In a time of heightened anxiety about school shootings, rap lyrics by an assistant principal in Tacoma have alarmed some parents and forced the school district into an awkward position to safeguard on free speech.
Music written by an assistant principal at Tacoma’s Lincoln High School has gone viral, and not necessarily because of its artistic merits.
On the song “Cancel Christmas,” Logic Amen, who oversees the freshman class at Lincoln, raps:
“Give me a reason just to load up a rifle/ Pull the fire alarm in the lobby of my high school/Leave the halls bloody like a high noon typhoon/ I’m about to cancel Christmas./ I won’t leave a freakin’ witness.”
It’s art, articulating the anger many low-income students feel during the holidays, says the educator — not incitement or advice.
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But in a time of heightened anxiety about school shootings, Amen’s after-class rapping, posted on the website Bandcamp.com, has raised questions about the limits of free speech and artistic expression for a public figure whose job is guiding young people – at least among the hundreds of commenters weighing in on social media.
Two parents from Lincoln High first brought the lyrics to the attention of Amen’s bosses, and on Wednesday, the Tacoma News Tribune ran a lengthy piece about the flap, which landed the assistant principal on national television and radio broadcasts.
The Tacoma School District supports him, albeit cautiously.
“Anytime anyone’s using language that talks about shooting up a school, clearly we have some concern over that,” said spokesman Dan Voelpel. But the song “falls under artistic expression which is protected speech.”
Controversy over art created by school administrators is so rare that the Association of Washington School Principals has no official position on it, said Gary Kipp, president of the group.
“I don’t think a school would have a problem with a principal saying ‘here’s what’s going through kids’ minds today,'” Kipp added. “But the lyrics of the song may be interpreted quite differently from the way he intended them.”
Amen, who previously worked at Seattle’s Rainier Beach and Garfield high schools, has never caused any educational disruption with his creative work, added Voelpel.
At least, not until now.
In the wake of the media storm, students who’d never heard about their assistant principal’s rapping were downloading his music and stopping Amen in the hallways to talk about it — a valuable opportunity, in his view, to discuss the issues behind his songs.
Colleagues have chimed in as well.
“Our art teacher asked me ‘what if I decide over the summer that I wanted to paint nudes or do nude photography – am I doing pornography?’” Amen said.
Ever-savvy about the value of all publicity, Amen, a regular commentator on Bellevue’s community radio station, KBCS, added: “Hip hop music is just one avenue I use to connect with people and drive intellectual discourse. I’m also an author. I published a book in 2016 on Amazon that has short stories they would probably have a problem with too.”