Every October there seems to arise some controversy as to whether or not public schools should be permitted to celebrate Halloween. While it's true that Halloween has roots in religious belief systems, some coming from older "pagan" cultures, and some traditions coming from older Christian traditions, to the majority of the American people, it is nothing more than a quirky secular holiday. (Click here to see my previous post on the history of Halloween)
It's sad that schools where children are supposed to be taught about multiple cultures, perspectives, and learn about appreciating diversity are now the places of forced sterilization of culture. If something is seen as different from one local ethnic or religious group, protests begin that "it".. whatever custom "it" might be.. should be purged from the school calendar and from practice. This means that everything from Jack-o-lanterns, Christmas trees and Carols to Easter eggs are going the way of dinosaurs in our public schools. Is this a positive or negative trend? Are we helping or hurting our children?
Coming from a Social Studies teaching background, I'm a big fan of multiple diversities and customs being expressed within the classroom. Many of our schools have become a mini United Nations over the past few decades, with multiple ethnic and religious groups merging in districts that were once quite ethnocentric. As teachers, we are encouraged to celebrate all cultures and traditions when possible, rather than just reserving diversity to the "little blue box" in pages of the text book.. separating that information from the mainstream text, or by having "multi-cultural days" spread out throughout the school year.
Instead of eliminating these holidays and observances which have been part of the traditions of our schools and country for so many year, let's use these holidays to educate the students about the origins and history of these observances, tracing their roots back throughout the history of our country, and the countries from which they came. Instead of removing holidays like Christmas because of the religious undertone, why not add MORE holidays and festivities to the calendar? Celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yom Kippur, Ramadan, and any other observances that may reflect the cultural make up of the students in the school. Holidays are wonderful ways to TEACH children about different cultures and the people who celebrate them. Having a Christmas tree in a school doesn't mean the children are forced to worship in a Christian Church, but serves as an example of another cultural aspect that makes up our nation.
How can we teach diversity and respect for other cultures when we constantly protest to have the very expressions of those cultures removed from public life? Appreciate diversity, and celebrate it!