God Bless America: School Fight Song for Our Times

25 09 2007

What an odd mix of politics, prejudice, socialization, schooling, private ignorance and public religion! Dawn found some real power of story in this one . . .and I feel a song coming on!

Perhaps in response to Rob Sherman’s atheist activism or his daughter’s recent (successful) campaign to get God Bless America off of the Homecoming Dance song list at her high school, the family evoked a response from the suburban Chicago community.

Their home was vandalized Friday night . . .

It’s a curious sort of counter-melody, isn’t it, for schoolkids to transpose GBA into this fight song key? God Bless America has been playing “good cop” to The Star-Spangled Banner’s bad cop, the song nobody can sing or wants played at their school dance or baseball game.

I learned as a schoolchild to sing gospel as popular music and not in church, while my guitar gently weeps: “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose.” Singing and dancing, too. So if there has to be just one song, something like this would make the most sense to me.

But if we must fight over god and country songs for the public school dance and make God Bless America a winner or loser, it seems to me that even between “believers” and ‘atheists” the discor-dance (pun intended) is more politics than religion. More about purposes of war and peace than heaven and hell. Flag and country today, not ancient prophecy of kingdoms to come in the end times.

God Bless America hit the charts as an armistice song celebrating peace, while The Star Spangled Banner was inspired by war — bombs bursting in air, rockets’ red glare, the Flag was still there — so which really suits the purpose of school “homecoming” — defending the homeland or homecoming for the troops, both, neither?

And sing out right now if you believe it’s unAmerican that we teach kids to believe in the lyric, “school homecoming” which surely is unworthy here in the Land of the Free. Maybe what homeschooling freedom fighters really need for their time and purpose, is a stirring and easy-to-sing anthem about coming home, rather than those droning responsive readings from the dictionary. . .

Guess what happened to my senior prom? It never happened at all, canceled by song-fighting. We the diverse and contentious student body of a recently desegregated public high school, couldn’t agree on which band would play what kind of dance music (white or black, basically) and the obvious compromise of having two bands — one at each end of the ballroom as we’d done for the junior prom — hadn’t solved anything and wasn’t any fun. The one thing it turned out our schooling gave us in common then, was learning that lesson the hard way.

So nobody got to dance to any kind of music; we all got the default we deserved and we all sat home alone. It still grates on me after 35 years. Still trying to figure out what it means, if anything.

Whose “time and purpose” should prevail uber alles and/or blessed above all, under what power of story and composed for whose freedom principles? And if we can’t figure it out for ourselves, do we all just lose everything? — no wonder our public schools are such battlegrounds! They are our public squares, our backyards and our church socials, all rolled into one earsplitting, crazy-making soundtrack for every minute of our lives. Our unschooling is top-of-the-line as ear protection, but amplified schooling is still a constant thrum in our community like the swamp or the seashore, or maybe the city streets, wherever you make your home . . .

Here in Florida our official state song, the one I was taught in school classrooms back in the ‘sixties, wasn’t written as religious OR political. There’s nothing in it about God or flag or war, in fact it really was a “homecoming” song! (except its composer wasn’t actually from around here, don’t think he’d ever even visited — but hey, that is ART!)
Too bad though. I hear “way down upon the Suwanee River” has become just another lyric to fight about, here at home.

For current times and conflicting purposes, it seems that “Old Folks At Home” is just too old folksy and homey-sounding, so embarrassing as a reminder of once popular private times and purposes that the now-popular governor (with political purposes) won’t even let it be played in his public home! — he’s looking for enough public money to officially silence the old folks at home, for public school music teachers to put on a “campaign” with the state’s kids at their school homes, to have them put a new state song in our hearts by franchise.

So here’s how the story will go: sooner or later “we” (the governor) will get enough public money together to pay the teachers to wage the campaign, and open the polls, and maybe the schoolkids will learn their lesson well, and value their power to choose something totally irrelevant rather than their power to refuse to choose just one song for all. Maybe like adults, they’ll beat each other up over it. Maybe they’ll vandalize each other’s houses too, so that everyone’s “homecoming” becomes part of the fighting about whose songs hit closest to home at school? No doubt the losing chorus will sue for a recount.

And no matter what song finally “wins” we all lose a little more of that fond feeling for our homeland as Home anymore.

(It’s not clear in these confusing times, whether the Governor’s purpose is a fight song or a song no one can fight. Maybe he imagines all purposes can be served at the same time, by one song we all sing in unison, in public because that feels like most like home?)

Maybe a nice Easter song this time, so we can all stop fighting and thank god that our homeland isn’t old folksy and nobody stays at home any more.

Dawn’s story (and mine) should teach us that young or old, at home or at school, we the people can’t all agree on the right music for one dance, much less to represent the whole state.

