XTC song ‘Dear God’ gets Hamilton elementary school teacher suspended after complaint

Marc Weisblott
National Affairs Reporter
Daily Brew

An Ontario teacher is under investigation after dredging up a 25-year-old song by British new wave band XTC for his elementary school's poetry class.

John Orme introduced the song "Dear God" to his grades 6 and 7 classes at Gordon Price School in Hamilton and asked them to elaborate on the lyrics, which question the existence of God by citing human suffering on Earth.

It left one 12-year-old girl in tears and her mother, Amanda Griffiths, saying it's inappropriate for students younger than university age.

"I hate this because I believe in God and always will," responded her daughter Kelsey, who was raised Roman Catholic, in a Hamilton Spectator story.

A formal complaint was filed against Orme, who has been suspended by the public school board pending an investigation. A supply teacher has replaced him.

The song was initially left off the band's 1986 album because singer-songwriter Andy Partridge didn't think he adequately addressed the weighty subject of questioning belief in a higher power.

Yet, after it appeared on the B-side of a single, it was discovered by enough tastemakers to become a hit song all its own

The teacher's suspension drew the attention of the Centre for Inquiry, best known for buying advertising space to promote atheism, including on public transit buses across Canada.

"What's the role of public education?" the centre's national director Justin Trottier asked during an interview with Toronto's Newstalk 1010. "Is it to feed children a set of rote answers to math questions, science questions, literature questions?

"Or, is it to give them the tools of critical thinking . . . when they're already at the age of 12 being bombarded by all sorts of complicated life choices and decisions?"

Partridge explained in a 2006 interview, around the time XTC called it quits, the concept was inspired by "Dear God" books comprised of letters from children.

"I liked the idea of writing to God to address the fact that I didn't believe he existed," he explained. "I just wanted the thing to come back with an angelic stamp on it, saying 'Return to Sender.' Written in fiery letters!"

The inspiration was underscored by a first verse, and last line, sung by the 8-year-old daughter of a friend of producer Todd Rundgren.

The cover of the "Dear God" single, which featured a pen with a crucifixion nail going through a hand, was rejected by some U.K. retailers.

But the provocative subject helped the song get airplay across North America, and its video regular rotation on MuchMusic in Canada, which boosted sales after it was added to the "Skylarking" album.

The report on the suspension, meanwhile, suggested no other parent outwardly agreed with the concern of the one who complained.

"I think it's ridiculous," said one. "That's why these kids go to school. To learn to think for themselves."