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OPINION - Tone deaf... and a good compromise

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)   I have a few more thoughts on what we’ve learned over the last week about the Wausau School District’s holiday concert controversy.

First, the leadership of the Wausau School District is largely tone-deaf. To regular community members it was completely predictable that there would be outrage if holiday concerts were cancelled. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the public supports the Master Singers without limits on what they sing. But school staff didn’t see that. There’s a disconnect there. I'm grateful the school board rolled back some bad policy decisions. "How did we get here?" is still a question that has many people in Wausau scratching their heads.

Some of this come with a high percentage of staffers who aren’t from here. A superintendent who is from Illinois (and who maintains a home there and lives out-of-town during many weekends and vacations) is probably not in-tune with our community.

One of the school leaders who presented the policy issues to the public said “sometimes emotion wins out over logic”. It’s a telling comment. Our school administrations are eminently logical. Parents, community members, students – they’re emotional rubes. Not only was that comment condescending, it was wrong. The law is on the side of that immature, emotional, unwashed crowd.

There may indeed be future legal challenges about what is and isn’t sung during holiday concerts. Sadly, I think the school administration would be reluctant warriors in defending its music curriculum. It’s entirely possible this issue will come up again.

I also heard something completely reasonable from a respected community leader. Rabbi Dan Danson, who I met with personally many years ago, suggests a good compromise. He says sacred music by the masters (Beethoven, Bach, Mozart) has stood the test of time and are universally recognized for their quality and educational value. This music, even when it has religious undertones, can stand up to a legal challenge. But modern Christian praise-music, perhaps Amy Grant or Michael W. Smith for example, is problematic and should be excluded. These are songs that probably don’t have staying power, and their performance would be more associated with the message or theme of the song than the skill of the students singing it. This is a worthy compromise, and it could be easily defended if challenged.

Chris Conley
10.11.13