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It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

September 14, 2010

Sometimes the news makes me sad.  Sometimes it makes me angry.  And sometimes it just makes me laugh. 

That was the case recently when I heard about the Australian elementary school music teacher who unwittingly managed to simultaneously make everyone mad by expunging the word “gay” from a popular song.

You may be familiar with the Kookaburra Song.  The pertinent verse goes like this:

Kookaburra sitting in the old gum tree
Merry merry king of the bush is he
Laugh, kookaburra! Laugh kookaburra!
Gay your life must be.

I don’t know if this makes you sad, angry or amused, but this teacher found that his grade one (i.e., 6 year olds) erupted into gales of laughter when they sang the song and encountered the word “gay.” 

To facilitate getting through the song without interruption, the teacher asked the students to replace the G-word with “fun.”

I’m not sure what six year old kids do or don’t know about these things, but according to the teacher, they know that there is something about that word gay that puts it in the gray zone of words that aren’t specifically verboten but which have connotations.  The kids, knowing that they were sampling forbidden fruit, were reduced to giggles. 

As an aside, what connotations, you ask?  I heard an interview with the teacher in which he averred that “most” of the kids don’t know that meaning of gay, but that on the playground it is considered an impolite insult and use of the term could be prima facie evidence of bullying.  For example, if someone comes to school with a nonstandard backpack or pencil case and the beautiful people disapprove, they might look at the offending object and say “That’s so gay.”

Replacing the G-word with the F-word doesn’t do violence to the rhythm of the song or even to the meaning, and the teacher went home that night, thankful to have made it through another day. 

But his troubles were just beginning.

I don’t know if kids make disclosures about what happened at school at the dinner table these days or if they just tweet them to their parents/caregivers or post them on Facebook.  In any event, some parent got wind of what had happened and then, as they say, it hit the fan.

The teacher’s official story is that because the word “gay” can be used to bully people, it had contemporary meanings inconsistent with the intent of the song and therefore he made the change.  He now admits that he may have been “hypersensitive.”

He wasn’t the only one.

The people who get outraged about political correctness immediately began shouting “political correctness gone mad.” 

The wonderfully named Crusader Hillis from the Also Foundation, a gay and lesbian advocacy group, sensed homophobia and lamented the expunging of gay from the song as a blow to “respect and diversity.”

The religious right stopped collecting Korans long enough to express alarm that children were being taught naughty things. 

Not only that, it turns out that the copyright to the Kookaburra Song is owned by a company and they are saying that changing the lyrics is “technically a copyright breach.”  Lawyers are looking into it.

The poor guy.  In the interview I heard, he came across as a very entertaining person.  He described driving to school the next morning and seeing a parking lot filled with news vans.  He didn’t realize that he was the story.  He says that people now consider him “the devil incarnate.”

I’m also not sure that he learned from the experience because he is saying that in retrospect he should have stopped the class when they were laughing and “discussed the true meaning of the word with the children.” 

Can you imagine what that would have unleashed?  By the time they finished with him there would have been nothing left but the feathers.

Actually this whole story shows that we have not become more intelligent or tolerant.  We’ve become more hypersensitive.  If you closely read the lyrics to the song, you can convince yourself that it is literally riddled with gay iconography.  For example, in the last stanza, the kookaburra sits on a nail and gets a “boo boo in his his tail.”  We know what that really means, don’t we?

When I was twelve or thirteen I was in the school glee club.  For the Christmas program that year we were singing a carol called “Good Christian Men, Rejoice.”  There is a line in the song that goes, “Ox and ass before him bow.”

I don’t remember what all precipitated it, but the teacher/choir director decided that we shouldn’t sing “ass,” so she changed the line to “Ox and all before him bow.”


We were highly amused that the teacher thought we were too innocent to say “ass” when all year long we’d been making shocking jokes about her and her anatomical eccentricities and her wonderfully onomatopoeic last name.   If only she’d known.

We didn’t know what she was trying to accomplish with the change, but for one thing, it ensured that we always “forgot” to sing “all” instead of “ass” in rehearsals.

I think in the end she regretted what she’d done.

 I remember going home and telling my parents about it over the dinner table.  They didn’t call CNN.  I think my father said something like “Your teacher sounds like a real ass.”

And that’s when we erupted into gales of laughter.

What about this bird?

20 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2010 11:33 pm

    That poor guy…

    My middle name is “Gaye.” My children tease me unmercifully!

    I am constantly on my teenager’s asses (yes, I said it!) not to use the word “gay” in a derisive form…Jim and I both have many gay friends. Similarly, I am trying to stop them from using the term “retarded”, which I find equally offensive!

    I hope the furor dies down soon…


  2. September 15, 2010 12:01 am

    The “thought police” are definitely on 24/7. Oh, how I feel for that teacher. At this point in time he’s better off to not say anything more. You never know who will be on board next to be offended.

    You should hear the uproar when we run across changed words in our new church hymnal in the old hymns. The pastor might as well not preached that morning because once people realized that words were changed that’s all they focus on.

  3. September 15, 2010 1:56 am

    And how about Nietzsche’s The Gay Science Now, there’s a clinical study of a lifestyle…

    Seriously (or not), I loved this post, and as a teacher, I felt for the poor fellow dealing with 6th graders and the word “gay.”

    Should have nixed the Kookaburra song and chosen Bill Grogen’s Goat

  4. September 15, 2010 5:51 am

    You dad sound just like my dad. 🙂

  5. September 15, 2010 5:52 am

    The margay (Leopardus wiedii) is a spotted cat native to Central and South America. Named for Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied, it is a solitary and nocturnal animal that prefers remote sections of the rainforest.

    I’d like to know more about the prince’s lifestyle.

    Also, to sneak cheap political points into everything, liberals tend to pronounce the word gala gaylah. Conservatives always say gahlah.

  6. September 15, 2010 10:39 am

    Sad. The poor teacher is in a no win situation. If he takes the teachable moment, he’s in trouble…changing the word brought him trouble.

    He can’t overcome the fact that young minds are often shaped by small minds at home.

  7. September 15, 2010 12:48 pm

    What a bad teacher. He missed a great teachable moment about words, meanings, perceptions, etc. The song is nowhere near as valuable as the lesson he should have taught.

  8. September 15, 2010 6:45 pm

    I heard that the US Military was going to change its policy to “Don’t ask about the boo boo in the tail, Don’t get the awesome dish on who got the boo boo in the tail.”

    It’s still in the rough phases, but I think it’s a step in the right direction for the US.

  9. September 15, 2010 11:42 pm

    I lived in Utah for years and was treated to many a fine production of “Darn Yankees!” Students in the actor training program in Salt Lake often objected to (and replaced) all kinds of words that pop up in 20th Century dramatic literature. Makes for some pretty funny David Mamet scenes!

    • September 16, 2010 6:18 pm

      Glengarry Glenross would either be hilarious, make no sense or be awfully short!

      • September 17, 2010 8:31 pm

        Forget you! Forget all of you!!!

        Ever seen Glengarry Glen Ross on network TV? Hilarious indeed.

  10. September 16, 2010 7:27 pm

    Second time that innocent little ditty has got someone into trouble; last time it was Men at Work. Moral of the story: kookaburras have very sharp beaks. What was your teacher’s name?

  11. September 17, 2010 1:15 pm

    Hilarious! I’m still laughing about the Koran-collecting being brought to a halt! 🙂

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