The Irascible Professor SM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

"Just as the right to speak and the right to refrain from speaking are complementary components of a broader concept of individual freedom of mind, so also the individual's freedom to choose his own creed is the counterpart of his right to refrain from accepting the creed established by the majority."....  ...John Paul Stevens, Associate Justice, U.S. Supreme Court.

Commentary of the Day - December 23, 2002:  Merry Christmas Happy Holidays.  Guest commentary by Beverly Carol Lucey.

Bill O'Reilly, the joyously dyspeptic host of Fox News, lobbed another shot at the ACLU, as if the ACLU is against freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and anti- Santa.  In a  column (Dec 6) O'Reilly took a look around the country.  He saw a few instances of public schools adjusting their plans, decorations, and ceremonies this season.  He thinks this is a bad thing.

Where has O'Reilly been?   Has he only now become aware that for the last thirty years schools have stopped answering, "This is the way we've always done it," regarding procedures and policy?  Instead, school communities have responded to changing populations, new perceptions, and old ideas by holding them up for examination.  In most cases, it was not the ACLU or the threat of a lawsuit that prompted change.  Indeed, a couple of phone calls from a couple of parents might call an educator's attention to the fact that things we took for granted when we were growing up might need another look see.

Before we take up the issue of December and its myriad festivals, consider the following adjustments that have been made as schools adapt and change.

My elementary school had a traditional fundraising performance.  The whole school got involved.  We raised money for....I don't know what.  It didn't matter.  We had fun.  We got to sing, dance, wear costumes and makeup.  Our parents came to see us.  They clapped, we smiled, and afterwards we all got hot fudge sundaes from Richardson’s Home Made Ice Cream Parlor.  Is that image a perfect shot of Americana, or what.

Until one day our teacher, Miss Murphy, came in with a look on her face.  A scary look.  You didn't want to cross Miss Murphy when Miss Murphy was feeling cross.  She spit out the message, “Our show is canceled.  They wont let us do it anymore.  Tell your parents to call the school and complain.  Get out your geography books.”

The missing piece of information in the above story is that our all white school had been doing a minstrel show for two decades.  Boys were decorated in black face, became 'end men.'  They learned how to shuffle, drawl, act scared, and get kicked in the seat of the pants.

We never thought we might be teaching something negative about black people to little white kids.  No one had complained before.  And anyway, there weren't any black kids around to get their feelings hurt.  What was the big deal now?  Those Negroes should lighten up.  We didn't mean anything by it.
And hasn't the legislature got more important things to do than to pass laws against getting duded up in corky black face?  Why did the folks at the Massachusetts State House want to ruin a good time for families and little kids in our town?

After a year's hiatus, the Samuel Brown Elementary School put on a variety show.  We raised money for....I still don't know what.  It didn't matter.  We had fun. We got to sing, dance, wear costumes and makeup.  Our parents came to see us.

Zip ahead a few years.  Surely you've noticed that many school have stopped concentrating on Halloween parties.  Some parents took issue with scary costumes, bloody vampires, and the threat of vandalism that lay underneath the greeting, "Trick or Treat."  Many fundamentalist church members
protested a celebration of the occult forces a loose in the world.  It was a pagan holiday, after all. Now, most schools have Harvest Festivals instead.  Are we worse off culturally, as a result?  Parents can still send their kids to trick or treat.  They can provide whatever costumes they deem appropriate.  Local stores can decorate and have parties.  Churches can provide alternative activities such as "Trunk and Treat" in their parking lots to provide a safe begging experience, full of dress up and laughter.

Public schools, however, answer to some basic American principles of inclusion.

"For 200 years, the United States celebrated Christmas without any intrusion from the courts.  Was anyone harmed?  Were anyone's rights trampled?  All that happened was happiness for millions of American children," noted Bill O'Reilly.

Really, O'Reilly?  You think that non-Christian families -- some recent immigrants trying to fit in, or Jehovah's Witnesses, or Jews felt equally at home in schools while teachers taught carols or had students write about what they wanted for Christmas?  I assume they felt left out.  I assume they had lots of questions about what they should do to remember 'the reason for the season.'

O'Reilly says, "Jesus, you see, is not acceptable in the public discourse, according to the ACLU and other misguided groups."

Jesus is pervasive in the public discourse, as it happens. It's not just What Would Jesus Do?  It's What Would Jesus Drive?  It's moving to the south and having almost everyone ask if you have 'found a church yet.'  The stores are full of Christmas, even before Thanksgiving.  Television programming is
replete with Christmas stories and messages.  Our literature and history reflects that predominance of Christian culture.  Of course we discuss such things in classrooms everywhere.  We should. That's educational.  It's not proselytizing.

However, we have a Constitution that sets up the United States as a secular country open to all faiths.  Our government agencies, therefore, should not display images that seem to imply we are blessed by a certain monotheistic deity. A church lawn with a lighted magi is lovely.  A City Hall with a
crèche display and a sign that says, "Keep Christ in Christmas," is just wrong.

As a result, some traditions have given way to new ones.  "Where have all the wise men gone?" O'Reilly asks.  Then he protests, "Here's how ridiculous this whole thing is.  In Covington, GA the school board removed the word 'Christmas' from the school calendar.

Here's the real story.  The Covington school calendar had been altered decades ago to read, "Winter Break."  No problem.  Until  couple of years ago the school committee bent to a diatribe similar to O'Reilly’s...that we ARE a Christian country, and good Americans understand this, and we cannot bow
down to the forces of Political Correctness who want to take away our heritage and the joys of the season.  So, if you were on the forces of righteousness on that particular evening, you raised your hand to get Christmas back.  The word.  On a calendar.  It was a red flag.  Or a red herring.  Nasty letters passed back and forth.  Intemperate remarks were made on both sides.  The next year the committee voted to change the words to Holiday Vacation.

Winter Break was better.

Spring Break is better than Easter Break.

Schools need to be agents of change, not perpetuators of what used to be, when what used to be is narrow-minded, hurtful, out of date, and useless.

Peace on Earth; Good Will to All.  That is my wish this year, and every year.

©2002, Beverly Carol Lucey
And the IP wishes all his readers a peaceful holiday season, and a prosperous New Year.


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© 2002 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.