By Kent R. Kroeger (December 11, 2018)
Stories like this are the red meat Fox News has built an empire around. An elementary school principal in a Manchester, Nebraska public school issued a memo to staff prohibiting all Christmas-related practices and symbols.
The memo (found here) started most inauspiciously:
It seems that I have stumbled upon a ‘big rock’ that I hadn’t anticipated. I know that you all are very kind and conscientious people. I know all of the things you’d like to do, have done, want to do are coming from such a good place. I come from a place that Christmas and the like are not allowed in schools…
Banned items listed in the memo included Santas, Christmas trees, “Elf on the Shelf,” singing Christmas Carols, playing Christmas music, Candy Canes and reindeer, homemade ornament gifts, Christmas movies and red and green items.
The banned item that drew particular attention was the candy cane, which, according to the memo, was shaped as a ‘J’ for Jesus and striped red and white to represent ‘the blood of Christ’ and the resurrection, respectively.
Never mind that there is no evidence that the candy cane originated as a Christian religious symbol, the principal’s prohibition left no opportunity for anything remotely scriptural to trickle into her school.
The conservative commentariat went nuts.
Appearing on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, conservative writer Mark Steyn observed about the Nebraska principal’s decision, “When the founders came up with the idea of the separation of church and state they didn’t want President Washington being the head of the church of America as the Queen is the head of the Church of England. That’s it. And like a lot of sane concepts, its metastasized into something utterly insane. And when you are actually banning two of the colors on the color spectrum, red and green, so there’s only orange, yellow and blue left, you are bonkers. You are nuts.”
Normally, I would be echoing these howls of outrage at yet another example of political correctness run amok.
Not this time, however.
Well, more accurately, my emotions are mixed on this story.
It is sad anyone has to say, “She was wrong to ban the colors red and green.” Obviously, the principal went too far. I hope there is no one defending that action.
But…the issue cuts too close to the bone for me to dismiss this principal’s intentions out of hand. In fact, if you read the principal’s memo, she was clearly struggling with the decision and understood the impending crap storm she was going to unleash. But she did it anyway. And why? Because she understands one of the basic principles behind a public school education is that no child should be made to feel unnecessarily uncomfortable. Yes, children will be uncomfortable about taking exams or giving speeches as part of their school curriculum. But they should never be afraid of school because of their race, sex, or religious background.
And that’s not just some lefty, do-gooder speaking. Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, of all people, once said as much while interviewing comedian Chris Rock, who had generated some controversy over a comedy bit where he said school bullies are an essential part of growing up. In Rock’s view, bullies teach us how to cope with life’s guaranteed challenges.
I couldn’t disagree with him more.
I’ve carried one of those traumatizing school experiences for more than 40 years now. The year was 1975 and I was in the sixth grade in Cedar Falls, Iowa. It was the last school day before the start of Christmas break and my teacher, Mrs. Parisho, who up to that day had been one of my favorite teachers ever, decided to kill some time before the end-of-school bell rang.
The whole event probably didn’t take more than 10 minutes.
A devout Catholic, Mrs. Parisho often talked about her Catholic school upbringing in Pittsburgh. She was good a storyteller who often used her childhood memories to kill time. As students, we had no complaints about that. We particularly loved hearing how strict school was in ‘her day.’ I don’t know why we loved those types of stories, but we did.
Unfortunately, on this particular day, her childhood Christmas story segued into a question she posed to each of us in her class: “What church do you go to?”
In the class of 20 or so kids, I am certain there was only one non-Christian (a friend of mine that was Jewish). And then there was me.
Raised a Unitarian — a religious community that professes its acceptance of all faiths — I was terrified about how I would answer the question as my turn was about to come up. Do I say ‘Unitarian’ and just hope nobody asks about what that means. Do I say ‘Methodist’ or ‘Lutheran’ and take the chance a classmate might say, “Hey, I go to the Lutheran church! I’ve never seen you at the Lutheran church!”
I went with ‘I go to the Unitarian church’ and prayed the bell would ring so I could get the heck out there.
The bell didn’t ring (bad news), but the class was silent (good news). I don’t think anybody had clue what a Unitarian was. Fine with me.
And then Mrs Parisho had to interject (why, I will never know): “Class, have you ever heard of the Unitarians? Kent, why don’t you tell us something about Unitarians? Do they believe in Christ?”
I have no doubt she was being genuinely inquisitive about my family’s faith, not judgmental or dismissive. But her intentions didn’t matter. Not at that moment. I fumbled for an answer. I don’t even remember what I said. What I do remember are the muffled giggles and one lifelong nemesis then blurting out, “They’re atheists!” The barely audible laughing became deafening.
I was not and am not an atheist. But there was no point in entering into a theological discussion with a kid best known for bringing to school pages he had ripped from his brother’s Playboy magazines. My humiliation was complete and irreversible, anyway. I only could have made things worse.
When the bell rang, I ran to my locker and then home, feeling ill to my stomach the whole time. I didn’t immediately tell my parents about what happened. I may have told them years later, but I don’t remember doing so. What would be the point?
Long story short. I have no problem with keeping religious customs and decorations out of public schools. Its not a war on Christmas. Its just common sense.
If this makes me a snowflake, then fine, I’m a snowflake.
As for the Nebraska principal, she was placed on administrative leave soon after the story broke in the media.
I feel bad for her. She was trying to do that right thing for her students.