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November 02, 2010


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My first thought, Bry, is that you MUST continue to press for an explanation - since when are policies allowed to be handed down from on high? Is this a dictatorship?? In Vermont???

Another thought is to have a gathering at your house to teach anyone who wants to know what "Halloween" is really about - the history and facts, not the commercialism and horror films. This is a subject dear to my heart, as every year I find my dearest most sacred holiday turned completely on its ear and become devoid of all meaning of honoring ancestors and connecting to those past.

Then you can have another gathering to teach about the value of protest in this country - freedom of information, of religion, and freedom to QUESTION - why are we so afraid to question???!!!??? Makes me nuts....another sore spot.

Anyway, that's just off the top of my head. Very interested in continuing this dialogue. The issue of accurate information and an informed populace is VERY key to my ethos as a Healer, Minister and a Priestess. As Harlan says, you are only entitled to your INFORMED opinion.....

Keep up the fight, my friend

Bob Watson

Re separation of church and state ... I think the "traditional" argument can be made that Halloween is a Christian holiday (All Hallow's Eve) and thus to be avoided. Also, I rather suspect that some of the "fundamentalist" disdain of Halloween is it's prior existence as a church holiday, with the devil to be avoided actually being the Catholic Church.

Bryan Alexander

I'll do that, Claire. I'm not having a lot of luck with that explanation, though. I'm being told contradictory things, and advised to set the Halloween bit aside for now.
I'm also being told the kids are happy, and all is well.

Good one, Bob. The All Hallow's bit has not come up even once, probably because Vermont's very Protestant. I haven't heard any of the fundamentalist arguments yet, but that's also very Vermont: religion being a private thing.

Tommy Grand

"A second request: what should we do next? Is this something for our mountain town to accept... Is it worth continuing to ask for information?"

Yes. Keep pressing the administration to provide the putative legal basis for its action. I expect they will eventually admit: "Well, it may not be technically illegal, but we have the authority to decide..."

This course may not save all hallow's eve, but it will make them reconsider attempts to silence legitimate dissent with bogus legal arguments in the future.


This makes me crazy. As the parent of a kindergartener, I've been curiously watching her experience this year and trying to compare and contrast it to my own recollections of grade school.

So far, I've already caught whiffs of pseudo-politically correct actions being wielded in order to, IMHO, make the school experience "less complicated." Because our kids couldn't possibly be expected to navigate the complicated terrain of growing up, meeting people from different backgrounds, experiencing ideas that might be unfamiliar/uncomfortable. No, it would be ridiculous to expect children to absorb the complicated, messy, fantastic thing that is HUMAN EXPERIENCE and survive it unscathed. And, really, our goal is for our children to emerge unscathed, unharmed, unscared, and unscarred.

Better for them to wait until they're 18 when they can emerge into the "real world" (or college) and THEN they can start to actually experience the peril and wonder of life. That will be really comfortable for them.

Our Halloween experience involved the school sending home letters that children were ONLY allowed to dress as super heros for their party. (Absolutely no weapons, though!) I thought it was a shame that many young children who had actually spent a lot of time dreaming up their Halloween costumes couldn't just share those creations with the class. Instead, they were asked to do it over, this time within a carefully constrained, controlled category of acceptability.

Grrr. . .argh. Fight on.

Bob Watson

So ... the school is pandering for Warner Brothers, Disney, etc.? Methinks someone didn't think this through.


Given the wide variation in school Halloween celebrations in just these few comments, I'm skeptical that there is a federal law at issue. By way of comparison, at my son's public kindergarten, there were no costumes and no party (the local school board has a no parties at school rule), but there were plenty of Halloween activities during the week, in the form of stories, songs, decoration, and student artwork.

Sorry to hear that the petitioners were treated so poorly. I'm impressed at the maturity of their response.

Doug R.

Yeah, fight on. Who's advising you to move on? I wouldn't. The kids might be happy, but what about the two that tore up their petition in that truly ugly "teachable moment"? It is a teachable moment, but I think you're in the shoes of the teacher in this case.

I wouldn't let it go. Obviously it's done for this year, but what about next?

