As a school principal, Halloween was one of the best school days but also one of the most stressful in the school year.
Whether in elementary or secondary, Halloween is a great time to have a little bit of fun and take a break from routine. For the younger students there are costume parades and class parties; high schools will often have school-wide costume competitions as well as other events organized by school leadership groups. And, how fun is it to see our favourite teachers and principals dressed up? Often, they dress in department or school-wide themes — it’s a wonderful display of community and camaraderie.
That said . . .
I struggle with celebrations in our schools that are a mismatch with our values: when we turn a blind eye to drinking at pre-grad parties hosted by parents; when we host a school dance that show videos we would never allow in our classrooms, and when I see coaches yell at athletes in a school competition in ways we would never find acceptable otherwise.
And, I do struggle with some of what I see around Halloween.
No, I am not taking a run at the unhealthy food being consumed at the parties in the classroom. While I know there are probably some who would like to see all the Smarties and Coffee Crisps replaced with toothbrushes and apples, I am okay with finding ways for candy to be part of the school experience a few times a year.
I am taking aim at the costumes — particularly, some of those I have seen in high schools. It is this part of Halloween that would often be so stressful as a school principal because there is nothing worse than having to be the costume morality police. Where to draw the line? Should there be a line? “It is just Halloween, why don’t you let kids have some fun? Haven’t people always done this? Aren’t we just letting boys be boys and girls be girls for one day?” The comments and questions were, and are, endless.
In short, I have seen way too many costumes that glamorize sexual exploitation, pimping and gang lifestyles. Recently, there have been several high-profile stories that have made us more aware of the sexual exploitation of children and youth, and the larger issue of human trafficking. Unfortunately, we are seeing far too many costumes being marketed to young people who seem to celebrate these issues.
Just last week there was a major flap over highly inappropriate costumes being sold through Value Village locations in BC.
I think the advice given by the Children of the Street Society around costumes is very good:
This year, we are asking the community to be socially responsible by choosing Halloween costumes that do not glamorize either the perpetrators or the victims of child and youth sexual exploitation. We are also encouraging the community to avoid costumes that glamourize gang or pimping lifestyles. Instead, please encourage children and youth to choose appropriate costumes that represent their own individuality and creativity.
Sometimes, when we question long-held traditions, the pushback is have these questions advocating for political correctness gone too far? I don’t see this as one of those situations. We want schools to reflect the values we hold important to us, and we need to work with our students and parents to be sure that on Halloween we send out the same signals we would otherwise send every other day of the year.
We need to stop having “sexy” in the title of every costume being marketed to teenage and pre-teen girls and we need boys to not have “pimp” or “gangsta” as a costume choice. I think we can do better by making more individually creative and appropriate Halloween costume choices.