116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - Music teachers in the Cedar Rapids Community School District are combing through their curriculum to rid it of historically racist songs and composers.
The district has been working for years on an effort to establish curriculum in all subjects that is seen as inclusive to ensure that students see themselves mirrored in the content they're learning and also get a window into different perspectives and cultures, said John Rice, Cedar Rapids schools executive director of teaching and learning.
Beth Davies, Cedar Rapids schools K-12 music content lead and band director at Franklin Middle School, began working last summer specifically on the music curriculum, inspired by Black Lives Matter protests in the community.
In reviewing music used in the classrooms, Davis said, songs were found 'right away” that should no longer be used because of 'racist roots.”
Songs such as 'Oh! Susanna” by Stephen Foster originally were used in minstrel shows. Although over the years lyrics have been changed, the original racist lyrics are just a Google search away, Davies noted.
Many American folk songs are also being flagged as historically racist and will be removed from the district's curriculum also.
Professional learning sessions are being planned for music teachers and the district will 'dig deeper” into curriculum this summer to prepare for the 2021-2022 academic year, Superintendent Noreen Bush said.
'We are really proud of the work that has already been accomplished and paying attention to an inclusive curriculum, but we know we have a ways to go,” Bush said.
The district also will be collaborating with community members and historians, and music experts at Mount Mercy University, Coe College and the African American Museum of Iowa to create a culturally sensitive and inclusive curriculum, Bush said.
Music curriculum can be especially problematic if songs contain racist lyrics because students are memorizing those words, Davies said.
A checklist has been provided to music teachers to help them select music that is culturally responsive, she said.
Teachers should look at the title and make sure it does not use language that mocks a group of people or culture, such as a song Davies came across titled 'Taco Rocko.”
Lyrics should be free of racist or biased language, she said, and if the original lyrics of a song are racist it should not be used. Music teachers should ask themselves, 'What was the original purpose of the song?” Davies said.
The last step is finding new music. Teachers in the district are being provided free, online resources to find music from composers and arrangers from a variety of cultural backgrounds and gender identities.
Online databases such as the Institute for Composer Diversity; Beyond Elijah Rock: The Non-Idiomatic Choral Music of Black Composers; and the Latin American Art Song Alliance are a few of the resources Davies is suggesting to teachers.
Teachers should aim to include music by composers of color, female composers or LGBTQ composers who teachers 'might not necessarily stumble upon in the white male dominated field,” Davies said.
The music curriculum is one example of subjects the district is revisiting to address concerns about equity and inclusion.
Rice said hat teachers of Advanced Placement classes, where the curriculum is dictated by the College Board, are exploring ways they could include more representation in their classrooms.
'The choice to teach something is equally empowering as the choice not to teach something,” said Sean Neilly, the district's PK-12 humanities content lead. 'I think teachers are getting really good at understanding when they teach just one perspective it silences another, and that's a real harm done to kids.”
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