Happy Halloween, everyone!
What a short, strange trip it’s been! I had my first ever viral post this week when the news of North Ward School in Paris banning Halloween costumes broke. I was *almost* on Canada AM but was bumped at the last minute for a “breaking news story.” (My guess was something that started with “J” and rhymed with “misogynistic creep-omeshi” but, y’know, we’ll never know for sure what really happened, right?)
“First world problems,” some people said, and it’s true. Isn’t it wonderful that we live in a place where this is the biggest source of distress we will have to face this week? Of course, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. You know what else are #firstworldproblems? Hunger. Poverty. Marginalization. Income disparity. Rape. Violence against women. Homophobia. Transphobia. First Nations people making up one-quarter of our prison inmates but only 4 percent of the general population. First world problems, all.
The ability to change these things of course starts with ordinary people feeling empowered to call out injustice when they see it, to ask questions and challenge authority; to engage the media and reach a wider audience; and to keep the message clear and not allow the fight to be derailed to fit someone else’s agenda.
“There are more important things to worry about,” which is just another way of saying, “It could be worse.” Yes, there are, and yes, it could be. But right now this is the thing these parents are worrying about. This is the thing that is happening in their world, with their kids. They can’t solve world hunger this week. They can’t bring back the soldiers killed this week. They can’t change the fact that 9 times out of 10 the public will believe a smooth-talking, baby-faced male celebrity over the 9 women accusing him of physical and sexual assault when he smiles and says, “She’s cray-cray!”
What they can do is teach their children that they have the right to think critically, respectfully disagree, and to make their voices heard. Today’s it’s Halloween costumes but maybe tomorrow it will be politics or human rights, and that dedication to a cause and those skills have to start somewhere.
To wrap up my feelings about this situation in particular, I actually believe that there are very good reasons for a school to change to a “Black and Orange Day.” Recognizing diversity in a school population is one: I would prefer to see cultural and religious diversity reflected in schools through learning about and celebrating more diverse holidays, not less, but that’s my bias. As well, socioeconomic barriers mean that some families can’t afford expensive costumes and kids are teased or simply left out for having a homemade or hand-me-down costume (or none at all). Asking students not to wear costumes is one way of ensuring a level playing field for kids with diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds and psychological needs.
I do wonder if the school was thinking along these lines but was concerned about the public reaction. North Ward is by no means the first school that has gone the “Black and Orange” route, even in this school board, but it is the first one that has faced this kind of backlash, which to me says a lot about how they handled the situation. What the parents seemed to be most upset about was not the costume ban itself but the lack of dialogue both before and after. The reasons that the school gave were so easily countered or problem-solved that the fact that the school dug in its figurative heels and refused to talk solutions tells me that there had to have been more behind it, but if they were trying to sidestep the more “controversial” issues, it sure backfired!
If the school had engaged the parents and even the students in the decision-making process this could have been a great opportunity for positive change. Many commenters have mentioned other programs at the school being cancelled or in danger of being canceled due to the lack of parent volunteers (another of those “more important things to worry about.”) This situation has demonstrated a wealth of parents willing to volunteer, so that “other side” should call them on it – open those lines of communication and build bridges to get those other programs back up and running.
Unfortunately, from the sound of it the school is going to have their work cut out for them bringing people back together. The online vitriol reached the point yesterday that the police planned to be on hand this morning – I guess that’s what happens when radio stations open their phone lines with the question, “Has political correctness gone too far?” (You might as well say, “Hey, xenophobes! Come spew your hate live ON THE AIR!”) The school principal told CTV News yesterday that the intent was never to ban costumes but to invite students to wear orange and black instead, and assured parents that children coming in costume would not be reprimanded. Hopefully that’s a start…
Ironically, the school could have just played the odds…like just about every October 31st in the last decade, it was pouring rain this morning, so there wouldn’t have been a costume parade anyway.
Be safe out there tonight, everyone.