One can debate whether Lee Greenwood’s most prominent song, “God Bless the USA,” is the optimal choice for the patriotic finale of a public school’s commencement ceremony. When the principal of the school scraps the song altogether and replaces it with tween heartthrob Justin Bieber’s grating love song, “Baby,” though, I contend that the motives behind such a choice are relevant.

Greta Hawkins, principal of PS 90 in Coney Island, New York, made exactly that decision, calling Greenwood’s lyrics “too grown-up” and explaining that they could “offend other cultures.” She seemed completely unconcerned about the “cultures” that would be offended by kindergartners singing Bieber’s ode to a teenage romance.

In Hawkins’ opinion, “She know she got me dazin’ ’cause she was so amazin’” represents acceptable lyrics for a group of five-year-olds while “I’m proud to be an American” is downright offensive. Recent reports have shown that Hawkins, a Jehovah’s Witness, has set her sites on patriotic displays at the school before.

Several years ago, before a backlash from school staff, she reportedly tried to prevent students from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing “America the Beautiful.” Previous PS 90 commencement ceremonies have ended with youngsters singing the Greenwood tune while waving small American flags with no reports of offended attendees.

Presently, it is unclear whether Hawkins’ religion played a role in her decision, as reports indicate that she does not recite the Pledge of Allegiance herself because of her faith. The fact remains that several classes spent a considerable amount of time learning the song in preparation for the ceremony, only to have their hard work nullified by the whim of a school administrator.

Instead of celebrating the unique freedoms and opportunities available in America, students will also sing “The World is a Rainbow,” an anthem to diversity. Hawkins, who is black, has also been identified as a racist, according to a 2010 Department of Education reprimand filed after she allegedly made inappropriate comments about the school and its previous Jewish principal. It is painfully obvious that Hawkins considers herself a member of the phantom group offended by the song, although a principal’s job description does not include banning all activity deemed personally objectionable.

This travesty of a school’s administration is abhorrent on many levels, chief among them the fact that a woman whose actions continually circumvent the desire of staff, students, and parents still holds her position today.

Photo credit: cukuskumir (Creative Commons)

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