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Holiday Celebrations in the classroom

Holiday Celebrations in the classroom

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Holiday Celebrations in the classroom

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  1. EDU 6085, Fall 2009 Holiday Celebrations in the classroom

  2. Presentation by: • Pam Aguilar • Nicole Aune • Matt Chonka • Cindy Crawford • Linda Jodock • Kelli Marble • Star Miller • Heather Moll

  3. The Nature of the Controversy

  4. Melting Pot • The United States is called the melting pot of cultures, customs, traditions, languages, values, beliefs and religions. Hence, school districts across the nation are charged with respecting students’ religious and secular beliefs.

  5. History • Christmas was not really for kids in the early history of our nation. • For instance, Philip Vickers Fithian's December 18, 1773, diary entry about exciting holiday events mentions: "the Balls, the Fox-hunts, the fine entertainments. . ." None was meant for kids, and the youngsters were cordially not invited to attend.

  6. What do the courts say? • Public schools may neither promote nor inhibit religious or secular beliefs. • In 1948 the supreme court ruled that "a tax supported public school system could not support religious instruction"

  7. What do the courts say? • The Supreme Court case (Engel v. Vitale, 1962; Abington v. Schempp, 1963) ruled that public schools may not promote religious beliefs such as school prayer. Justice Black wrote the majority opinion citing the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” (OP, 1962) • However, the court let a lower law stand stating the public schools may recognize religious holidays as long as it’s connected to curriculum goals (e.g. teach religious traditions and customs that may be associated with holidays rather than promoting religious beliefs).

  8. First Amendment • The main point that sets what can and cannot be taught in schools is the establishment clause of the First Amendment.   • The "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.

  9. First Amendment Continued • “Public schools uphold the First Amendment when they protect the religious liberty rights of students of all faiths or none. Schools demonstrate fairness when they ensure that the curriculum includes study about religion, where appropriate, as an important part of a complete education” (Nord & Haynes).

  10. Separation of Church and State • The continual separation of church and state has occurred since the American Revolution.  Although many colonies were established based on religious principles since that time legal separation has been continual.

  11. Consequentialist • The consequentialist stance on observing religious holidays in schools would be that doing so is against the law of separation of church and state.  The consequences of observing the holiday would be an action that is illegal.

  12. Non-consequentialist • The non-consequentialist stance would say that to deny individuals to express their religious freedom of expression in observing a religious holiday in school is wrong regardless of how it affects others in the school that may have differing beliefs.

  13. Consequentialist v. Non-consequentialist • Both of these arguments have been made throughout our history when looking at observance of holidays in our public schools and places.

  14. Department of Justice • Currently the Department of justice states the following regarding religious discrimination in schools. • Student ReligiousExpression: Individual student expression may not be suppressed simply because it is religious.

  15. Why teach students about religious holidays? • Teaching religious holidays gives students opportunities to learn about cultures, customs, and history around the world. • Learning about religious holidays gives students insights to various cultures and customs fostering understanding and respect.

  16. Why teach students about religious holidays? Continued • Learning about religious holidays helps students understand that some religions have commonalities such as values, beliefs, customs, and teachings. • Educators are obligated to teach about different cultures and it students are to be educated, if they are to think critically, then religious voices must be included in our curricular conversations. (Nord & Haynes)

  17. Teachers need to be careful not to promote one religious holiday over another • Teachers should not celebrate holidays but rather teach about religion. • “In a civic public school, people of all faiths are allowed to express their beliefs” (Nord & Haynes), which can be done through the study of religious holidays. • Teachers should not use lessons about religious holidays as opportunities to proselytize about their religious beliefs.

  18. Religious Music and Icons • Religious icons and symbols may be displayed in class as long as they support curriculum goals; however, the icons and symbols should not be up long. Teachers should use their professional judgment. • Religious music can be played as long as it is tied to educational goals in the curriculum. Ideally, the music instructor has included sacred songs representing a variety of religions.

  19. Holiday • A day on which custom or the law dictates a cessation of general business activity to celebrate or commemorate a particular event. • A religious feast day: HOLY DAY. • A day free from work that one may spend at leisure. (Webster’s II New Riverside Dictionary)

  20. Religious Holidays • Many holidays are linked to faiths and religions. • In a pluralistic nation like the United States, this has provoked controversy.

