"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
- Neil deGrasse Tyson
As a teacher, how do you deal with Easter, Christmas, and Halloween in the classroom? What are your thoughts and ideals about those events?
I have seen Neil deGrasse Tyson described as a national treasure and he is someone for whom I have a great deal of respect. He is not highly intelligent, but he has the ability to explain often complex concepts in a way that makes them accessible without talking down to people. He has always come across in interviews that I have seen, as being an incredibly down to Earth and ordinary man.
As some of us do, I have some quite strong beliefs about a number of things as an individual that influence how I would like to raise my daughter, but which I am struggling to reconcile as a professional in my teaching practice. I would like you to think about some of the sensible beliefs and practices we, as teachers and parents both, work to instill in our children.
If you have not already done so, I would encourage you to go back and watch the above interview with Tyson.
"That's what it's all about right? That's what it's always been about! Gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts! Do you know what happens to your gifts? They all come to me...in your garbage. Do you see what I'm saying here? IN YOUR GARBAGE! I could hang myself with all the bad Christmas neckties I found at the dump! And the avarice! The avarice never ends! "I want golf clubs!" "I want diamonds!" "I want a pony so I can ride it twice, get bored, and send it away to make glue!" Look, I don't wanna make waves here, but this WHOLE Christmas season is STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!"
- The Grinch (from the 2000 movie)
I do not like Christmas. The idea that we have to spend so much money people whom we often do not like to show them that we like them and that we can afford to spend money is just ridiculous and the wastefulness during Christmas both materially with packaging and wrapping paper, and with Christmas Cards that go in the bin only a few days later is phenomenal. As parents, we get cranky with our children they demand particular toys, or if they sulk when they get what they want. We do not let them go up to strangers and ask for things. We get cranky when our children lie.
But at Christmas time, we encourage our students to demand things from a fictitious man who we have lied to our children about the existence of by having them write Dear Santa, this year for Christmas I want.... We then take our students for a photo with a complete stranger we know nothing about, often forcing them to be in the photo, often forcing them if the number of photos I have seen with screaming children are anything to go buy. If they get sulky because they did not get what they want at Christmas, it is often called cute. Societally, we then tell people that what they gave us was not good enough by spending, in 2017, $2.4 billion dollars on stuff at the Boxing Day Sales (source).
That said, I love Christmas because it is a guarantee chance to spend a few hours with family. This past Christmas was amusing as we spent Christmas day with my wife's family and both of my brothers-in-law have daughters who were born six and eight weeks respectively after my daughter. Three little girls who are all cheeky in different ways and were all toddling around the house was incredibly cute and you could see the joy on the the faces of the family.
As you may have guessed, I do not plan on doing Santa with my daughter and it is something my wife and have been debating the handling of for a long time. But where I am finding a professional dilemma is in the classroom when it comes to the lead up of Easter, Halloween, and Christmas. As teachers we should not be imposing our beliefs on students. And so I have struggled with those events. It has been made easier the last few years as I have been either job-sharing or team-teaching and simply allowed my partner to do any activities relating to those events.
It is becoming something that I am feeling increasingly uncomfortable with; due, I think, to becoming a parent and feeling the way I do. The way that Neil deGrasse Tyson addresses it seems like a reasonable compromise, challenging the students to think critically for themselves. Is that an approach that could be taken in the classroom without causing too much uproar, do you think?
I would love to hear your thoughts on this, and whether you agree or disagree about the inculcation into the capitalist-fantasy world of the Easter bunny, Santa, and Hallowe'en.
Thank you for reading.