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Take Note: Topical ballad; Safekeeping

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In Waukegan, Ill., music teachers caused a stir recently when they assigned a group of 4th- and 5th-grade students to write a verse relating to the O.J. Simpson murder case. Students were asked to think up lines from the perspective of Mr. Simpson's slain former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, for a so-called "Ballad of O.J. and Nicole."

Some parents found the assignment distasteful and inappropriate for elementary school. One parent complained to the Waukegan school board that the lesson had no educational value beyond what children could pick up from television and from the covers of supermarket tabloids.

Waukegan district officials declined to comment to Education Week other than to say they thought the incident had been blown out of proportion.

Two music instructors working temporarily at Cooke Magnet School through an artists-in-residence program had assigned the lesson. The instructors reportedly gave students examples of other ballads written about tragic events and then approved the students' choice of the Simpson case as the basis for a similar ballad.

The assignment even included a suggested list of words for rhyming, such as glove, dna, and Bronco.

A district official told the Chicago Tribune that the two teachers agreed to cancel a classroom performance of the ballads after parents complained.

Nineteen figurines that have been sitting in a safe in a Norfolk, Va., school building for 22 years have turned out to be worth a small fortune.

School officials believed that the art objects--donated anonymously in 1972 to the Norfolk school district--were brass.

But, when Sharon L. Hill, the director of art education for the district, inspected the pieces, she discovered that they were, in fact, pre-Columbian gold, more than 1,000 years old, and worth an estimated $500,000.

"Until they were polished, they looked like brass," said George Raiss, the spokesman for the Norfolk public schools.

The pieces--including several figurines of chieftains with headdresses and a turtle with two heads--are now on loan to the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, where they will be exhibited later this year.

--Mark Walsh & Jessica Portner

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