Originally published in the Albany Student Press, 10/31/05

A friend of mine, who lives in Cape Cod, posted a disturbing article in his blog this morning. A nearby elementary school is canceling its Halloween festivities on Monday, because a handful of parents have said they will keep their children home on that day because the celebrations violate their religious beliefs.

I’m not really sure how dressing up in costumes and handing out candy, and maybe a mini Halloween parade outside, if weather permits, is harmful to anyone, except maybe those children who are diabetic. Yet, it was not the parents of the diabetics who were complaining.

The school’s principal promised to, instead, hold a day sometime next month where students and teachers would dress up as their favorite literary characters. While I think that is an excellent idea, I still do not think that canceling Halloween is the right solution.

My field of concentration is education policy, and I know I have some views that might be considered radical. Some of them, though, I’m sure are shared by a number of parents, and one of those is to allow kids to be kids. As it is, trick-or-treaters on my block start at 3pm, so they can be home before dark. Last year, I do not think I had one trick-or-treater past 8pm. I remember being out until as late as 9 or 10pm.

I certainly cannot blame parents for this. As many of you know, a household of SUNY students were robbed at gunpoint recently. A Troy woman was shot while in her car. Rensselaer County is taking measures to keep sex offenders on a strict curfew. If I was a parent, trick-or-treating would unsettle me, too.

Times have changed, and not necessarily for the better. But, at least, we can be consoled that the schools will let the kids have a mini-celebration. Until now.

When I worked as an education reporter, I remember taking pictures at the Halloween celebrations at the different elementary schools. The teachers had baked goods, candy and fruit for the children, and parents, teachers and administrators alike dressed in costumes along with the children. Perhaps not the most academic of environments, but I hardly think one afternoon out of 180 days of school will jeopardize their educations. On the contrary, it gives students something to look forward to.

A good friend of mine, who attended high school in Central NY, remembers as a sixth grader putting on a haunted house for the younger kids. Activities like this boost morale among students, build community, and give valuable leadership skills. You cannot get any of those skills from a standardized math test.

Political correctness is not just about being sensitive to other’s beliefs, but about being tolerant of those beliefs, and learning about what they mean. Most children do not even know where the tradition of Halloween came from, and rather than teaching our children tolerance and open-mindedness, we are teaching them how to shut out all cultures but their own.

And, inadvertently, we are teaching them that it is NOT okay to have fun once in a while. That all work and no play makes us successful, and anything but makes us failures. We are not doing our kids any favors.

For what it is worth, I am dressing as a medieval barmaid for Halloween, my boyfriend as a pirate, and we will be attending two Halloween parties. Neither of which will be cancelled because some of our friends are “offended” by Halloween, or, for that matter, having any fun at all.

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