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15 November 2004: No Wonder There's an Achievement Gap (4 of 4)

So, as Larry cried and I listened and apologized, the school secretary walked in. I was sure that she would be eager to rectify the situation. I knew she meant no harm and would be willing to apologize and set things right with Larry, so I approached her. I gently pointed out that Larry was not in the office as a consequence, but because he was taking responsibility for his own learning. He had been deprived of his recess because of her assumption, as well as the motivation to complete his assignment. (I couldnít even address the other possible consequences of her actions.) Once she was fully aware of what had happened, she actually managed to make the situation worse. I was baffled that after talking to Larry for five minutes, the secretary had managed to COMPLETELY avoid anything approaching an apology. She hugged him, consoled him, told him to stop crying. She in no way admitted fault, took the blame, or honored him with an apology. Just one tiny little example in one tiny little school in a corner of the country, but no longer do I shake my head in wonder at the achievement gap that is declaring our injustice to children of color. I didnít have to explain to Larry what happened. He knew.

16 November 2004: Bah Humbug (1 of 4)

Over the years, as my classroom got less homogeneous, I found myself getting less comfortable with holiday celebrations. I wasn't comfortable with the PC party line that instructed us to give equal time to Christmas and Hannukkah. I found that I and my students were ill-equipped to teach each other about Kwanzaa. Yet, that's what my colleagues were doing--the same tried (and tired) seasonal activities with different holidays attached to them. And, of course, the food. So, last year before school started, I decided I would take a stand. I actually sat down with a pen and paper, listed the reasons why I would no longer bring any holiday celebration into my classroom, and then listed the things we would do instead. I felt that if I took the time to organize my thoughts on this topic, then when a parent wanted to pressure me into allowing a party, I would be ready to state my position clearly. Now, though I don't know where those original notes are, I'll share my thoughts in hopes that my reputation as a humbug will be redeemed.

17 November 2004: Bah Humbug (2 of 4)

There are exactly three reasons why I don't allow holiday celebrations in my classroom. First, I acknowledge the limits of my experience, as well as that of my students. There are so many holidays that are celebrated by my students and their families, and I just don't know enough about them to give them all fair treatment. While my students are certainly qualified to teach the class about their own holidays, not all students celebrate any holiday. Plus, some holidays are celebrated by none of my students--so where does that leave us? I feel very strongly that students learn so much more than what we tell them. Spending an hour on a Hannukkah celebration and two weeks on Chrismas pageants, decorations, and parties sends a strong message to students about the relative value of these holidays. The end result is a subconscious hierarchy where students understand that other holidays exist, but they're not as significant as those celebrated by the dominant culture. So, because I know that it is impossible to avoid this kind of message, I'd rather just leave it out altogether.

18 November 2004: Bah Humbug (3 of 4)

The second reason I don't teach or celebrate holidays with my students is because it is a waste of time. As I have said, the schools are burning (see 26 Oct 2004), and I do not feel that it is a good use of instructional time to weave paper placemats or create valentine receptacles. Don't misunderstand me. I'm not a drill-and-kill, more worksheets kind of teacher. I am, however, dedicated to the success of my students and I do not believe that the holiday celebrations that are typical in our schools will offer long-term learning benefits to my students. In the same vein, I do not believe that there is no place in schools for fun. I place a very high value on fun, joking, and even good-natured mischeviousness in my classroom. I think any teacher who argues that holidays are the only source of fun in an elementary school classroom should retire immediately.

19 November 2004: Bah Humbug (4 of 4)

The last reason why I don't teach holidays comes from the firm belief that anything students may learn through holidays can be taught just as effectively (if not more) in other ways. Many teachers use holidays to teach things like tolerance and diversity, for example. In most classrooms in my state, this is a topic that should be addressed every day, not in the context of food and music. Holidays are also a big time for crafts in elementary school classrooms. Since my students have all mastered glue and scissors, I prefer to have instruction in art theory and appreciation, as well as related projects. Last, there is the very powerful force of group incentives. Throwing a spontaneous party because of a good report from a substitute, or allowing students to earn a party through accomplishing a whole-class goal can be an invaluable motivator. When students expect parties just because the calendar says so, I find that everyone's motivation (mine included) actually drops. I'm not saying it's easy, I'm just saying that if you know why you're giving it up, and you can get your students on your side by explaining your reasons clearly, then you can put away that holly leaf pattern once and for all.

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teaching quote of the day

Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.

- Chinese proverb

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