Intellectual Honesty

While on the phone with my sister, Krista, she mentioned that she was hanging out with her old college roommate.  A few minutes into the chat, I hear Vickie reading something aloud in the background.  Apparently it was an op-ed piece from her hometown newspaper that questioned her “intellectual honesty”.  


Vickie Salmon, choir director for the Osceola Middle and High School, is to be commended for the amazing ability she has to draw on and organize the talents of the students under her charge. Tuesday’s middle school concert was another example of the result of the training and discipline she instills in her students. The expressions on their faces, as she led them through each number, testified to their respect for her and their performance displayed their improving singing skills.

My question to the educators in the district, however, deals with the topic of intellectual honesty. The choir program was entitled “Christmas Program.” Without a calendar I would have a hard time recognizing it as a Christmas program.

Yes, Alvin and the Chipmunks made their appearance, and there were “Silver Bells” but the historical purpose of Christmas was not recognized. We had a Japanese Snow Song, and African Noel (I suppose that was French Africa?) and a wonderful patriotic song “Unsung Hero” we’ve heard before and, as far as I am concerned, we could hear at every remaining concert this year.

The sixth grade did a medley that was titled “AwayIn A Manger/Dona Nobis Pacem” and did it well. My listening ear did not hear anything about a manger, the birth of Christ, a star in the sky or lowing cattle. The historic reason behind “Away In A Manger” had been erased and the lyrics rewritten.

The other medley song was sung in Latin and subtitled, “Grant Us Peace.”

“Gloria in Excelsis Deo” another song in Latin, was well done, but it is likely that to most of the audience the melody was more familiar than the significance.

Whether a person is spiritually interested in Christ, Christianity or the Reason for the Season, intellectual honesty would acknowledge that the origin of Christmas references the birth of a person some believe to be God. His reason for coming is believed by these same people to be to pay the penalty for man’s sinfulness, without which man cannot renew fellowship with God. It was a miraculous birth whose parents were God, the Father, and Mary, a mortal, and astrologers from as far away as the East spent two years tracking an unknown Star to locate this God-man.

Certainly something in a “Christmas” concert should reflect that, especially in a public school.

We ask our educators to be accountable for the progress students are to make in reading and math each year. Is it any less reasonable to expect accuracy in the teaching of an historical event? To do anything less is to leave our children ignorant.



This article is short-sighted on many levels.  For starters, a “Christmas Concert” is a time to perform seasonal music literature from a wide variety of genres and nationalities.  From all accounts, Vickie did an excellent job in this regard.  A vocal music concert is NOT the time for all aspects of a curriculum to be put on display…if that were the expectation, the concerts would last for days.  How do we know Vickie didn’t teach students about Christmas traditions during class time?  Just because the Christmas story wasn’t articulated in the concert doesn’t mean she has chosen to “leave our children ignorant”. 

It seems that the nameless author of this piece is asking for the Christmas Concert to also function as a history lesson AND a public service announcement for the audience about the origins of Christmas.  I’m not sure what this would accomplish, other than to lengthen a concert and blur the lines between religious and secular organizations.  A public school music concert is neither a necessary nor an appropriate forum to educate those gathered on what “Christmas is all about”.  If members of the community require an additional understanding of Christmas, I’m sure one of the nine churches in the greater-Osceola area would be happy to enlighten them. 

I also can’t believe the author would take exception to the erasure of the “historic reason behind ‘Away in a Manger'” by swapping out the original text with the Latin for “Grant us peace, Lord”.  The text of this particular Christmas song (along with “We Three Kings”) is one of the least accurate carols in the Christian tradition.  Hardly any of the lyrics in “Away in a Manger” come from scripture; nor is there any historical basis for the events that are described.  Is there any authoritative source that indicates Jesus didn’t cry as a newborn?  Or that cattle were present in the stable?  Or that the stars were looking down on Jesus.  At best, “Away” is a cute lullaby / bedtime prayer…but it’s certainly not something that is a bedrock of Christmas history or tradition.

I have lots of other issues with the article…but I think I’ve covered the big ones.  It’s so discouraging to read a piece that not only lacks what it accuses Vickie of needing – intellectual honesty – and also demonstrates something far more sinister from a 100+ year old news publication — intellectual laziness.  I hope the people of Osceola express their support for Vickie’s pedagogy and for the Christmas Concert offered by the chorus students at Osceola Middle and High Schools.


One Response to Intellectual Honesty

  1. Kara says:

    Did you end up sending this to the paper?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: