Not even teachers are immune to Halloween’s nostalgia of make-believe, writes Carl Bosch.
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I can trace back to the day I embraced the dark side. October 1961, the Halloween Dress Up Parade at school, and I’m in the fourth grade. Silver and square, disguised as a Kent cigarette box with the micronite filter, I win first prize. What? Dressed as a politically-incorrect, carcinogenic, bad habit, I can be rewarded in school for an activity other than winning the spelling bee? Is this possible? I found my niche!
One day a year any student who feels so moved can become … well … anything. School comes to a reluctant halt when it’s Halloween. Clearly, Halloween and school do not go hand in hand. In fact, they’re true enemies born somewhere in the shadowland between magic and science. It’s why most teachers could do without the day, and exactly why children love the holiday.
School is about order, control, civility, and patience. School rewards compliance. It requires rules: raise your hand, move when a bell sounds, eat during this 25-minute time period, hand in your homework, and be quiet. Halloween embraces chaos, mayhem, mischief, and candy beyond all reasonable measure. In its friendliest sense, it’s the school saying to students, “OK, OK, we accept that you’re just kids. But only for this day!”
Try standing in front of a classroom and teaching how to balance an equation or re-write your closing paragraph. Peer out on those nicely lined up desks that are now inhabited by all manner of bleeding vampires, white-faced Skeletors, smurfs, hobbits, Megatrons, soccer players, pirates, dead pom-pom girls, and various barnyard animals. The day is lost forever. The inmates/students are almost in control.
But here’s the real reason the two are so incongruent. Halloween is just so much damn fun. It’s about playing. When we’re little we all want to play. All the time. We want to dress up as imaginative characters. We make believe. We have adventures. We imagine. Then childhood ebbs away—for some rather early, for others a little later. Life has a way of grinding most of us into acceptable citizens. It shaves and sands away our edges so that we can fit our peg into the proper hole. And schooling is a major contributor to civilizing the wild child.
For most kids, they find their interests and pursue them. Some youngsters take those steps toward maturity a little more slowly. For a few, they keep the sensibility of a child tucked safely away in a secret compartment inside their heart. It cannot be diminished or destroyed or stolen. It breaks out occasionally and does something absurd or silly. When you laugh really, really hard, you can feel it inside. It’s a keepsake to childhood. It’s a prayer to playing.
So schools have to detest Halloween. It’s almost part of the contract. The most open teachers chuckle at the inanity, though almost all tolerate it for a single day. Some of us even join in. We can’t resist. For the last 55 years, I’ve dressed up as something on Halloween: the Hunchback of Notre Dame (my alma mater), an elephant keeper at the zoo with a very large pooper scooper. More often, though, it’s something a little closer to the fringe: something scary, something ghostly, something that doesn’t quite fit into the round hole carved for me on every other day.
My favorite Disney movie is Peter Pan. It was released the year I was born. Somewhere inside, I still think that if I could just find the right fairy dust, someday I might fly away. Or maybe not. But I can always make believe … especially on Halloween.