Happy Christmahanukwanzaa

Political correctness runs amok in our schools

Stranded in the Atlanta airport for an excruciating eight hours on my way home for winter break, I felt little holiday cheer. The airline employees were hardly sympathetic to passenger cries for compensation, compassion, consolation – anything. This was not the way I wanted to start off the notoriously short holiday break. And just as I was feeling glummer than glum, Grinch-like, Scrooged even, I opened my New York Times to find that schoolchildren can’t celebrate “Christmas” anymore.

How depressing. Or is it?

The article, entitled “Merry Whatever,” explained that people across the country feel they can no longer say “Merry Christmas”; they can’t light a community Christmas tree; and they don’t allow their children to sing renditions of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” for fear of alienating classmates by the song’s mention of “Christmas Eve.” Admittedly, I was mildly outraged—a classic case of unreasonable political correctness. The article’s anecdotes were pretty ridiculous. Included were instances where students were reprimanded for wishing friends a “Merry Christmas.” Valentine’s Day is being nixed from many school calendars as the religious overtones of “Saint Valentine” are too strong. Even Halloween is being replaced with less controversial, contrived substitutes. No more secret love notes. No more costumes. No more Christmas. No more fun.

Perhaps I was letting nostalgia for traditions I blindly followed as a child obscure my support of liberal sensitivity. And as I came across emanations of classic conservative quotes–mostly in the spirit of “Political correctness is eroding our social fabric!” and “Put the ‘Christ’ back in Christmas!”–I retreated back to my liberal core and assured myself that these creepy conservatives were just using Christmas to sidle religiosity into school curricula. Moreover, I decided, the article’s examples were likely just anomalies employed for effect—I was doubtful that the average public school goes to such silly measures in the name of political correctness.

Still, I was torn, so I decided to check it out for myself. I turned to a source of infinite wisdom to gain a little perspective: my five-year-old niece who attends my old elementary school in Texas. Much to her rambling pleasure, I asked her pointed questions about her kindergarten class, expecting to hear tales of religious indoctrination. (After all, it’s Texas—a place that recently revised school textbooks in order to brainwash its youth on the evils of homosexuality.) If Texas elementary schools were cracking down on “Christmas” with the same aggression as the article suggested, I’d have cause for concern.

Sure enough, I had cause for concern. It’s all gone; Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Christmas parties. And, when I trotted up to my old alma mater to accost the unassuming secretaries, they confirmed the revised holiday schedule. Of course, they couldn’t really articulate the root of the recent changes—when I talked to the principal, she just gave me a roll of the eyes and said, “You know, some people are just crazy.” Cultural sensitivity at its best.

According to the Times article, those opposed to “secular celebrations” of Christmas often claim that their concern stems from “the increasing strength of the religious right and worry about everything they’ve gained over the last generation being rolled back.” In general, I agree with the sentiment. And, the article’s assertion that “conservatives … say they have been emboldened by election results that they took as affirmation that most Americans share not only their faith but also their belief that the nation has lost bearings” is equally scary. But in the end, I think we’re going a bit overboard.

No one wants to make any child feel excluded or alienated from his or her peers. But, it seems that instead of cutting Christmas and other seemingly harmless celebrations out of school curricula to the point of absurdity, it would be more beneficial to encourage education about different cultural traditions. The benefits of diversity can only be felt when people are allowed to share their beliefs and backgrounds—not when they are being silenced.

Morgan R. Grice ’06, a Crimson associate editorial chair, is a government concentrator in Winthrop House.

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