Warner Todd Huston
October 2, 2007
Getting rid of American holidays in public schools
By Warner Todd Huston

At the end of September the school district in Oak Lawn, Illinois announced it was considering eliminating holiday celebrations like Christmas in its schools. Oak Lawn has seen increasing numbers of residents that identify with the Muslim faith who are naturally sending their children to the public schools there and school board members are afraid that Christian holidays are "offensive" to Muslim students.

This move follows a recent decision to eliminate pork products from the school menu.

Unsurprisingly, these cultural clashing decisions by the school board have caused acrimony among parents of the district. Stating the painfully obvious, Columbus Manor Principal Sandy Robertson said of the controversy, "It's difficult when you change the school's culture."

Elizabeth Zahdan, a parent of Muslim faith who took her case to the school board wanting the school to be "more inclusive" during holiday activities, however, adamantly denied she wanted to eliminate any American styled holiday observances. "I only wanted them modified to represent everyone," she told the Chicago Sun-Times. Zahdan disclaimed to reporters, "Now the kids are not being educated about other people."

Unfortunately for Mrs. Zahdan, a "modified" holiday is no longer the same holiday. It becomes something else once altered. So, whatever her motives, she was effectively advocating for their elimination.

Superintendent Tom Smyth said that the reason they were eliminating or trying to "tone down" holiday celebrations was one of wasting allotted teaching time. There isn't time enough in the day to "celebrate every holiday," Smyth claimed. "We have to think about our purpose. Are we about teaching reading, writing and math or for parties or fund-raising during the day?"

Conservatives will, of course, be offended by the elimination of standard, Christian American holidays and having them "modified" to be "more inclusive." Many are upset that these purported outsiders are forcing the local schools to make such changes for Muslims and rightfully so, to be sure.

But, this anger from conservatives is hard to square with their ideas of local control of the school systems. The usual conservative policy prescription for what ails public education in America is local as opposed to Federal control. In general, this is absolutely correct as who better to control what sort of school a community wants than the community itself, one not encumbered by meddling control from the Federal government or state officers?

This local control ideal, though, invites the very sort of situation that the Oak Lawn schools are dealing with currently. Half the kids in some schools there are of the Muslim faith at this time. So, if local control is de rigeur, then the schools will naturally begin to react to such factors as changing demographics.

This fact makes the claim of complete local control a tad embarrassing for conservatives who would be upset at a school district that might change policies to reflect the desires of the local population. After all, isn't that the effects of the market place, the base model for most conservative thinking? With complete local control, the schools will take on the interests and desires of the local population. That is the very essence of "local control."

But, is it good to allow these sorts of forces to affect schools without careful consideration? Should we eliminate all things Christian in an American school district if the parents in that district are majority Muslim? In this climate of a wishy-washiness on American first principles infesting our country today, here is one instance where all control should not be at the smallest, local level.

School curricula must stay a state controlled issue. Though the Federal government should be entirely out of the picture, from funding to designing the curriculum, returning all schooling decisions to the smallest, local entity will result in exactly the sort of problematic de-Americanizing of our schools that we are witnessing in Oak Lawn. Whether it be overly Mexicanized, Muslim-centric, or what have you, we will assure that American influences will be replaced by the culture du jour if the locals have as much control as some conservatives by rote advocate for.

The solution to a loss of American ideals in local schools is to continue to have the school curriculum controlled by the state governments. This control, and a homogeneous statewide curriculum will offset the effect of pressures by small communities that fill with immigrant populations who might be apt to instill on our American schools the cultures and ideas from whence they, the parents, came.

What to do with the ire of parents who want their Muslim faith (or Mexican heritage in other instances) regarded in policy decisions is definitely something we will see more need to contend with in the days to come. It is a sticky question, of course. Since we have become a culture that won't back a homogeneous observance of being an American, how do we address this issue? How do we serve local communities that are made up mostly of immigrants?

As the Sun-Times reported, Oak Lawn parent Elizabeth Zahdan moaned that eliminating all holidays would stop children from "being educated about other people?"

This issue is emotionally charged, of course, but for all the wrong decisions Supt. Tom Smyth has made here, he is correct on one issue. When he said that the schools didn't have the time to celebrate every holiday on Earth to be "inclusive" of them all, he was correct. His answer to the problem is not so smart, however. Getting rid of all holidays is both the coward's way out and completely unamerican, to boot.

But, here's the thing. Our schools shouldn't be about educating our children about "other people." That they can learn in college or in life. Our schools should be teaching about OUR people. And our schools are failing miserably to do this effectively.

It is agreed that we shouldn't be celebrating every holiday under the sun in our schools. The Supt. is completely correct that we haven't the time in our busy school days to do so. In fact, we shouldn't be celebrating ANY other holidays but American holidays. American holidays reflect our national culture. Christmas and Halloween as we celebrate them are American holidays. The Holidays and traditions of other cultures deserve to remain at home, not in the halls of our schools.

By NOT indulging their desires to obviate American influences replacing them with ideas antithetical to our American first principles, we would be doing a far better service to our children than to re-draw every district to a different standard to placate foreign influences. We became a great country in the first place because of our culture, not by bending and warping every ideal to suit immigrant's wishes in every small community across this great land.

So, conservatives should realize that "local control" is not the panacea they imagine it to be in every last instance. Certainly we should look to have some aspects of our schools controlled by the local school boards, but too much local control could backfire on erstwhile conservatives. We will surely begin to find schools becoming less and less American if the locals are allowed too much direct influence.

Do we want our schools taught in Spanish as a first language? Do we want the Koran to replace textbooks in others? Do we want our children taught that America is an evil empire?

I would hope not.

To avoid that, however, we need to teach Americanism. We should be allowing kids to celebrate holidays. There is no harm in that. But they MUST be America's holidays.

Anything else and we are no longer America and are teaching our children that there is nothing out there especially American to teach them.

© Warner Todd Huston

 

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Warner Todd Huston

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