  21. Religious Holidays Continued • Christian holidays are defined by the liturgical year, but the Catholic ‘name day’or each place’s patron saint’s day is celebrated according to the Calendar of Saints. • For Islam, the largest holidays are Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha. • Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs observe several holidays; the largest is Diwali, the Festival of Light. • Japanese holidays contain references to several faiths and beliefs.

  22. Religious Holidays Continued • Celtic, Norse, and Neopagan holidays follow the Wheel of the Year. Some are closely linked to Swedish festivals. • Bahai faith observes holidays defined by the Bahai calendar. • Jews have two holiday seasons: Spring Feasts of Pesach (Passover), • Chag Ha-Matzot (Festival of Unleavened Bread), and Shavuot (Weeks, “Pentacost” in Greek); and the Fall Feasts of Yom Teruah (Day of Blessing, also Rosh HaShannah), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), and Sukkot (Tabernacles).

  23. National Holidays • New Year’s Day • President’s Day • Martin Luther King Day • Memorial Day • Fourth of July • Labor Day • Veteran’s Day • Thanksgiving Day • Christmas (both religious and national) • These do not usually provoke controversy, although not all places of business observe them.

  24. Opposition • Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrate no holidays; they believe they are pagan. • They celebrate no national holidays; they do not want to honor man’s governments rather than God’s Kingdom.

  25. Public Controversy

  26. Banning Halloween • The public schools in Coppell, Texas have officially stopped celebrating Halloween, though many teachers continue with lessons using October themes such as bats in a cave and using a skeleton to teach students about bones. The main different is that schools and staff don’t use the word Halloween. • The district has made the decision because of increased inquiries and concerns about Halloween celebrations from parents representing many different religious groups.

  27. Banning Halloween • Robert Knight, director of cultural studies for the Family Research Council said; “If you’re going to kick Christian celebrations like Christmas out of the schools, and leave Halloween in, you’re going to have a reaction”. • Charles Haynes, a senior scholar of religious freedom at the Freedom Forum in Washington stated that celebrating Halloween does not violate the constitution, as some parents have alleged, because “schools have long celebrated Halloween as a secular holiday”.

  28. Seattle SchoolsThanksgiving Letter • The Seattle School District sent a letter home to students and families titled, “Deconstructing the Myths of the First Thanksgiving.” It included 11 “myths, the most controversial being #11 – • Myth #11 – “Thanksgiving is a Happy Time” – Fact – “Thanksgiving is a time of mourning…a bitter reminder of 500 years of betrayal returned for friendship” • Daryl Williams of the Tulalip Tribes responded – “Native Americans in the Northwest celebrate the holiday with turkey and salmon. Before the period of bitter and violent relationships between natives and their culturally European counterparts, they worked together to survive.” • A spokesperson for the district, David Tucker, said that the letter was sent in an effort to be sensitive to minorities in Seattle schools. (Shaffer, 2007)

  29. Petoskey Public Schools vote to change “Winter Holiday Break” to “Christmas Break” • The school board unanimously voted to change the wording on the official District Calendar from “Winter Holiday Break”, to “Christmas Break” in a closed session on August 18th, 2009. • The Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent a letter of protest to the school district over the matter. These letters are often a first step which ultimately leads to a lawsuit. • An attorney for the FFRF says that this change violates a principle from the court case Lemon vs. Kurtzman which “requires government action to have a secular purpose”. (Brayton, 2009)

  30. New Jersey school district sued for banning Christmas music • The school districts long standing policy to ban Christmas music is under scrutiny and the target of a law suit after school officials clarified that the policy includes instrumental performances. • The suit claims that the school districts action is unconstitutional – Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the law center states, “The Constitution does not require our public schools to become religion-free zones. This is another example of the anti-Christmas, anti-religion policy infection our public school system.” • Superintendent Peter P. Horoschak stated, “Rather than try to respond to all the various religions and try to balance them, it’s best to stay away from that and simply have a non-religious tone…” (WND, 2004)

  31. Plano, TX school district bans Christmas décor • Red and green colored decorations and candy canes banned from holiday parties (after a student brought in candy canes with religious messages to pass out to friends). • Lawsuit filed on behalf of the parents. • School officials have violated the Constitutional Rights of students and their parents. • US Department of Justice investigates the charges, “they can’t ban students and parents from celebrating the holidays and expressing themselves in accordance with their beliefs.” (Kelly Shackelford, Liberty Legal Institute) • The pressure of the charges made the district re-think their policy and now allows Christmas decorations at Holiday parties. (CAN, 2004)

