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Halloween in Public Schools:  Issues and Suggestions

Halloween has become an increasingly controversial holiday in public schools in recent years. What are the issues and what is the best way to handle them?  This article by Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center Halloween activities in schools can be divisive http://www.freedomforum.org/templates/document.asp?documentID=13283 explains the areas of conflict and offers some suggestions.

File written by Adobe Photoshop® 5.0 Halloween has become a religious liberty issue in public schools in that many see the costumes and spooking pranks as harmless fun, others believe that the holiday derives from and celebrates pagan superstition and glorifies occult and satanic forces.  Because Halloween is such a popular holiday with children, the schools are caught in the middle.

How can schools handle Halloween in a constructive manner?
Since the whole controversy over Halloween emerges from the First Amendment, it would be a good time to review it and the rights it protects with students. The lesson You Are Free to Exercise (your religious freedoms) http://www.freedomforum.org/templates/document.asp?documentID=13588  will help students understand how the First Amendment applies to these types of issues.

As with other conflicts related to religion and holidays, it is best to remember the academic purpose of schools and ask how the holiday can provide a venue for curriculum and grade-level appropriate learning experiences for students. For example, classes might want to learn about the history of Halloween, compare and evaluate different interpretations of that history.  Or classes might just study the origins of certain aspects of the holiday, like the idea of carving pumpkins. Schools might also examine different ways that cultures around the world have acknowledged and celebrated harvest or the transition from summer to winter.

To avoid offending students and parents with sensitivities about the holiday, be especially careful to go lightly on the witchcraft, ghost, or graveyard decorations and emphasize the harvest, or fall aspects by featuring pumpkins, leaves, and scarecrows. 

Lastly, student enthusiasm for "dressing up" could become a time for them to learn about and interpret characters from literature or history.  To make it more academic, students could be asked to share orally or in writing about the achievements of their character or discuss in what manner their costume is authentic for a particular time or place.

Margaret Hill,
Director SCORE H-SS 

 

Web Resources

Here are some useful sites for ideas and resources for the classroom.

Harvest Around the World
http://www.harvestfestivals.net/harvestfestivals.htm
Teachers will find harvest information about practically any culture or time period that they may be studying.

Harvest Festivals in Ancient Cultures
http://www.twilightbridge.com/hobbies/festivals/thanksgiving/harvest.htm
Sixth grade teachers, here’s the fall festival site for you.

Autumn leaves
http://www.underfives.co.uk/autumn.html
Harvest time links naturally to topics on autumn — autumn walks and collecting leaves to use in artwork, especially for young children.

Why Do Fall Leaves Change Color?
http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/misc/leaves/leaves.htm
Learn the science behind why leaves change color in the fall.

Scarecrow Thematic Unit
http://www.theteachersroom.com/scarecrowunit.htm
Here are songs, poems and children's books with activities related to scarecrows and other harvest symbols.

Harvest/Pumpkin Poems and Songs
http://www.teachers.net/lessons/posts/202.html


Here is a variety of poems and songs for fall.

Learning About Pumpkins
http://www.teachingheart.net/apumpkinunit.html 
Here are lots of ideas for using a pumpkin theme for math, science and writing.

Halloween Creative Writing Project
http://www.atozteacherstuff.com/pages/23.shtml
or
http://www.ed.uiuc.edu/YLP/97-98/97-98_units/
97-98mini-unit/LCaravia_BookMaking/BookMaking2.html

In these activities, students write creatively about or from a pumpkin or Jack O'Lantern's point of view and create books.

A Brief History of Halloween
http://dcls.org/x/archives/halloween.html
This essay written by the Dauphin County Librarian provides an interesting overview history of Halloween.

History of Halloween
http://www.theholidayspot.com/halloween/history.htm
This article is one of many at this site pointing out the history of many different elements of Halloween from All Hallows' Eve to Jack O'Lanterns.

Origins of Halloween
http://www.history.com/minisites/halloween/viewPage?pageId=713
This History Channel site provides a brief overview of the history of Halloween from ancient times to modern traditions.

For differing views about the history of Halloween see:

History of Costume by Braun & Schneider
http://www.siue.edu/COSTUMES/history.html
This reference is an online book with illustrations and descriptions of costumes from around the world from ancient times to the 19th c.

Hairstyle History
http://www.costumegallery.com/hairstyles
Here are pictures and examples of hairstyles from various eras that compliment historical era costumes.

Top 10 Historical Costumes - American History
http://homeschooling.about.com/od/unitssubjhis/tp/costamerhist.htm
This site shows children dressed like Ben Franklin, George Washington, etc.