this post is intact and coherent.

        • The puzzle solved, the mystery revealed: In my current environment it is necessary to log into WordPress before posting. That did the trick.

          Thanks for your marvelous blog. Methinks I only know of it by getting here once via Instapundit.

          More grease to your elbow! Thanks for letting me come out to play

  3. On the one hand, as a deconstruction user, I value being able to access and enjoy any tune ever created, regardless of who wrote it or what else they did with their lives. I literally do not care who composed it; I’ll give it whatever words I want or just leave it lyricless if I think the original song doesn’t do justice to its melody, or if the message displeases me that much. I want to live in a world where everyone subscribes to this position, so to get there I’ll have to get people to realize it’s an option.

    On the other hand, I could talk about reputation mindset and accumulated impressions and associations and how they make people feel.

    However, in this situation that other hand finds itself far outmatched by the first hand in hand-to-hand combat.

    Deconstruction mindset says: “Wait just a minute here. We’ve already had countless conversations about cultural appropriation and how it’s erasing history and severing the connections between things we like and where they came from. If it’s possible to divorce a piece of culture from its origins, as we’re told we should stop doing, why can’t we just choose to let that happen here? Why can’t we appropriate our own culture? Why can’t we enjoy the fruits of human creativity, honor the roots that are noble, and allow the shameful ones to wither away, only to be unearthed by the morbidly curious?

    “It can’t be because erasing history is always wrong regardless of whether what gets erased is noble or shameful. I see that people have no compunctions about disregarding even the most contemptible behaviors from people or peoples they want to paint as sympathetic, so it’s clearly acceptable to forget shameful history under some circumstances. The dust of reputation accumulates, but it can also be shed. Why not here?

    “The answer is simple: it goes against the agenda of the people applying presentation mindset. This composite mindset (which includes reputation) is being misused all across the world to remove nuance rather than to highlight it. To designate a person as a hero, or a group as admirable, these presentation users think they must have no faults, and so they rewrite the significance of every objective deed so that it implies none. To brand a villain or a mob, they feel compelled to wipe from memory all traces of virtue and ascribe any and all problems to their targets, regardless of how little sense it makes.”

    Unfortunately for these presentation users, this practice harms their cause in the eyes of those analysis mindset users who are paying attention. I just finished helping someone recognize they were being scammed, and one of the things I said was, paraphrased, “The scammers are getting sloppy; their stories are contradicting each other, but they’re hoping to make you panic so you won’t notice. They’ll say literally anything if they think it’ll scare you into doing what they want, but if you pause and look at what they’re actually saying, it backfires.”

    Presentation mindset deals with ambiguity. Among other things, it can fortify or redirect labels and impressions. It has a “history” theme, because history is the force it influences. Presentation mindset encompasses and unites the mindsets of semantics, empathy, translation, background, communication; tactics, strategy, salvage, overhaul, facilitation; interpretation, clarification, reputation, and surprise. (Communication and facilitation are the two key concepts there.)

    Like all mindsets, presentation can be used for good or ill–but yes, when used for ill, this is the mindset of gaslighting, propaganda, and George Orwell’s nightmares. That’s the particular flavor of atrocity we’re looking at here.

    That’s why the history of the United States is no longer allowed to have virtue juxtaposed with its vice, and why it used to be vice versa. It’s why martyrs are cleansed of their crimes. It’s not about what actually happened. It’s about how we’re meant to respond to it.

    That’s nothing new, though. Humans have been distorting history for selfish and destructive purposes even before they invented ways to write it down. I have no intention of letting that continue, so I’m equipping people to wield all the communication-related composite mindsets–presentation, education, and connection–to end this trend.

    We can aim for a world where nobody feels compelled to be less than honest about the past in order to be shown compassion and support. Everyone should be able to trust that even if they don’t get what they want most, they’ll get the help they need. Perhaps people don’t deserve much right now, but they deserve to deserve better.

  4. If this Ms. Hamill or the school district investigated the song thoroughly, as they claim to have done, they would have found that ‘bob tail’ is a way to cut or tie horses’ tails so they wouldn’t catch in the reins, and it was common to tie bells to, or braid them into, the tails. How can that be mistaken for anything to do with slavery?

    Are all bells and mentions of bells to be struck from the culture? Church bells, ‘Silver Bells’, doorbells?

    • I wondered that too. If the completely non-human reference to bells in JB is a sly nod to slavery, then every musical bells reference is, and The Carol of the Bell, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” “jingle Bell Rock,” and the rest all verboten, along with the show “Bells Are Ringing,” “It I Were A Bell” from “Guys and Dolls,” Judy Garland’s standard “Me and My Gal,” “Michelle” by the Beatles—all coded white supremacy tunes.

      We are not pushing back nearly hard enough on this.

  5. So now we are treating racism like … Coronavirus? Attempting to “disinfect” anything that might have been contaminated by a hint of racism strikes me as consistent with the Left’s obsession over the current pandemic. Demands that any means to counter it including societal ostracism of any vaccine refuseniks (and who knows — can arrest and prosecution be far behind?) fit the pattern of iconclasm, book banning, renaming, and other methods of historical airbrushing.

    So to the instant case: Here, they have literally accepted what is essentially a rumor as a justification to take action rather than actual scholarship. This smacks of clinical insanity — a kind of knee-jerk reaction usually found in obsessive-compulsive disorder.

    Jack said:

    These fanatics need to be exposed, berated, mocked, isolated, shunned and neutralized, and quickly.

    I don’t think it is that easy. As we have seen before in other contexts, the “extremism in defense of [your sacred cow here] is no vice” is an emotionally compelling argument, and nothing is more compelling to the Left at the moment than exploiting racial division to their ends. They carefully bracket it in reasonable arguments that few could oppose, but in the end, the purpose is to use this moment to divide the country by destroying it’s history and attempting to build the justification for re-educating the population along their preferred lines.

    That’s why we see schools dropping the SAT, changing their curriculum along the lines recommended by Critical Race Theory and inserting purported “anti-racist” dogma into every possible area of scholarship or instruction. Teachers who engage in wrongthink are forcibly re-educated and made to apologize for their behavior publicly, then quietly “disappeared” from their jobs.

    What we need is for parents to continue the movement of replacing leftist school boards with sane people. That will not immediately solve the problem, but it will put pressure on the leftist teachers to moderate their behavior. Eventually, changes can be forced. But unfortunately, union contracts and other measures prevent wholesale firing of these demagogues. The leftist takeover of schools took decades to happen, and it will take decades to undo, if it’s even possible.

  6. I don’t think “bobtail” is the name of the horse. A bobtail is the horse’s tail that has had the hair cut short or tied up into a small “bun” to prevent the tail from entangling in the reins and other components of the sleigh.

  7. I can assure you that at least one (semi-retired) left-leaning “obscure theater historian” raised an eyebrow at the alleged evidence, and was heard to mutter “so?” in contemplation of the unlikely possibility that the author’s speculation had merit.
    In 40+ years of grading undergraduate papers, I’ve generally found that students’ evidence is often credible and their conclusions reasonable; it’s the linkage between the two that proves problematic. Ah, if I had the proverbial nickel for every time I’ve written something along the lines of “You’ve found evidence X and concluded Y, which is certainly a possibility. But you haven’t shown why Y is the only (or even most likely) result of X.”
    Here, of course, X is improbable at best, too… One would have hoped for better from alleged educators.

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