The sea of green filling St. Paul streets every March 17 belies the state’s demographic reality: Most Minnesotans trace their ancestry to somewhere other than Ireland. But the beauty of the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade is that everybody is welcome to join the fun, with the tradition transcending its ethnic and religious roots to provide a sense of community and a welcome respite from winter.
The city’s well-known celebration should have been a reminder to a St. Paul elementary school principal that America’s so-called “dominant” culture is one of addition — not subtraction. Unfortunately, Scott Masini, who heads the Bruce Vento Elementary School, lost sight of that important history lesson when he recently made a hasty decision to discontinue school celebrations for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
Masini’s decision was made public this week in a letter addressed to families, according to a Jan. 29 Star Tribune story. “I have come to the difficult decision to discontinue the celebration of the dominant holidays until we can come to a better understanding of how the dominant view will suppress someone else’s view,’’ the letter stated.
The new policy will go into effect quickly. Feb. 14 will not be marked with the small cards, treats or heart decorations that have long enlivened the day.
How much Masini consulted with staff members, families or district leadership is unclear. But the decision apparently caught many school families by surprise, judging by the comments left on a social media site started by St. Paul school parents. Masini was not available for comment Friday, according to district officials, who added that district policy discourages many holiday celebrations. Still, it’s puzzling that Masini’s decision, which was spurred by concerns about inclusivity, appears to have been made exclusively, with questionable input from those affected.
Understandably, the decision has led to predictable criticism about “political correctness” being taken too far. There’s truth to that, but there’s a more in-depth discussion to be had — especially at schools and school districts that have taken similar steps or at those that are considering it.
Particularly in this heated election year, it’s worth remembering that our “dominant” culture has been shaped by the waves of immigrants who settled here over the centuries. These new citizens didn’t give up their religion or traditions. Instead, their newly adopted home country gave them the newfound liberty to continue to enjoy them. Along the way — as St. Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo or Oktoberfest festivities show — the rest of us joined in. What better way to to build new communities, not to mention a nation?
A sterile, emptied-of-fun school year won’t protect a student body from a “dominant” culture. Outside school, kids will still see hearts, shamrocks, Thanksgiving cornucopias and Halloween pumpkins.
Students should know what their communities are celebrating and, even more important, they should be given a chance to share their own traditions with their schools. A truly inclusionary approach offers myriad new learning opportunities and gives students’ parents or grandparents a chance to participate in school activities. Masini should reverse his decision. Schools should be consulting with families about adding cultural celebrations, not moving to limit them.