Songs come from their own time, with their own purpose. No two are alike or interchangeable — which is funny because when one is really exceptional we call it a “standard!” And then complain it has an old folksy sound –

America, what a (fruited, foamy) country! ;-)

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16 responses

26 09 2007
JJ

Seems this “story” like most news coverage these days, provided a thin reed of a theme that ignited (religious and political) power of story like wildfire, all around our public square. At least, so says the district’s mouthpiece:

Due to Thursday’s (Sept. 20) article in the Daily Herald regarding Buffalo Grove High School’s homecoming activities, I want to clarify a few items.

The Buffalo Grove High School Student Council traditionally plans homecoming festivities for the entire building. One tradition over the last several years has been playing music in the halls during passing periods.

Typically, the music selected reflects the theme of the given day. The theme of this year’s homecoming week (Sept. 24 – 28) is “Around the World,” highlighting the destinations of the day, which include the United States, the Arctic, Greece, Africa, and culminating with the traditional Buffalo Grove Spirit Day.

The United States is simply a destination on the world tour, and students are encouraged to dress in professional sports attire to reflect the theme. Subsequently, songs chosen by the student council include “Kids in America,” “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” “Born in the USA,” the Bulls’ theme song, the Bears’ fight song, “Living in America,” and “Surfin’ USA.”

Contrary to published newspaper articles, the decision to not play “God Bless America” was made by the student council because the song simply did not reflect the theme of the day. The student council, which is an elected body of students, was brainstorming songs to play during homecoming week. All different kinds of songs were suggested, and people reacted either positively or negatively based on what they thought of the song. One student suggested “God Bless America.” Other students thought that for homecoming week songs with a more energetic tempo should be considered, ones that more closely reflect the theme of the day. Another student commented that the song should be secular. That was the end of the comments, and the group continued brainstorming ideas before agreeing to the songs noted above.

Neither Buffalo Grove High School nor District 214 has ever banned “God Bless America.” In fact, “God Bless America,” “God Bless the USA,” and other patriotic songs were played during Buffalo Grove’s 2001 homecoming week activities when the theme was “Celebrate America.”

It is unfortunate that this student-initiated brainstorming exercise among student council members has taken on a life of its own. This issue has been blown way out of proportion.

We are very proud of the student council as they work through a decision-making process that is respectful to all.

Venetia L. Miles
Director
Community Relations
High School District 214

Respectful to all, I guess, except to us few Thinking Parents to whom the whole idea is offensive, of (student) government embracing “the entire building” as a total environment ripe for their affective programming, using the omnipotence of the PA system to control the community’s focus and mood. Isn’t that awfully Big Brother Meets the Prisoner?

1 10 2007
JJ

“God Bless America” was the “peace” song sung around a book-burning bonfire in the 1940s, reports a brand-new scholarly book, “Books On Trial: Witch Hunt In The Heartland And A Nation’s Response” by Wayne and Shirley Wiegand, an FSU information professor and his lawyer wife:

They reveal how state power–with support from local media and businesses–was used to trample individuals’ civil rights during an era in which citizens were gripped by fear of foreign subversion.

Richly detailed and colorfully told, Books on Trial is a sobering story of innocent people swept up in the hysteria of their times. It marks a fascinating and unnerving chapter in the history of Oklahoma and of the First Amendment.

11 12 2007
JJ

Florida’s (political) need for a new state song comes to a head:
“Just Sing, Florida”

30 12 2007
The Story of Homeschool Truth: Time We Learned Our Lesson? « Cocking A Snook!

[...] Governance of all by any One Story, be it sacred or secular, theocracy or educracy, subsumes the individual spirit and power to create its own stories. There is no other meaning or power to this story, however it’s told: We the diverse and contentious student body of a recently desegregated public high school, couldn’t agree on which band would play what kind of dance music. . . The one thing it turned out our schooling gave us in common then, was learning that lesson the… [...]

8 01 2008
JJ

Jan 7, 2008
Lawmaker proposes state ‘anthem’ option
By Bill Cotterell
Florida Capital Bureau Political Editor

TALLAHASSEE — Just before legislators take a key step in the long-running controversy over replacing Florida’s official state song, a Panhandle legislator said today he will sponsor a bill designating a Florida state “anthem.”

Rep. Dave Murzin, R-Pensacola, said he isn’t trying to get in the crossfire between supporters of “The Old Folks at Home” — also known by its first stanza, “Way Down Upon the Swannee River” — and those who want to replace Stephen Foster’s minstrel tune of the slavery era.

The Florida Music Educators Association is scheduled to announce the winner of a month-long online balloting among three proposed new songs, and two state lawmakers have said they will sponsor legislation to designate the winner as Florida’s official state song.

