Thursday, October 27, 2011

Schools and Halloween

On one October, several children in the Children's Ministry came up to me and told me that their teachers forced them to join the Halloween parade. They gave their teachers the parent signed letter excusing them from Halloween celebrations with the reason why. They told their teachers they don't want to join the parade. But their teachers gave them costumes and forced them to join anyway.

There's a debate going on about whether or not schools should celebrate Halloween. Religious groups chime in with arguments that Halloween infringes on their beliefs. I don't agree with them. Yes, my church's stance is we don't celebrate Halloween. Yes, I'm the one that wrote the generic letter excusing students from Halloween celebrations, and I pass it out to parents every October. But that's the thing. A letter of excuse. Opt out basically. Parents have the legal right to opt their children from any school activities, including Halloween celebrations. It's a hard and unpopular position to be in, especially for a child. But children do know how to say "no."

Opponents of the stance of religious groups cry out, "Separation of church and state!" So tell me why the teachers (state) forced our children (church) to participate in something against our beliefs. Where's the separation in that? I say we boil it down to respect. We respect the schools' decision on whether or not they celebrate Halloween, but schools need to respect the students who opt out.

But the debate about schools and Halloween isn't just religious. It's not just Ann Foley from John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Somerville, Mass. There are schools that are banned costumes, schools that stopped having the parade, and schools that replaced candies with healthy alternatives. And there are so many reasons: health, distraction, safety, student exclusion, cultural awareness*, and even as an attempt to stop the teasing on students who don't dress up.

Parents are saying the schools are being too politically correct. Were they too politically correct by replacing the use of "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays" and replacing Christmas carols with more inclusive holiday songs? This time, the schools have reasons beyond separation of church and state. But people can't seem to see that. We hear "separation of church and state" and think that religious beliefs should not impose on public school students. But shouldn't it also be vice versa? Public schools shouldn't impose on the students' religious beliefs (and it's not just the Christian religion mind you).

Sock it all. School should be school.

Think Halo-Halo, Think Filipino!
*Cultural Awareness: My first Halloween, I went to school dressed up as a witch because my teacher told us we have to dress up. In class, we stood up one by one to show and tell our costumes. That's the only time I dressed up, and I didn't like any part of the experience. I picked a witch because it was the easiest and first thing that came to my mind. We don't have Halloween in the PI, and I thought: this is a big hassle for a waste of time, why are kids asking candies from strangers, I'm too old for this, and what did Halloween activity sheets have to do with school? I was 11 years old. And all the years after that, I've seen class time spent on Halloween stuff but I never learned the actual history and origin of it. So what did I learn? That I'm tougher than I seem.

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