What We're up Against

An elementary school teacher in Bennett, Colorado, has been suspended for showing her class a 12-min portion of the opera Faust, according to reports in the Rocky Mountain News, the Denver Post, and the Los Angeles Times.

Specifically, Tresa Waggoner, a first-year teacher, showed her elementary-school class a section of a video that used sock puppets to animate the opera. The video featured the soprano Joan Sutherland, whom many consider the greatest soprano of her generation. Ms. Waggoner found the 30-year-old videotape in the school library. She had invited singers from Opera Colorado to perform at the school and used the video to prepare her students. The performance was canceled, and no reason was given, according to a spokesperson from Opera Colorado.

Parents accused Ms. Waggoner of devil worship and, in at least one instance, of not being a Christian, as if not being a Christian were somehow reprehensible. In fact, Ms. Waggoner, herself an opera singer, describes herself as a Christian and has two Christian recordings among her credentials.

Ms. Waggoner, the mother of two children, was further accused of being a lesbian aiming to promote homosexuality. Ms. Wagonner says she was - get ready for this - explaining “trouser roles” in opera. (In Faust, a young man in love with Marguerite is played by a soprano.) Other parents complained that the video deals with abortion; Ms. Waggoner says flatly that they lied.

Some parents thought that the material was inappropriate for small children and were mollified when they were assured (by whom is unclear) that a similar situation would not arise. But other parents were not so easily satisfied.

At least part of the motivation for the attack may be Ms. Waggoner’s earlier refusal to include Christmas songs at the winter concert. The Rocky Mountain News quotes Ms. Waggoner as saying, “I told her we couldn’t sing them because public schools didn’t want to offend people of other religions, including Jewish people, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

The mayor of Bennett resigned over the incident and said that the town has a “mean streak” that she can no longer tolerate. Earlier, when the Mormon church built a facility nearby, letters to the editor of the local newspaper questioned whether Mormons were truly Christians. The town is roughly evenly split politically between long-time residents and newer residents who live in a subdivision, and a recent town board meeting required police intervention to ensure the safety of the city planner.

Ms. Waggoner was suspended from her job with pay. Most parents supported her at a hearing of the school board, but she has not been reinstated. According to the latest report I read, she was looking for a new job.

It is against this backdrop that we struggle to keep creationism out of the public schools.