Five classes of kindergartners spent months learning the words to the highly regarded Lee Greenwood ballad “God Bless the USA” only to be told by their principal that they would not be allowed to sing it at their graduation ceremony.
The song, also known as “Proud to be an American” became extremely popular in the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11 and also during the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.
Greta Hawkins is the principal of the Edna Cohen School, PS 90, in Coney Island, and is populated by a large percentage of immigrants to the US. As the children were rehearsing for their end of the year show which is scheduled to take place on June 20th, Hawkins walked into the room and demanded that the CD playing the song be turned off, and then she told the teachers that the song would have to be dropped from the show.
Teachers quoted Hawkins as saying, “We don’t want to offend other cultures.”
The school staff and the parent body were shocked by the edict.
“A lot of people fought to move to America to live freely, so that song should be sung with a whole lot of pride” said mom Luz Lozada, whose son, Daniel, is in kindergarten.
This is not the first time the song has been sung at events which took place at PS 90. Last year fifth-graders performed the patriotic song at their graduation show, including an older one of Lozada’s children.
“Everybody applauded and whistled” Lozada said, referring to last year’s performance. “They gave it a standing ovation.”
One of the teachers at the school supported Lozada’s contention that the song makes people feel good.
“It makes them a little goosebumpy and teary-eyed. I’ve never come across anyone who felt it insulted their culture.”
The Department of Education has a different understanding of why the song is being banned from the kindergartner’s performance. Jessica Scaperotti, spokeswoman for the DOE explained that the words of the song are too sophisticated and are beyond the understanding of five-year-olds.
“The lyrics are not age-appropriate” Scaperotti said in support of Hawkins position.
However the kindergartners will be singing “Baby” a Justin Bieber song about flirting between girls and boys, decidedly age-inappropriate lyrics for five-year-olds. Hawkins did not have any objection to that song.
Other songs on the program include: “We’re All Together Again” a popular song at campfires; “The World is a Rainbow” a song about diversity; “Shake Your Sillies Out” a fun song by Raffi; and “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” a song about loyalty, from the film “Toy Story.”
This is not the first tussle Hawkins has had with controversy. Some of the staff at PS 90 says she is tyrannical and has been known to bully people. In 2010 she was reprimanded by the DOE after teachers complained that Hawkins called the school “racist” and stated: I’m black. Your previous principal was white and Jewish. More of us are coming.”