  32. Suggestions for Teachers

  33. Distinction • Teachers must be alert to the distinction between teaching about religious holidays, which is permissible, and celebrating religious holidays, which is not. • Images retrieved from 11/11/09

  34. Sensitivity • Show sensitivity to the needs of every student and indicate a willingness to steer between avoidance of all references to religion on the one hand and promotion of religion on the other. Image taken from : /2009/06/balancing-act-001.jpg 11/12/09

  35. Focus • Recognition of and information about holidays may focus on how and when they are celebrated, their origins, histories and generally agreed-upon meanings. Images retrieved from 11/11/09

  36. Include Everyone • Design activities that serve an educational purpose for all students • programs that do not make students feel excluded or identified with a religion not their own. • One approach that would work for many different ability levels is for teachers to use a thematic approach, such how food is used in a variety of celebrations. Images retrieved from 11/9/09

  37. Questions to Ask • Any teacher or administrator should ask herself the following questions as she plans holiday activities: • 1. Do I have a distinct educational purpose in mind? If so, what is it? • The activity should serve the academic goals of the course, or the educational mission of the school.

  38. Question Continued • 2. If I use holidays as an opportunity to teach about religion, am I balanced and fair in my approach? • Be prepared to teach about the religious meaning of this holiday in a way that enriches students’ understanding of history and cultures. • If teaching Christian holidays, make sure to teach non-Christian holidays.

  39. Question Continued • 3. Does the planned activity have the primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion? Does it, for example, promote one faith over another or even religion in general? • Remember that the school’s approach should be academic, not devotional. It is never appropriate for public schools to proselytize. • Ask yourself-Will any student or parent be made to feel like an outsider, not a full member of the community, by this activity?

  40. Literature • Use children’s literature containing stories about religious holidays and traditions of the world’s faiths.

  41. References • Brayton, E. (2009, August 28). Petoskey schools step into the church/state controversy. Michigan Messenger, Retrieved on 11/7/2009 from schools-step-into-churchstate-controversy • Catholic News Agency, December 17, 2004. Retrieved from on November 14, 2009. • Caldewell, D. (2000, October). Banning Halloween. Retrieved on November 12, 2009 from Family/Holidays/Banning-Halloween.aspx • Klebanow, B. and Fischer, S. (2005). American Holidays: Exploring Traditions,Customs, and Backgrounds. Pro Lingua Associates. ISBN 0-86647-196-0.

  42. References Continued • Nord, W., & Haynes, C. The Relationship of religion to moral education in the public schools . • The Oyez Project, Engel v. Vitale , 370 U.S. 421 (1962) available at: ( accessed 11/14/09 • Penner, L. and Ohlsson, I. (1993). Celebration: The Story of American Holidays. MacMillan Publishing Company. ISBN 0-02-770903-5. • Powers, E. (2009). Christmas customs. Retrieved from • Shaffer, R. (2007, November 22). Seattle schools' Thanksgiving 'myths' stir controversy. Fox News, Retrieved on 11/7/09 from

  43. References Continued • Reasoning From the Scriptures. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. (1985, revised 1989). pp. 176-182. Retrieved November 8, 2009 from • Richardson, S. (2001). Holidays & Holy Days: Origins, Customs, and Insights onCelebrations Through the Year. Vine Books. ISBN 0-8307- 3442-2. • Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary. (1984). Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston, MA. • WorldNetDaily, posted November, 17, 2004. Retrieved from on November 12, 2009. • WorldNetDaily, posted December 20, 2004. Retrieved from on November 12, 2009

  44. References Continued • (2009, July 6). A First amendment guide. Retrieved from px?topic=religious_holidays • (2009, November 22). Establishment clause of the first amendment. Retrieved from Establishment_Clause_of_the_First_Amendment • (n.d.). Illinois ex rel. mccollum v. board of ed. of school dist. no. 71, champaign cty., 333 us 203 - us: supreme court 1948. Retrieved from &q=religious+holiday&hl=en&as_sdt=2002 • (n.d.). Religious holidays in the public schools. Retrieved from B08.Holidays.pdf