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Random venting about cultural literacy

So, next week is VBS at the church. For you heathens (said with teasing affection) that's Vacation Bible School. Lovely. I get to do the music, 'cause that's my job, duh. The theme is "Everywhere Fun Fair" and is supposed to be all multicultural/global focus. Great! Right up my alley! They'll be "travelling" to Japan, Zimbabwe, Great Britain, Australia, and Mexico. They'll make crafts from each country and play games from each country, and learn about each country, and the idea is to build up a bit of cultural awareness and "we're all different but that's cool we can all teach stuff to each other." Great. I'm on board. I'm really excited to see what global songs I get to teach the kids. What's in the music packet? One song from Zimbabwe, with an accompaniment straight from some insane caribbean hell (caribbean =/= african, y'all), one bland contemporary christian pop song, and EIGHT original songs from the same guy, all of which are moderately terrible and only one of which is even vaguely in a global style (it's pseudo reggae. The kids will LOVE it, but I can just feel Bob Marley screaming in agony).

Now really. How hard is this? I have taken two days and pulled together a group of songs from each country, that the kids can learn in the actual languages of the countries and that truly represent the differences in the cultures. I'm looking for some music games from each country as well (a bit easier, since these can be secular). I believe that experiencing God through the eyes of other cultures is extremely important. And music is one of the most accessible ways to do that. So why go to the trouble of creating a lesson plan that is culturally diverse, and then completely drop the ball on the music? WHY DOES YOUR STUPID MUSIC LEADER BOOK HAVE A PICTURE OF A CUTE LITTLE GIRL PLAYING A DRUM, BUT NO SONGS WITHIN IT THAT SHE COULD ACTUALLY PLAY THAT DRUM WITH!?

And it's not like this is unusual. My kids used to love watching "Little Einsteins" until mommy's rants drowned out the show. "Why are they in China and playing music from Austria!?" I would yell. "They're using visual art from China, were they too lazy to find a Chinese composer? EUROPE IS NOT THE ONLY CONTINENT WITH IMPORTANT MUSIC!!!! You can teach basic music concepts with music that wasn't written by dead white dudes!" (My children are quite used to this sort of thing from me. They sigh and get out the legos.)


If we are going to build a world of tolerance and understanding for all cultures and peoples, we have to educate ourselves about things that feel foreign. And we have to do that with our young people. Most of these kids will never leave this valley for more than a vacation, and that will probably not be to a place that they have to struggle to communicate because English is not the first language. They will never live in Paris or New York or Dubai. They will never experience another culture first-hand. So creating these learning opportunities where they can be exposed to different ideas and ways of doing things is invaluable. But when you completely leave out a HUGE part of the cultural identity of any group, you are doing no good. I have spent too much of my life trying to expose Americans to the music of other cultures, trying to help them understand the different ways people worship, trying to help them come into a different mind-space through the medium of music. I know how powerful that is. When we create the music of another culture, we invite difference into our souls. That difference takes root and grows, and blooms into an understanding of the spirit of a culture - the beauty of it, the grace, the strength - that simply does not happen by hearing about it. Music creation is a full-body and full-brain experience like no other. To leave it out of the mix is criminal. To leave music out of the mix risks letting this time of experiencing other cultures become a time of appropriating them and lets us view them at arms length without truly internalizing them. And when we do that, we run the risk of viewing them as "cute" or lesser. No. NoNoNoNoNoNoNo. I refuse.

*sigh* Rant over. I've sent Schroeder instructions on making that one song from the dvd we're doing a little less offensive. And any excuse to bring out my collection of percussion instruments is a good one.

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