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Don’t Be the Teacher Who Screws Up Halloween

By Ross Brenneman — October 27, 2015 3 min read
Carved pumpkin outdoors.
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It’s almost Halloween. This is a moment of the year that a majority of Americans will enjoy.

There are numbers that bear this out: According to the National Retail Federation, over 157 million Americans will spend a collective $6.9 billion during the Halloween season this year. That figure includes $2.5 billion on costumes and $2.1 billion in candy. I will personally watch “The Nightmare Before Christmas” seven times.

While most Halloween traditions will proceed in schools as normal, though, there are always some traps to watch out for.

Costumes Gone Wrong

For example, it’s going to be a week where you see the tangible outcomes of poor judgment.

Here’s one example, via Talking Point Memo:

“A white elementary school teacher in Alabama apologized on Monday for wearing blackface to dress up as rap artist Kanye West for a Halloween party.”

This is one of many stories of Halloween-costumes-gone-wrong waiting to happen. The teacher in question didn’t dress that way for a school function; it was a private party, according to TPM, so while it might not matter what occupation the offender has, his access to the minds of young people is worth considering; the teacher later apologized.

Last year, my former colleague, Jordan Moeny, wrote about the efforts of some groups to make Halloween costumes more culturally sensitive than they tend to be. Read that piece. Put an annual reminder in whatever calendar software you use to re-read and share it during October, because these issues come up in schools every year.

And then there are the retailers who manufacture costumes that have racism built right into them. Perhaps Halloween offers a golden opportunity to explore cultural appropriation with students.

Traditions Die Hard

Halloween is a cherished moment for many Americans; lots of children are going to relish the chance to dress up as Kylo Ren or Queen Elsa or some other beloved Disney copyright violation. Schools know this— but they’re also often aware that Halloween can cause bad experiences and distractions for students and for schools themselves. (See above.)

Milford Public Schools, in Connecticut, attempted to move Halloween traditions out of the school day and into the evening this year, in order to make the festivities more voluntary and involve parents; administrators instead got ripped apart for “banning Halloween.” Eventually, superintendent Elizabeth Feser had to send out a letter addressing the complaints and reinstating the old traditions as well:

“Sad to say, while careful and sensitive thought went into the decision to celebrate Halloween at a school/PTA-sponsored major event outside of the school day, there are those who unmercifully attacked the decision, falsely accusing the Milford Public School for banning Halloween. We have been accused of being un-American, of denying children participation in an American tradition, and that we should be ashamed.”

Public outrage can haunt a district better than any ghost.

Candy Nonsense

High levels of sugar are bad for kids’ health, and students are likely to be exposed to tons of it this week. And now children might not even get the traditional Halloween treat of bacon-wrapped sausage!

Some schools have experimented with limiting candy consumption, though. In 2013, Education Week contributing writer Julie Blair wrote about a district that replaced traditional Halloween activities with events that better reflected curricula, including a read-aloud event dubbed “Trick-or-TReading.” If you’ve seen other things like that, mention it in the comments—especially if anybody felt good about how things went afterward.

And maybe school programs that divest themselves from unhealthy snacks make some sense, considering that according to an informal survey by Influenster, residents of several states prefer candy corn to all other Halloween sweets. If true, this is, objectively, disgusting. Candy corn is bad and we should feel bad for allowing it.


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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.