‘Tis the season for holiday political-correctness, and for those of us working in public education, navigating the establishment clause of the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The pitfalls of this month are many, and vary depending on the understanding of our students, their parents, our administrators, and ourselves; but that doesn’t mean it can’t be an excellent learning opportunity for all involved. First Amendment scholar Charles Haynes does an great job outlining the challenges of the holiday season(s) in an article here.
From selecting the music for the school choir to picking what video you’ll show during those final hours before vacation- there are plenty of opportunities to honor the beliefs of all our students in a way that is respectful and educational. As you wind down the last weeks of this calendar year, consider how you can continue the same level of awareness about religion, making the entire year a learning opportunity for kids to discover the rich diversity within their community.
More immediately, however, we offer a simple tool for your consideration. The rubric below was originally created as a joke- I was demonstrating some “best practices” for rubric writing and needed to create a rubric that was not associated with any specific content area or assignment. What I discovered was that in sharing it with my teacher-parents and their colleagues, this tool was actually useful as they geared up for their Holiday Concert. We’ve been revising this rubric for a year now, and I’d like to share it now as a guide for navigating song choices (and videos- many of the criteria work for video as well as song).
Notice that there is no hard line to delineate which songs can and cannot be sung in a public school; Haynes’ article hopefully clarified that point. If you’re choosing to “play it safe” feel free to stick with the left category, but if you wish to delve into the Christmas traditions and beliefs inherit in the right columns, be ready to give the same attention and care to the traditions and beliefs of other faiths.
Author’s Note: We recognize this rubric is “normed” for Christmas, but similar methodology can be used for any holiday and we invite contributions to diversify the range.