The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

4 December 2005

Scratching off Christmas

You'd think this would be innocuous enough, even secular enough for anyone at this time of year. You would, however, be wrong:

The teachers and their students came up with the theme of the gift of education money from the lottery. The teachers gathered discarded, cancelled lottery tickets from convenience stores. The kids cut ornaments from the discarded tickets and even folded and cut some of the tickets into three-dimensional mathematical shapes. They cut the top tree star out of a lottery poster. Ping pong balls with numbers carefully written to mimic the big lottery drawing balls were strung together with twine and bows to complete the decoration. After school on Wednesday, the church across the street provided vans to take the kids up to the State Capitol to decorate the tree allocated for our school.

The Capitol was abuzz with excitement as children from schools from all over the state decorated their trees as we decorated ours. The Governor and his wife went from tree to tree and posed with the students from the different schools. Our children excitedly gathered around the Governor, the Mrs. and Santa Claus to get their pictures taken. We were so proud of our tree and our creative theme.

Then not all hell, but a significant fraction thereof, broke loose:

[A radio] reporter accused us of having our children sell lottery tickets. We were accused of an inappropriate display to publicize the lottery. We were accused of a lot of heinous things. What had started out as a clever idea turned out to be a sinister plot to undermine the morality of our culture.

When our annual event was over that afternoon, I called the state representative whom the radio station (and subsequently the television station) told us had called them about the tree. I apologized to him for having caused such heart burn. I explained that we had no intention of making a political statement and would gladly remove the tree. I did not wish this nastiness to besmirch our children or embarrass our Governor who had allowed the children of our state to decorate Capitol Christmas trees. I hope our controversy will not ruin this event for all the children and schools.

I am no great fan of the lottery, and have spent the sum of $0 on tickets thus far. But I am even less enthusiastic about the idea of disillusioning fifth-graders for the sake of an irrelevant political point, and I do mean irrelevant; the lottery was voted on and passed and is now part of the law, there is no organized opposition to it — and this would be one spectacularly stupid way to start one. What's next? County option?

It is an axiom of American politics that those who most loudly proclaim the need to protect the children from one thing or another are invariably those who are most willing to use those children as political pawns. And we wonder why we're raising a generation of cynics.

Addendum, 5 December: AP wire story on this incident.

Addendum, 7 December: Follow-up.

Posted at 7:59 AM to Soonerland

TrackBack: 10:18 AM, 4 December 2005
» Disillusioning fifth-graders for the sake of an i from The Subjective Scribe
Dustbury examines a recent mountain-of-a-molehill uproar surrounding a local elementary school's activity....[read more]

I wonder if children decorated the tree with IRS pamphlets and W-## forms, would it trigger the same outrage? After all, both state lottery and the tax revenue are intended to use public coffers for Society's Good?

Posted by: Tatyana at 1:30 PM on 4 December 2005

They should have decorated the tree with condoms; the only people who would object to that are Christians, and what do they know about decorating holiday trees anyway?

Posted by: akaky at 2:11 PM on 4 December 2005

I sent Mr. Terrill an email
And I quoted this:

OKLAHOMA CITY - A Christmas tree that elementary school students decorated with discarded lottery tickets was removed from the state Capitol over the weekend after a lawmaker complained it was inappropriate. Rep. Randy Terrill, who opposes the lottery, said he spotted the tree onWednesday when it was erected as part of the governor's annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony. The Republican lawmaker called the Westwood Elementary School principal, who apologized and asked the governor's office to remove the tree.

You are ridiculous (was my response)

His response to me was this:

Give me a break!
You seriously think having elementary school kids hang gambling paraphernalia on a CHRISTmas tree to be displayed at the capitol is appropriate and acceptable? I suppose you think pornography, cigarettes and beer cans would be ok too? Your email makes me wonder if you even know what the true meaning of CHRISTmas is? It's about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ- who made the ultimate sacrifice to save mankind - by giving of ourself to others. It's not about exploiting and corrupting children by giving them a stack of lotto tickets, which is illegal, telling them to scratch them off, cut them into ornaments and hang them on a tree just to suck up to the Governor to win a contest. And the fact that you have no problem with that makes me wonder if you have any common sense. By excusing the twisted message it sends just because those kids put some effort into it, you obviously lack good judgement. I want to make one additional point. Whether it's placing gambling paraphernalia on a Christmas tree, permitting homosexuals to marry or taking God out of the Pledge, all of it is part of a bigger assault on traditional judeo-christian values. The only difference is this time, by using our own innocent and unwitting children as pawns in the culture war against us, they have really crossed the line. That's why I am truly stunned by your email.
Randy Terrill
State Representative
House District 53

To which I replied with:

I think that taking the colorful DISCARDED lottery tickets that are run by YOUR state to benefit the EDUCATION of the children of YOUR state is a clever and harmless idea. How do you derive hanging pornography, cigarettes and beer cans from what this story is about? Maybe you are describing YOUR tree Mr. Terrill. I do know what Christmas is about, it's about caring, giving, sacrifice, tolerance, things you seem to know little about. The kids are using discarded tickets for one, it is illegal for them to gamble and the fact that you don't even know this makes ME question YOUR awareness to the issuses in your own state. Then your knee-jerk connection from discarded lottery tickets to homosexuality to some assault on judeo-christian values shows what a psuedo patriot you really are. Next the kids will be made into Satan worshiping terrorists. How dare YOU question MY common sense. I won't even get near the Evolution vs ID question, you apparently haven't evolved at all and still believe in all of the fairy tales that you did as a child. 6 days and 'poof' the world is created. Let me know when the burning of the Harry Potter books is, I'll wear my white hood and join you while we burn crosses and books. Not everyone believes what you do Mr. Terrill, and as Martha Stewart would say,
'... and that's a good thing'
Have a Merry x-mas
P Gxxxxx

Posted by: Phil G at 4:25 PM on 6 December 2005