The Sad Death of Halloween

October 2007

I've seen the stories about schoolchildren who can't play dodge ball or tag anymore because of the fear from overprotective adults that kids might get "singled out," and I always roll my eyes in frustration. I understand the logic behind these decisions - I just don't agree with it. I feel the same way when I see stories like the one that appeared this week in the Rocky Mountain News regarding the death of Halloween in one Broomfield school:

There won't be little ghosts and goblins at Kohl Elementary School this Halloween. In a newsletter sent home to parents last week, principal Cindy Kaier wrote that the traditional Halloween party celebrated in classrooms each year will be replaced by a fall party. The party is Friday, and since it is focused on fall, not Halloween, kids can't wear costumes. Parents expressed frustration they weren't included in the decision. Kids are used to having parties on special occasions and holidays, so it's hard to explain a random Oct. 5 party to a kid, said parent Brook Kimber... ...The decision came after an ongoing discussion culminated two weeks ago in an "emotional" meeting with teachers, during which the discussion focused on school holiday parties and how Kohl could continue to celebrate without leaving out anyone. At the meeting Monday for parents and staff, Kaier said it was a hard decision. The Halloween party, which is organized by classroom parents, has morphed into a fall party over the past three years with an emphasis on fall, with leaves and pumpkins and less blood and guts, she said. Last year, kids in grades three through five voted on whether to wear costumes. Some classrooms chose to wear them, some did not. She pointed out the small percentage of kids who are left out because their parents can't afford costumes or because their families don't celebrate Halloween. Kaier and her staff also cited safety concerns when kids bring fake knives or blood to school as costume accessories. The party is only an hour and the more time it takes them to transform into Dracula, the less time they have to actually party, she said.

First off, citing the "safety concerns" of fake blood and knives is ridiculous. Is that four-foot-tall kid dressed like Freddy Krueger from "Nightmare on Elm Street" really a homicidal maniac, or is he just wearing a costume? What about the child dressed as a "Transformer?" Is he really an evil robot? Obviously the safety concern is the most ridiculous of the arguments for eliminating Halloween parties, but I don't agree with the other rationales, either. As the News writes:

No one, however, had a good way to include an uncomfortable kid whose family doesn't celebrate Halloween. "In my class of 26, if I've got one kid in the room that doesn't celebrate Halloween ... if I have to send one kid home because they feel weird or they feel ostracized, I have failed at my job," said fourth-grade teacher Jim Tingley.

I thought about this for awhile when I read that quote, and I completely understand where Tingley is coming from. But I still don't agree with him. In fact - and I don't want to single out Tingley here - I think we are actually failing our kids by doing everything we can to protect them from hurting their feelings. I fear that we are going to end up, 10 years from now, with a bunch of mis-adjusted adults who can't understand why their boss is being mean to them for not doing their job correctly. When we try to protect children from everything, don't we also leave them incredibly vulnerable and exposed when they grow up? When we cancel Halloween, we're teaching kids that you'll never be left out of a celebration. When we cancel dodge ball, we're teaching kids that you'll never be singled out for a weakness. There's one big problem with that logic: It's not true. You will be left out of things in life. You will be singled out for weaknesses. You can't isolate kids now and pat yourself on the back because they didn't feel sad when they were under your umbrella, because they might just take it even harder when it happens later. In trying so hard to protect kids from having hurt feelings, I think we're also assuming a lot that we shouldn't assume. One of my best friends growing up never celebrated Halloween because his family didn't believe in it. I remember talking about it once in high school, but other than that I don't think he ever mentioned it; I don't want to speak for him, but I am virtually certain that it wasn't a big deal for him. And forget about what message we are teaching kids - what about the 99% of the kids who do celebrate Halloween? Don't we have some sort of obligation to them? The solution here isn't to eliminate celebrations in order to protect kids - it's to celebrate and recognize more events. We should recognize Rosh Hashana. We should recognize Halloween. You don't have to participate, but it doesn't hurt to be exposed to something that other people celebrate.

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