An elementary school in Massachusetts has decided to cancel all Halloween events, saying the holiday is not inclusive and can be awkward for some children. Perhaps for this year only, the rejection of Halloween would open the door for an important history lesson which the school could remember instead.
“Halloween is a holiday that not all families celebrate and — for a variety of reasons — some Mitchell families keep their children home from school on that day,” Gregory Bayse, principal of Mitchell Elementary School in Needham, wrote in a letter to families, local ABC channel WCVB reported. He quoted one teacher who said there was “awkwardness planning a class celebration knowing that not all of her students would be able to participate.”
Bayse admitted, “For many years Mitchell has celebrated Halloween in class parties and a parade of students in costume.” Even so, he said that the faculty was “near-unanimous in believing” that the school should stop hosting Halloween events.
“I recognize that this decision will be disappointing to some,” the principal wrote. He insisted, however, that “in the long-term any change towards including all children is a positive change that will benefit our students and our community.”
At least one dad expressed his disappointment that the Halloween events would be canceled. “It’s fun! I can’t see why people want to preclude kids from having fun, and enjoy something that’s more cultural,” Jon Cohan, the father of two girls, told CBS Boston. “There’s no real religious significance to anything about Halloween. It’s just a thing where kids get candy.”
Another dad, however, said he was fine with the change. “I don’t feel it’s related to overall learning,” Matthew Roy told the station. “It’s important for kids to have fun but it is a choice, per family. We definitely like to celebrate with our kids.”
Instead of Halloween, the school will hold a celebration called William Mitchell Day on November 9, to commemorate the school’s founder and to celebrate the season of autumn.
Alternately, the school — and other schools across America — could celebrate Reformation Day on October 31, 2017. This is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting the “95 Theses” to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. This event launched the Reformation, a religious and political movement that altered the history of Europe and the entire world.
Following the Reformation, Christian denominations struggled for dominance, and eventually in the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, local leaders were given the authority to determine which religion their people would accept. This was an early step towards religious freedom and religious pluralism.
The Reformation has been credited with the strengthening of free markets, the establishment of limited government, and beginning the long movement toward religious freedom in the West.
Whether students come from Protestant or Catholic backgrounds, Christian or non-Christian families, they should learn about this important historic event, and celebrate the religious freedom and toleration in the modern world.
October 31, 2015 marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, and this is the perfect year for schools to acknowledge this important event. This lesson would carry much greater educational value than a Halloween party, but it could also be fun. Students could be encouraged to dress up as religious leaders from any part of the world or any era. Children could have fun and learn important lessons at the same time.
Schools do not need to reject Halloween in order to celebrate or remember Reformation Day. But if schools like Mitchell Elementary will be rejecting Halloween anyway, they might as well adopt a more educational alternative.