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Correspondence from those who inquire and my replies.

everett amanda williams wrote:

  dear mr. vern,i was reffered to you from a friend by the name of kim bouie, who told me you may have some advice on  the policies of chior music in our public schools. just to give you the background on our situation: my daughter is a  student at turner middle school in the kansas city kansas school district. last year she was one of the few kids in her  class to be chosen for honors chior,but a week later she dropped the class because the chosen music portrayed christian views in its lyrics,which is in contrast to our family's religious and spiritual views.on this years school  schedule,she was placed in the 8th grade chior class and again is facing the same problem with the designated music  curriculum.after discussing this with my daughter,we agree this is unfair that she be forced to drop the class again and  have discussed this with the teacher who insists the music is approved and legal and has no plans to alter her  decisions on the choices.three of the songs are: michael row your boat ashore-we all know this one,-wade in the water,references to the devil and god making the water right-and brighton my soul with sunshine, which speaks of faith  in the lord.the principal and assistant superintendant have agreed to look into this but i'm optimistic.the important thing  here is the rights of my daughter and her interest in music which has been a major part of her education for many  years.  if you have any suggestions or comments on this matter,please respond.thank you very much,   AMANDA WILLIAMS

Dear Amanda Williams:

cc:Turner USD #202
Dr. Harry Austin
Superintendent of Schools
800 South 55th Street
Kansas City, Kansas 66106
(913) 288-4100

cc: Kansas City Kansas Public Schools,
Dr. Ray Daniels,  Superintendent of Schools
625 Minnesota Avenue,
Kansas City, Kansas 66101,
(913)  551-3200

Perhaps I understand your situation, or that of your daughter. When I was a student in high
school, the orchestra played music I did not approve of because of my religious convictions. I
explained this to my teacher and he understood. I was kept in the orchestra but simply did not
play the piece of music I found problematic. I think most teachers can be understanding when
the situation is explained carefully to them.
     On the other hand, although I do not know all of the songs you mention, it does seem to me
that it is not necessary to approve of the words of a song in order to sing them. I remember  my
choir teacher, who was a sincere and admirable Christian, demonstrating this approach by
singing Henley's famous atheist poem with conviction, and then explaining the job of a musician
is like that of an actor: to present a position, not necessarily to agree with it. Perhaps you could
discuss this approach with your daughter to see if she could advance her musical skills this
way, without violating her conscience.
     For example, Jewish singers and musicians often perform Handel's "Messiah" as a musical
event, not as a statement of faith. When one reads a book aloud in a classroom, one is not
expected to agree with the author; one is simply reading what the author wrote. I know a
number of atheists who utter the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance because they
understand the Pledge to be a sentiment of appreciation for our nation's ideals. Of course some
also object. Each person must wrestle with one's conscience about such matters.
     I am glad that you are "optimistic" about  the principal and the assistant superintendent. I
would hope your daughter could be part of the class, even if there are songs she might not be
able to participate in. However, I would also hope that she would approach the music not as a
statement about her personal faith, but rather as an actress might, presenting beautiful music.
My own view, perhaps now a bit more mature than when I was in high school, is that singing a
song in a choir class is very different from being forced to pray in a particular way. An audience
does not automatically expect singers to vouch for the sentiments in the songs. I believe
exposure to many points of view is helpful in the process of growing throughout life, and helps
us find our own "voice," which in turn can be contributed as part of the wonderful mix America
     There sometimes is no automatic or clear way to resolve these issues. Our nation is founded
on the principle of separation of "church and state," but exactly how this is to be achieved has
never been completely clear. Balancing the rights of the individual with the need for social
comity is not always easy. I hope these  I do not know your particular religious perspective, but I
certainly hope these thoughts which offer several alternatives, have been helpful.
     I must apologize about Kim Bouie -- I do not at this moment recognize the name. I meet so
many people and receive so many inquiries that my poor brain does not track names well any
     Please feel free to keep  me posted about this matter. Best wishes to you and your
     I am posting your letter and my response on my web site in case any readers might have
additional suggestions to offer you, and sending this to the Turner School District (I do not find a
Turner Middle School listed in the Kansas City KS School District) and the  Kansas City KS
School District, in hopes that this will help.

With best wishes,
Vern Barnet