It's the last school day before Winter Vacation. What a lovely day of celebration it will be! There will be classroom parties, Christmas card or Secret Santa exchanges, games and holiday-themed activities.
No, wait. That was *my* childhood.
For a variety of reasons, our schools don't observe Christmas the way we did when I was little. And some of them make sense. For instance, where I grew up in the '60's, Christmas was the assumed celebration. At least now we understand that the world is not default white Protestant.
There was a time when Christmas celebrations evolved into learning about other observances: Hanukkah, Kwanza, Diwali, and perhaps even Ramadan, depending on the timing. Multi-cultural activities were woven into the curriculum. But as No Child Left Behind marched through our schools, less and less genuine celebration time could be justified.
Relaxation, fun, and social interaction aren't on the test, you know. (Even though they are extremely valuable life skills.)
And then there's food. Since my childhood, the rates of life-threatening food allergies have sky-rocketed. What may seem to some of us merely a happy-go-lucky childhood experience can be a genuine minefield for some students. We may not want it to be like that, but it just is.
Add to that new wellness policies, which strive to steer students away from high-sugar, high-fat, high-salt options, and for good reason. The general American diet is creating health issues related to obesity at earlier and earlier ages. When I was little, party food was a special treat, and most of the time you drank your milk and ate your vegetables. It you got thirsty at home you had a glass of water.
But now we are presented with a steady stream of food items which should really be reserved for special treat status, if at all. The school can be a place we help shape attitudes about food. I think that is a good idea. And yet I still feel sad about losing opportunities for our children to celebrate with food--it's a very human experience.
Through all of this educational and cultural change, teachers have adapted. They find a way to meet the requirements given to them while giving children a bit of seasonal joy. Pajama Day, special music, a study of penguins followed by a movie. They make it work. But I can almost guarantee you that in the schools where pressure to improve test scores is high, the freedom to engage in celebration is low.
As I was leaving one of the schools where I teach the other day, I noticed parents arriving with bags. They were signing in, and going somewhere in the school. I glanced at one bag, and saw the tell-tale pink of Touché Touchet bakery boxes. I began to wonder--classroom parties? Holiday goodies? Does anyone still do that anymore?
I realize now that they might have been bringing them for a faculty-staff reception. Or there might have been a school concert that evening, and these were the refreshments. I certainly could have been jumping to conclusions. But, just maybe--do different schools observe holiday celebrations differently? And does it matter?
Today, when it will rain instead of snow, and teachers know there will be no prospect of outdoor recess, all that matters is that we all do our best and try to get through until the final bell. Hang in there, everybody.
Tomorrow we will sleep in.
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