But Murzin said today he will introduce a bill to designate a “state anthem,” separate from the state song. The anthem is “Oh Florida, My Sweet Home,” by Graham Fountain and Warren Halstrom of Tallahassee.

Murzin said a state song and state anthem can coexist. He said it would be like having the “Star Spangled Banner” for a national anthem and “God Bless America” as a favorite song at public gatherings — one doesn’t have to replace the other.

Murzin said he heard from many Panhandle constituents who don’t like any of the three songs nominated to replace “Swannee River,” as well as many voters who want to keep it.

Fountain said he and Halstrom got the idea about a year ago, when they heard about the push for a “Swannee River” replacement. They didn’t enter their song in the Florida Music Educators Association competition for a new state song, but Fountain sent it to Murzin — an old friend of his — for consideration as a separate state anthem.

The three songs nominated for a new state song can be heard at http://www.justsingflorida.org. Voting concludes at midnight on Thursday and results are to be announced in Tampa on Friday.

The proposed “anthem” sponsored by Murzin can be heard at http://www.mysweethomeflorida.com

14 09 2009
JJ

Cock of the snook to Daryl for this one:

NJ teens sue over ‘God Bless America’ ejection

“The boys weren’t trying to make any political statements, they just didn’t get up,” he said. “No one gave them an ultimatum. The song was sung, it was finished, then they were thrown out.”

“God Bless America,” written by Irving Berlin in 1918, was played at big league ballparks throughout the country when baseball resumed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and has remained a fixture at New York Yankees games.

In July, the Yankees and New York City settled a lawsuit with a fan who said he was ejected from Yankee Stadium by police after he left his seat to use the bathroom during the playing of “God Bless America.” The city did not admit liability in the settlement, but agreed to give the fan $10,001 and pay $12,000 in legal fees. The Yankees changed their policy, and fans at the team’s new stadium are allowed to move freely during the song.

30 09 2009
Whose Rights Ring Wronger at School? « Cocking A Snook!

[...] God Bless America: School fight song for our times Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)School Socialization: Not Good No Matter How It’s ServedSchool Folk Fighting for Control, Yep, Fits Right InScholastic Pushing Junk on Kids in Classrooms [...]

7 05 2010
Time for “T-Shirt as a Second Language” Test, Ready? « Cocking A Snook!

[...] God Bless America, right? “If the principal believes there will be a riot, then he can ban the shirts,” Scheer said. “But if he thinks students are just going to be angry, it’s not good enough.” [...]

15 10 2010
Lynn

Hi JJ. So, I have a question for you and your son. Does “Amazing Grace” – when played on military bagpipes at Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor Rally” for a crowd of “revolutionaries” – qualify it as a new “fight song”?

Perhaps I should take a look at Books on Trial, “a sobering story of innocent people swept up in the hysteria of their times,” for additional help.
:S

15 10 2010
JJ

LMAO! . . . if that’s possible while weeping for my country and for Reason itself.

15 10 2010
JJ

Honestly, all our worst conflicts these days seem to be related to competition of one kind or another — for privileges and rights and privacies, for control, for labels and definitions and money, safety, the next scarce score or grade or award, for health care, jobs, heck, just for some breathing room and space to be left alone? Where are all the worshiped virtues of competition again? Collaboration and cooperation OTOH are constantly reviled yet in practice seem to be mostly upside. So what is WRONG with America these days?

15 10 2010
Lynn

JJ: “Honestly, all our worst conflicts these days seem to be related to competition of one kind or another…”

…and (in keeping with the ever quote-worthy Christmas Carol) “greed, and malice, apathy” and all the “tenderness” of Mr. Dilber while selling bed-curtains. Or, at least, that’s what I hear and see in opponents of health care reform, for example. More than just competitiveness…

15 10 2010
Lynn

Oops, that would be Mrs. Dilber.

15 10 2010
JJ

Good point. I might see all the vices as forms of hard-scrabble competition but they do have distinctions and separate names, don’t they? Envy and jealousy, stealing, bearing false witness (in competition for a job or elected office, say.) Sex sins and gluttony have a lot to do with competition for the best mates, best food, etc.

15 10 2010
JJ

Most historical sources mention bagpipes as “war pipes” — “Amazing Grace” notwithstanding. OTOH, this book has line drawings (around pg.45) including an winged angel playing the bagpipes, which would suggest either that religious songs like Amazing Grace are about heavenly peace instead of war, and/or maybe that angels are more warlike than we tend to want to think. :)

5 04 2013
JJ

Well, well, well — here in 2013 maybe there is hope?

GA students set up first integrated prom

Or maybe not, sigh:

WSAV reports that there will still be two proms this year. The students said that when they pushed for one prom, the school offered a resolution to permit an integrated prom that would allow all students to attend but not stop segregated proms.

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