We've got huge problems in our schools and in our culture. Fear of liability, fear of offending people, fear of complexity, fear of adversity...my god(s), when did Americans get so bloody afraid of everything and thin-skinned?

The equity issue explanation drives me nuts. As if kids don't wear costumes every day. As if equity issues aren't built into our beloved economic system. But we can't see them? Then are they wrong? If so, then what about...oh, forget it, I guess I'm a communist and mean to boot.

The legal explanation is frightening and needs to be challenged.

Everyone is fond of saying our schools are not democracies. I find this crass. My 2nd-grader's classroom has its own currency and biweekly "company store"--so is school a capitalist economy? I guess so. But not a democracy. Teachers and administrators say this, usually with a smile, to assure parents that they are in control of all our scary rogue youth, and to excuse themselves from any teaching of civics at all. Can you gather a bunch of elementary school students together and ask them to think through any issues associated with celebrating Halloween? Can they come up with a good set of guidelines so that the celebration can continue. Why not? I find it amazing how afraid people are of treating kids like reasonable creatures, or investing the time to start teaching them decision-making and governance.

Unless of course you don't want them to be critical decision makers or capable of self-governance.

I'm convinced that's actually what is happening. Compulsory schooling is relatively recent and serves several masters: an industrial economy, a massive state historically worried about control over the population, and of course the institution itself, keeping itself going and growing and costing more money.

Our city spends about $17,000 per student per year on "education". Yet as a parent I have very little say in what our paid agents of the state do with my child. My child has very little say for that matter.

We could put kids in groups of 10 and pay a teacher $170,000 a year to education our children. Get rid of the big buildings and the administration. The teacher is responsible for all supplies and for organizing enrichment activities, so a portion of this huge salary should be utilized for that. Sounds insane, right, but think about the possibilities! So many people are unhappy with the current system, yet we're too scared (there's that fear again) to change things.

Maybe we don't have enough of Halloween, which, among other things, should teach us to manage fear and get on with the hard work of making our lives useful--and our communities better.

Okay, sorry for the rant.



Control freaks in positions of power, overstepping the bounds. What else is new. I LOVE "we haunt every medium we make".

Bryan Alexander

Here's a comment from another friend and reader, Mike Sellers, forwarded in email:

"My guess, Bryan, is that this has little to do with church and state, paganism, religion in general, or even equity.

Instead, I suspect the most likely explanation is a utilitarian one: the principal didn't want to have to deal with potentially inappropriate costumes and the inevitable disciplinary and parental hassles that go along with that. This would include anything kids might wear, however innocently, that could be seen as mocking groups, politicians, religions, sexual orientation, etc., or simply as being inappropriate for a school day even in costume form.

In other words this probably isn't a high-principled stand, but one born of a desire to avoid a hassle.

Further, my guess is that the faculty discussed this and either agreed to this or had it handed to them by the principal, who then neglected to tell anyone else, and was left scrambling when kids showed up with costumes and parents showed up with questions ("federal law" - always a nice fallback). Pity that she wasn't more forthcoming, either with actual reasons, or with an explanation that she had simply screwed up. But this sort of CYA behavior is hardly news.

I do think you should dig into this though: get an official response from the principal on what legal grounds she was using, and from the school district on whether this is a publicly vetted policy or a one-tie anomaly.

Letting this slide is exactly how petty dictatorships gain power, how decisions of convenience become tradition, and how idiocy in general prevails. "


All I can say is, if I were those petitioners' teacher, I'd be encouraging them to continue with the petition. I'd encourage them to rewrite it now.


Most parents I know encourage their kids to dress as (cuddly) apex predators and regard fructose as an agent of demonic possession, so probably this is about craving blood - I mean the rejection of a holiday that has drifted too far from its roots in ritual sacrifice.

Bryan Alexander

Many thanks, friends, for your helpful and supportive comments.

Re: pressing the school, Tommy, Tidmarsh: they talked up a storm, trying out all kinds of possible reasons. The only one that survived discussion was... Martha and Doug, you'll love this: a desire to not offend any parents. Seriously.

Terrific comment, Doug.

Bob, I'm betting the admin didn't think parents would react. It's either a kind of high-handedness or a very inward-looking stance.

Mike, this seems to have been handed to the faculty.

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