One of the sites in my blogroll, morons.org, had this news item, which sound eerily like the drama teacher crisis in Fulton, Mo. This time, the controversy involves the opera Faust, primary school students and a Christian music teacher.
I’ll start with the end first. The teacher, Tresa Waggoner, resigned her job with the Bennett, Colo., schools, after being put on administrative leave. Sound familiar? Not only that, the mayor of the tiny town also resigned, saying the Waggoner episode was the last straw in a series of backbiting incidents there.
Now here’s the background. Waggoner, 33, is a former opera singer, a gospel singer with two albums and a national gospel award under her belt, and a church music director. Her pastor calls her a “woman of God.” Some members of the Bennett community have called her a lesbian and a devil worshipper.
In January, Waggoner had arranged for a visit by Opera Colorado to perform The Island of Tulipatan at Bennett Elementary School at the end of the month. To prepare her students, she pulled an opera appreciation videotape off the music room shelves and decided to show them a portion describing the different singing parts and explaining “trouser roles” in opera.
The children’s program, dating from the ’70s, features Dame Joan Sutherland and sock puppets, of all things, discussing the 1859 opera Faust, by Charles Gounod. Faust, of course, is the legendary figure who, on the brink of suicide, decides to sell his soul to the devil to buy his services.
Here’s what happened. From The Rocky Mountain News:
On Jan. 9, 10 and 11 she showed her first-, second- and third-grade classes about 12 minutes of highlights from the video.
“They were on the edge of the seat,” Waggoner said of the students’ reaction. “Nobody came to me crying, no one wanted to leave.”
But on Jan. 13, she received a call from the mother of a second-grader. “She said, ‘I basically do not understand why do you not let the kids sing Christmas songs at their winter concert, but you would teach them about the devil. Are you not a Christian?’ “
Other parents also complained that the video had given their children nightmares, because of the appearance of Mephistopheles, the silhouette of a man being struck with a sword and references to suicide.
The remark about the Christmas music derives from Waggoner’s sensitivity to multicultural values and the separation of church and state. Remember, this is a church-going woman. Her school Christmas production omitted overtly Christian songs, which did not sit well with some folks in Bennett.
From this point, the situation just escalated to points absurd. Her choice of operatic material led some to brand her a satan-worshipper. The reference to trouser roles led to her image as a lesbian. Her principal told her to write a letter of apology to the parents. The school board cancelled the visiting opera company’s performance. And the superintendent of schools put her on administrative leave on Jan. 30.
Despite 50 parents supporting her at a Feb. 16 school board meeting, the few soreheads out to get her had their way, and Waggoner was not reinstated. In the end, Waggoner decided this past week to leave her job and Bennett behind.
Bennett Mayor Karen Grossaint also resigned last month over the matter, telling the Rocky Mountain News that Waggoner’s removal from the classroom was the “last straw.” She said the 2,500-member community east of Denver “has a mean-spirited undertone.”
As one might expect, the perpetrators of this particular crime refused to comment when approached by reporters. The superintendent of schools, like his counterpart in Fulton, ducked behind the confidentiality wall. So if this recounting sounds one-sided, don’t blame me.
So, fellow teachers, avoid teaching the following topics until further notice: anything having to do with women wearing men’s clothes (Shakespeare, opera, Amanda Bynes), with sex or kissing (ditto, plus a lot of poetry, TV, novels and cinema besides), and most of all, the devil, who is probably having a great laugh over this flap.
Oh, and don’t go around comparing the president to Adolf Hitler. That’s a risky career move, too.