Halloween can be a great way to learn about — and conquer — bias

Another morning at the bus stop. OK, well it’s Halloween morning, but none of the kids are in costumes. Most of them consider themselves too old for that — at least at school — but you can bet they’ll be scooping up a little bit of candy tonight. This is only a stepping off point for this column, though. It’s not just Halloween anymore.
The costumes started the conversation. Fortunately, the 6-year-old’s school still acknowledges this pagan custom, which is really all about honoring the dead (no, not The Dead). The only caveat, and it’s a reasonable one at that, is that the kids must be able to dress themselves, and the costume must fit over the uniform they wear to school each day.
No teacher is equipped to oversee the dressing of 30 or so squirmy young ones who need her right NOW; nor does a teacher want a classroom full of parents and students, trying to get costumed.
All in all, it certainly seems to be a reasonable request.
This bus-stop observation hop-scotched to a discussion about how some schools have banished the practice of celebrating Halloween altogether. It’s to respect the families that don’t celebrate Halloween, or to protect the kids who aren’t wearing costumes that day from the potential ridicule of their peers, or simply feeling excluded.
Now, I’m not going to go off on one of those “when I was a kid” rants here. You know the ones you see on Facebook: “Click ‘Like’ if you used to ride a bike without a helmet, stay out and play until the streetlights came on, and drank out of the garden hose when you were a kid — and you turned out OK.”
To me, Halloween and certain other holidays provide educational institutions a prime opportunity to teach and demonstrate diversity and tolerance, in a way that kids can see, understand, and ask questions about.
“Guess what, kids! We are NOT all the same. But we need to learn about that, and how to respect each other, especially if someone seems different than you.”
Do you really want to help kids overcome discrimination? Allow them explore this topic in an educational setting, with a respected adult guiding the discourse.
Instead, our solution is to hide it in th corner and pretend it doesn’t really exist. What message does that send to kids? They know certain people, certain classmates observe different practices or live their lives differently than you do, whether it’s cultural, religious, or stricter family values.
Unfortunately, we can’t expect children to learn about respect and tolerance on their own, or even in their home setting. It’s not about teaching morals. It’s learning about discrimination and diversity.
I want to share something a friend of mine experienced, that shows that learning at school about discrimination, diversity and the power that words have to hurt can have a positive impact.
These are her words, but I’ve removed the names (to protect the innocent!)
“I have to say how proud I am of my daughter. Last week we were in the car together and I was saying how I didn’t care for someone because he/she is a show off, and I said to my daughter, ‘Do you know what I mean?’ and she answered me back by saying, ‘Mommy, I’m not going to say anything mean about anyone. I took the ‘Rachel pledge’ at school today to be nice to everyone.’
“I didn’t know what that was so she explained it to me. And I was very proud for two reasons: 1) That she took a pledge she made at school seriously (most kids don’t), and 2) that she had the guts to stand up to her mother!
“I always thought parents were supposed to teach their children, but I learn how to be a better person every day by watching my daughter. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but I am grateful for the kind, sweet, loving, compassionate and generous person she is at just 13 years old!

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