Friday, February 03, 2006

Dueling Obscurantists

There is a minor kerfuffle in a small Colorado town involving an intro-to-opera program for children. The Denver Post reports that certain parents in Bennett, Colorado were incredibly upset that their elementary-age children saw a puppet-populated introduction to opera video, featuring scenes from Faust and other works. The devilish imagery of the work was of great concern to them, as well as scenes of operatic cross-dressing misunderstood by their children, which the parents then mistook for a representation of lesbianism.

I received an action alert from an artsy friend which claimed that the music teacher, Tresa Waggoner, didn't exactly endear herself to the community because she excluded Christmas Carols from the school's "winter festival" choir recital. This being so, I find it hard to get much riled up about any supposed censorship or cultural obscurantism going on in this dispute, since both sides appear to be practicing that. It's not like a foreign-language opera is more relevant to grade-school kids than centuries-old songs rooted in their own culture.

Furthermore, hardly any opera is suitable for the young. It's in another language, it is incredibly expensive to enjoy, and it is typically about adultery, murder, and all sorts of R-rated subject matter. The arts teacher is a rookie, which explains her lack of discretion.

What I don't much like is the sanctimonious depiction of concerned parents as mouth-breathing yokels, an easy temptation for would-be cognoscenti like the Denver Post's Kyle MacMillan, whose article is also linked above.

There is also an unfortunate habit in the education industry for its workers to think of themselves as great liberators who free enslaved children from the supposed errors of their parents. One can easily reach that interpretion by reading the superintendent's comments:

"We're in no way going to back off," Sauter said. "We want to expose kids to things, to help them see there is another world beside Bennett out there. But we have to understand who we are serving."

I was not aware that Bennett existed in an alternate world. Mr. Sauter has read too many times Dr. Suess's Oh the Places You’ll Go.

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