Dolly parton and Miley Cyrus perform on stage.

First-Graders Can’t Sing ‘Rainbowland’ Because Even Vague Lyrics About Inclusion Are Considered Controversial

Remember being in elementary school and having to put on a show for your family and friends? You and your class would spend weeks perfecting your song or dance or skit until it was absolutely perfect, and then showcase it to an audience who would cheer you on.

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Now, what happens when, in the midst of all that preparation and hard work, your school district decides the song your class wanted to sing was “too divisive”? Well, that’s exactly what happened to Melissa Tempel and her first-grade class at Heyer Elementary School in Waukesha County, Wisconsin.

Tempel and her co-teacher wanted to throw a concert with her students that was all about peace and unity. According to CNN, the students were slated to perform the songs “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles, the Disney tune “It’s a Small World,” and “Rainbowland,” the 2017 duet from Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton.

However, within one day of the students learning the duet, the school administration asked Tempel to remove “Rainbowland” from the concert line-up. In a statement, the district stated that the song could be “deemed controversial [by the standard] of Board Policy 2240 – Controversial Issues in the Classroom.”

Now, I know you must be thinking, “How provocative could the lyrics have been to warrant such a harsh removal?” Well, as you probably could’ve guessed from the title of the song itself, the lyrics are all about inclusion and wanting the freedom to be yourself. Some of the “controversial” lyrics are as follows:

“Living in a Rainbowland

The skies are blue and things are grand

Wouldn’t it be nice to live in paradise

Where we’re free to be exactly who we are

Let’s all dig down deep inside

Brush the judgment and fear aside”

Both Parton and Cyrus have shared their thoughts on what the song meant to them. Parton has described the song as “[loving] one another a little better or be a little kinder, be a little sweeter” while Cryus has noted that the song is a nod to different races, genders, and religions saying, “Let’s not change to be the same, let’s stay different but let’s come together anyway. Because a rainbow’s not a rainbow without all the different colors.”

Tempel, understandably, has been very outspoken about this change and what it means to her class. When speaking with CNN, Tempel said that the purpose of the concert was to “[try] to support inclusivity” and that the love and acceptance piece, and being who you are, I don’t think there’s anything political about that.” She also noted that this was not the first time the district has taken extreme measures when it comes to rainbow-themed things. According to Tempel, last year ​​administrators “asked teachers throughout the district to take down rainbow decor and to stop wearing rainbow lanyards or clothing,” which seems a pretty clear infringement of their freedom of speech.

On top of apparently hating rainbow-colored socks and hats, Waukesha County school board is also pretty transphobic as well. Earlier this year, the board sent out a resolution stating that no teacher should “call minor students by names, nicknames or pronouns other than commonly shortened or abbreviated full names or pronouns consistent with the student’s biological sex, without written permission from the parent.” So any trans kids going to school within the district can’t feel safe to express their identity with their teachers because they need permission from their parents to be themselves. That’s totally chill and normal.

Thankfully, there is a mostly happy ending for Tempel and her first graders. “Rainbowland” was switched out for the song “Rainbow Connection” by Kermit the Frog and, though the song was banned from the concert list after the district initially banned the song again, it was reinstated after parent members of the Alliance for Education in Waukesha fought against it.

It’s extremely sad that kids can’t sing about being themselves and wanting the world to be more inclusive without adults seeing it as a political statement. Living without judgment or fear is not political; it’s a fundamental human right that seems to be slipping away more and more each day. Thank goodness for teachers like Melissa Tempel and her co-teacher. They truly give me hope that maybe, just maybe, the kids will be okay.

(featured image: Lester Cohen/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)


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Kayla Harrington
Kayla Harrington (she/her) is a staff writer who has been working in digital media since 2017, starting at Mashable before moving to BuzzFeed and now here at The Mary Sue. She specializes in Marvel (Wanda Maximoff did nothing wrong!), pop culture, and politics. When she's not writing or lurking on TikTok, you can find Kayla reading the many unread books on her shelves or cuddling with one of her four pets. She's also a world class chef (according to her wife) and loves to try any recipe she can find.