Friday, October 30, 2009

Taking the Fun Out of Halloween

Schools Set Restrictions on Halloween Costumes:

Guns, daggers and other toy weapons have long been excisedfrom costumes at many school celebrations on Halloween. But in some classrooms across the country, the interpretation of what is too scary — or offensive, gross or saddening — is now also leading to an abundance of caution and some prohibitions.

In a school district in Illinois, students are being encouraged to dress up as historical characters or delicious food items rather than vampires or zombies. In Texas, a school has issued suggestions for “positive costumes” for the annual Halloween dance. At Riverside Drive, a Los Angeles public school in the San Fernando Valley, the Halloween parade is being defanged right down to its jagged fingertips.

A memo about costume appropriateness sent home recently by Riverside Drive’s principal made the following points:

¶They should not depict gangs or horror characters, or be scary.

¶Masks are allowed only during the parade.

¶Costumes may not demean any race, religion, nationality, handicapped condition or gender.

¶No fake fingernails.

¶No weapons, even fake ones.

¶Shoes must be worn.
Er, isn't banning "scary" costumes at Halloween kind of like banning Turkey at Thanksgiving? And who makes the determination of a costume which "demeans" someone? Don't costumes like "Cinderella" or "Snow White" perpetuate gender stereotypes? Might "Harry Potter" characters be seen as anti-religious? Aren't vampire costumes "offensive" to real vampires?

I have to confess, the "what is appropriate" question went through our household the other day. My oldest son went as New York Yankee's 3rd baseman Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod is his hero), and he wanted to take his bat to school. We went back and forth about it, finally deciding that a baseball bat would probably be deemed a "weapon" these days amongst the second grade set and end up being confiscated. So he took his glove.
Parents and some educators said that restrictions like those at Riverside Drive often stemmed from a desire to protect smaller children from freakishly scary costumes, to maintain classroom order (spray-on hair color is often banned, for instance, because children tend to spray it all day long) and to keep from demeaning groups through costumes that play on stereotypes. Those guidelines discourage fake weapons, costumes that mock race or gender and anything too sexy; French maids are explicitly discouraged.
LOL. Isn't that "offensive" and mocking towards French maids? What have French maids ever done to be targeted in such a discriminatory and stereotypical way?

This kind of behavioral navel-gazing is precisely what is wrong with schools today. In our attempt to "criminalize," by school statute, every possible thing a child could do that might "offend" someone, you end up making school a kind of hyper-vigilant, politically correct prison. And in the process, the magic and fun of Halloween is reduced to pages and pages of bureaucratic memoranda, rules, regulations and codes.

Talk about frightening.

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