A long, long time ago, before legislators decided children shouldn’t have parties during school hours. each holiday ushered in festivities that took weeks of preparation. The first major celebration found hallways papered with witches, jack-o-lanterns, and black cats with backs hunched in fright. Cut-out bats swooped from the ceilings and gravestones with ghosts peeking over them paraded down the walls of the hallways. Halloween meant mothers sent candied apples, popcorn balls, and cupcakes to school for the afternoon party. Everyone wore a costume for the day (and not some favorite character from a book). Some teachers played records with screeches and howls, and ghostly music while others read scary stories. Almost every year, one teacher would read “Little Orphan Annie” where “the Gobble-uns/ ‘at gits you/ Ef you/ Don’t/ Watch/ Out!” All of the students would march from class to class to trick-or-treat, and the day ended with a party back in your own room. Games like “Seven Up” and “Poor Pussy” kept us busy all afternoon.
My teaching career began at a junior high school that encompassed seventh, eighth, and ninth graders—all too cool for wearing Halloween costumes to school, but still longing for some special way to mark the day. In those long ago days, teachers could still bring candy to school, and I’d hand out treats to my students. I’d drop the shades, turn off the lights, and delight my students with “The Tell Tale Heart.” Some classes would play “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board” where one student would volunteer to be our dead body while another would chant the spooky tale of death; and with the help of five other students, we’d levitate our “dead” student. Over a period of seven years, I never had a single parent complain that the activity exposed the children to Satan, witch craft, or paganism. Boy, have times changed!
When I moved up to teach English and Psychology at our high school, I found myself back with students who longed to roam the hallways in costumes. Leaving behind the awkward pre-teen years, this older age group donned bold and creative outfits. Our day of celebration included all the favorite music, poetry and stories plus original masterpieces written by my students and shared with the class. Our studies ranged from Poe to Stephen King as students determined the elements of horror within a story.
Somewhere along the line, some parents in some Texas town or city complained about the celebration of Halloween within public schools. Little by little our state legislature chipped away at the traditions I enjoyed in my own childhood. The same mentality that we can use standardized testing to measure the value of our students and our schools seeped into many of the small delights of teaching and learning. I am thankful that creative teachers and principals find a way to still bring Halloween celebrations onto some campuses.
Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman