Education Matters: The songs we sing

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"When are we going to decorate the tree, Mom? Why is Dad saying that the branches have to come down? Let's do it now!"

My 10-year-old daughter is easily the most enthusiastic about holiday decorating this year. She bounces around the Christmas decoration boxes that her teenage brothers have been forced into hauling up the stairs, pulling things out excitedly. "Oh, I remember this ornament! I made it in preschool!

"Look, Mom!" She carefully extracts another one. "Which brother did this one?" All the baubles are starting to pile up around her as she happily digs through our tangible proof of many fond memories.

She's entranced and easily pulls me in with her enthusiasm. We carefully consider which ornament goes where. "The stuffed ones go lower, in case they are knocked off," she says matter-of-factly. I agree, commenting on how important that was when we had puppies, too. "The more breakable ones are strung higher. Can you do this one? I am scared I will break it." She digs deeper in the tub, searching for the two glittery fish brought back from Florida by her grandparents before she was even a part of our family. She states the long-held family truth: "The fish ornaments have to go next to the fish tank, since the real fish like to look at them."

Amidst all of this family Christmas cheer, she breaks into song. It's one she's learned from her many years at All School Sing here in Brattleboro. It's one of the songs that all of the kids hum during the month of December.

"Hanukah, o Hanukah, come light the menorah ..."

It's a catchy tune, really. Every kid and teacher in the school dances the Hora, joining hands in a circle, four steps in and four steps back, raising hands high and then lowering them on the way back out.

But singing it now, while decorating the tree? I would have chosen "O Christmas Tree," probably, as it seemed the "right" choice. Her selection didn't "match," I think.

But the longer I have been thinking about this, the happier I am that she chose that song. To her, it's a holiday song for this time of year. It's nothing particularly religious; it's a dance; it's something that she knows goes with family friends' traditions. We've been invited for the celebration a couple of times, and they are cherished memories for all the kids.

People laugh when I tell them about my own upbringing–which was very wonderful and not one you'll find me disparaging. It was a reality of the time and place, but it was just not as diverse as where I live now. In our entire high school, we had one Jewish family, one African American family and one Hispanic family. In our advanced English class, we had only one Catholic, and she was called upon to explain Dante's "Inferno", a concept that made no sense to all of us who were raised Protestant. It is not the same here. The Brattleboro Union High School mandates a diversity course from all students; the middle school students dive into complex questions through their social studies and humanities curriculum; the elementary kids learn foreign languages.

This morning, my freshman son and I were listening to the news of one of our presidential contender's comments on another religion, immigration and potential limitations and precautions in the aftermath of horrific events that are also, sadly, a part of our daily lives. We had a moment of sharing between the two of us, just me being a mom with the only child who seems to function in the morning. We talked about what he's heard, and I chose my words carefully when I talked of my views.

As I came downstairs from our talk, continuing with the business everyone of getting out the door in the morning, the Christmas tree lights twinkled at me. Thanks to some insight from these two kids, I see it in a new way.

Jill Stahl Tyler can be contacted at Jill@globalcow.com.


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