Bob Dunning

Bah, humbug! No Christmas play here

By From page A2 | October 10, 2012

If you’re not already sitting, you’re best advised to do so now. Yes, in another one of those “only in Davis” moments, officials of the Davis Joint Unified School District have stepped in to cancel Emerson Junior High School’s production of a stage version of Charles Dickens’ 1843 classic, “A Christmas Carol.”

The reason: that ugly word “Christmas.”

Students in the play were informed of the decision at Monday’s rehearsal. The drama teacher in charge of the production, Gina Smith, then sent an email to parents of the students involved explaining how the play had been unceremoniously taken away from them after auditions had been completed. If the play was to be canceled, it should have happened long before all these kids invested their hopes and their dreams and their hard work toward earning a part in the production.

Writes Smith: “We wanted to let you know that at rehearsal this afternoon representatives from the Davis Joint Unified School District announced the cancellation of our production of Carol Baizley’s ‘A Christmas Carol.’

“Emerson Principal Alicia Cummings, Da Vinci Vice Principal Troy Reeves and Executive Director of Student Services Pam Mari discussed with the kids the district decision and their reasons behind it,” Smith goes on.

“Some of the factors they shared were the overly impacted December schedule, which led to the original performance dates falling on Hanukkah, concerns about the inclusiveness of material, and the desire of the district to respect the cultures of everyone. Another point that was discussed was the power of words and the impact they can have.”

Ah yes, the old strategy of “celebrating diversity” by banning everything that might even remotely “offend” someone.

It’s interesting, though, that this is the same school district that willingly moved last year’s high school Homecoming celebration after learning that it conflicted with Yom Kippur, a good and decent decision if there ever was one.

And it’s the same school district that has absolutely no problem with its celebrated Madrigal Choir performing religious-themed songs at both the Vatican and at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacramento in Sacramento.

Adds Smith: “Please know that I met extensively with the administration to discuss every conceivable way to make the show work. We are all deeply disappointed that a better resolution could not be reached.”

A whole bunch of us share in your disappointment, Gina.

The really silly — not to mention tragic — thing here is “A Christmas Carol” has very little at all to do with Christmas. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, The Christmas story. In short, “A Christmas Carol” concerns Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, not Joseph and Mary and Baby Jesus.

The story of the Savior being born in a stable in Bethlehem is clearly inappropriate in a public school setting. Just as clearly, the classic story of a crotchety old miser and his change of heart is not in any way, shape or form inappropriate in a public school setting.

From reading Gina Smith’s email and the comments of many others, it’s apparent that the fact the play would be presented during Hanukkah was the deciding factor in the cancellation.

Which is utter silliness. How can the content of a school play be offensive on one date and not offensive on another? There is nothing in “A Christmas Carol” that’s offensive to anyone, unless maybe your name happens to be Ebenezer Scrooge.

Hanukkah and Christmas are not in competition with one another. Both are warm, wonderful and deeply meaningful celebrations. As a Christian, I’ve been fortunate many Decembers to share latkes and light Menorah candles with my Jewish friends.

Does the school district cancel high school baseball games and tennis matches and school plays and dances on Good Friday? Of course not. And it shouldn’t.

Is it offensive to me that the district doesn’t cancel such events? Heavens no. Respect for religious freedom means I’m free to practice my faith and attend my sacred observances, but it doesn’t mean everyone else’s world has to come to a screeching halt while I do so.
According to one parent of a disappointed student, the word “Christmas” in the title was the deciding factor in the cancellation.

The decision, this parent noted, “Seems to be over the title and not the subject matter.” Rumor has it that Gina Smith, the director, actually called the publishing company seeking permission to present the show under a different title without the word “Christmas,” but was denied.

Next thing you know, the district will ban “Fiddler on the Roof” because it has a Jewish theme. And you just have to believe St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Kwanzaa, Ramadan and the Easter Bunny will be the next to go.

There is, fortunately, a silver lining to all this. Those dedicated Emerson drama students who were so directly and negatively affected by the cancellation of their school play have learned some valuable life lessons.

Chief among those lessons is that when school district officials put their heads together, they sometimes make incredible, jaw-dropping mistakes that hurt the hopes and dreams of the students in their charge.

This is one such occasion.

— Reach Bob Dunning at [email protected]

Bob Dunning

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