The Bizarre Halloween Controversy

creepy, graves, gravestonesEvery once in a while as a kid, I’d encounter other children whose parents made mine look lenient and laid back. There were only a few instances like this in my childhood, but when they did happen, they were always a surreal surprise. Halloween was one of those instances.

My parents never expressed any qualms about “letting” me celebrate Halloween by dressing up and trick-or-treating. Their only stipulation was that I couldn’t wear “dark, evil costumes.” Basically, anything dead or supernatural in an evil way was off limits. No sheet ghost costumes or horny devils for me. I didn’t usually find that terribly limiting. Over the years, I went as a fairy, a surgeon, a wrapped present, and Padme from Star Wars.

In high school, it was a big deal that after years of begging, my mom allowed me to dress up as a witch. (The reason she let it slide was primarily that I wanted to go as Elphaba from Wicked, who’s technically not an evil character.)

I thought this was pretty strict. Until I heard about my friend’s parents.

I didn’t really encounter this much with the Catholic kids I knew, but some of the kids I knew from other forms of Christianity were completely forbidden from celebrating Halloween. I remember trying to invite a friend trick-or-treating and being told she wasn’t allowed to celebrate Halloween AT ALL. No costumes. No candy. No jack-o-lanterns.

Years later, while I was in college, I used to tutor kids at an after-school program at a local church. Halloween was coming up in a week, and one of my classmates asked if she could bring in Halloween themed treats to celebrate: lollipops decorated to look like ghosts. The woman running the program said it was OK, but my classmate was still a bit anxious. On the ride back she said, “I just want to respect their faith. I know some parents are really not OK with Halloween.” All this after she was told it wasn’t a problem. Clearly, for this classmate, Halloween had been as controversial a subject as Harry Potter was for me growing up.

Image result for halloween town

While, again, my Halloween experience wasn’t terribly restricted, there was still this restriction on “dark, evil” costumes, and the more I think about it, the more I think I know why.

I wasn’t allowed to watch the Halloweentown movies as a kid because there’s a scene in the first one that briefly features a pentagram. My mom saw it and freaked out. It’s a kids’ movie on Disney Channel, but according to my parents, it could lead me to “the occult.”

I don’t see a lot of people talking about this, but Christianity supports belief in many supernatural creatures. Catholicism is just as guilty of this as other denominations because Catholics do believe in possession by spirits, and Catholic priests can and do perform exorcisms.

My parents have believed in ghosts–yes, dead-people-roaming-around ghosts–for as long as I can remember. Case in point, when we moved from my old house to our current one, they found out that the family that lived here before us had lost a daughter very young. I don’t know how it happened, I just assumed it was to some kind of illness. My parents swear to this day that they saw the little girl roaming around the house as a ghost. They went to a priest for advice, had the house “blessed,” and the ghost “left.” Part of the process of getting rid of this ghost was naming the little girl. I think they named her after a virtue like “Hope” or “Grace” or something. Anyway, she’s “gone.”

If you believe in this stuff, then it’s a scary part of your reality. It’s supernatural. It’s hard to understand or control, so you want to protect your children from it, the same way you’d try to restrict their viewing of violent or sexual images. So you ban things that talk about it, except from a Christian perspective. C.S. Lewis is as overtly Christian as it gets in his supernatural stories, so The Chronicles of Narnia are OK, but Harry Potter? It paints a pleasant image of magic and witchcraft. What if it makes children try to get involved in this “very real” thing?

Fortune tellers and psychics were always off limits for me when I was growing up, not because they’re scams, but because those people “could be communing with evil spirits.” I was told as a child that if I were to touch an evil object owned by a psychic, I could become possessed by a demon.

Yep, demons. It’s incredible my parents don’t have shotguns filled with rock salt.

Were you allowed to celebrate Halloween? What are your thoughts about the holiday? I’m especially curious about how you feel about the holiday in relation to religion.

Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful of others and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

Homeschooling and Memorization

Girl Wearing White Purple and Pink Floral Short Sleeve DressThe other day, I had a conversation with one of my brothers that migrated to the topic of our many odd experiences with the other homeschooled kids we knew growing up. (For a more detailed post about my homeschooling experience, click here.) Some of those kids were more sheltered than we were, and educated in the strangest ways. He mentioned a particular memory of my friend’s little brother. (Names have been changed to preserve privacy.) My brother said:

“Gloria’s brother was my age, so obviously he was supposed to hang out with me while you two were hanging out. He’d brought school work with him and asked me to quiz him. I said sure. He pulled out three or four sheets of paper just covered in the digits of pi. He got through like two pages before having any trouble.”

I hadn’t really thought about it before this conversation, but my brother’s experience definitely reflects many more that I’ve had. Many homeschooling families have a very intense focus on memorization, and some parents list the information their child has memorized as an example of how superior their child’s homeschool education must be to other forms of schooling.

I was always very proud of my memorization skills during my time as a homeschooler, perhaps because of the aforementioned notion that this meant I was better educated than some of my peers. I had memorized the names of all the books of the Bible. I could recite poems ranging in length from a stanza to several pages completely from memory. I knew all the US states and capitals, and historical dates with brief explanations of a corresponding event afterwards. (For example, I still remember 1620: Mayflower Lands Pilgrims in Plymouth Massachusetts). Sure, it’s not uncommon for kids in public school to memorize the states and capitals and the occasional date. But how useful is all this memorization if these lists of facts aren’t paired with other relevant information?

Heading into college, I found myself somewhat dissatisfied with my education in a lot of subjects. I began to see just how much I’d been missing. For instance, I still have huge gaps in my history education. Even with all the memorization, I was genuinely surprised by major events discussed in depth in my history-heavy humanities classes: events that had been briefly mentioned to me, but never really covered before in my homeschooling years. I also really don’t have a general sense of how the historical events flow into each other. I still see history as blocks of events and civilizations and cultures that exist completely separately in my mind, even though I realize they often existed at the same time, influencing each other. I may have a lot of the facts there, but they’re missing the connective tissue that’s vital to making sense of it all, and while I know not every teacher in every school presents these things well, I think the heavy focus on memorization  in my homeschooling education contributed to this disjointed understanding of history. You can memorize all the facts you want, but for them to mean anything, they have to be part of a big picture.

Maybe the ability to recall huge amounts of information is good for some subjects though. Curious about the usefulness of some of this memorization, I asked an engineer I know what he thought about the pi memorization exercise that my friend’s brother was doing. He told me that pi is useful in his math at work, but that knowing a lot of digits of pi is not. He certainly doesn’t type several pages of digits into his calculations manually just to use pi. The gist of our conversation ended with the conclusion that when you start learning more than a few digits beyond 3.14, it’s basically a party trick. There’s nothing wrong with learning it for fun, but it doesn’t have enough educational value to devote key math study time to learning it, even if you end up going into a math-heavy field as he did.

Practicing memorization is very good for one thing though: it’s excellent preparation for test taking. I know I can attribute at least some of my academic success to the fact that I’m pretty quick at memorizing information. Homeschooling did give me that. I don’t want it to seem like I hate memorization. I just think if you’re going to assign it, it should have a purpose. There are plenty of useful things you can have your child memorize. Geography facts are great for when you’re learning to navigate, or booking a vacation. Teach the names of the great lakes. The 5 boroughs of New York City. Children can practice public speaking by memorizing poetry, or famous speeches–but frame it that way. Know that that is why you’re doing it. And please don’t make your child memorize pages and pages of pi digits for math class unless they really want to do it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about education and memorization, and when it’s useful. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful of others and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy