Public schools have been upending American traditions for more than a decade, imposing bans or restrictions on activities many hold dear. The bans and restrictions are often accomplished by fiat, without the consensus of the communities on which they’re imposed. A recent holiday proclamation in Somerville, Mass., that encompasses Columbus Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving is a prime example of the inroads attributed to political correctness. But while political correctness is used to justify taking aim at holidays, the bigger problem may be the lack of public decision-making- and accurate fact-finding- behind them.
What Happened in Somerville
Kennedy School principal Ann Foley ditched Columbus Day as insensitive to Native Americans. She says Christopher Columbus committed atrocities against indigenous peoples, an assertion denied by Carol Delaney, author of “Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem.” Delaney says Foley needs to learn her history, according to the Boston Herald, which first reported the story. She says Columbus was not generally off marauding.
Foley is also taking aim at Thanksgiving. Columbus’ actions mandate caution in celebrating Thanksgiving she wrote in an email to staff. Why? She won’t say. Foley refused to explain what atrocities she felt Columbus or the pilgrims were guilty of when asked for details by the Boston Herald. Instead, she said her Native American friends and Caribbean friends view history differently than the version long taught in American schools.
Banned on Presumptions
Foley isn’t the first school official to try to write treasured Thanksgiving traditions out of America’s common heritage. In 2008, a Los Angeles school ended a long tradition of kindergarteners dressing as Pilgrims and Indians and sitting down to a meal together. The reason? Indian costumes might have negative connotations. There was no indication that anyone actually complained about them.
A year earlier, a Seattle school district sent out a letter saying Thanksgiving was a time of mourning, not celebration, for Native Americans. Even the Native Americans took issue with that proclamation, with one tribe pronouncing that it celebrates Thanksgiving in the same way as other Americans.
Is there a clash between mainstream culture and minorities at play here? Or is the problem merely hypothetical? That didn’t get aired because of the decision-making process. When one individual or a small group imposes its view on the majority, alternate viewpoints aren’t considered, and factual errors may not be corrected. That certainly seems to be the case in Somerville where a factually faulty and poorly explained decision was imposed on a community by a principal acting alone. It also seems to be true of the earlier Thanksgiving proclamations based on untested and possibly faulty presumptions about the viewpoints of Native Americans.