Halloween as Cultural Competence: A Spooky Strategy

Posted by Rachel Tapling on Oct 27, 2016 11:45:00 AM

halloween.jpgI grew up in religious schools that were skeptical of Halloween, but the delight of children to dress up as characters, animals, or haunts and solicit treats from strangers is difficult to squash.

Thankfully, most public schools have gone the way of Anoka, Minnesota (the first city to host a public children’s parade for Halloween- and self-proclaimed “Halloween Capital of the World”) and host events themselves.

Halloween is a great example of how different threads wove together to create the design we see today when we think of the holiday. Because of this, it's a great time to engage with students around the theme of Cultural Competence: the ongoing process of understanding and honoring each other through culture.

A taking-off-the-mask, if you will.

  1. Imagine that the Halloween you know represents the experience of the middle-class white American. It's not a single story, but it dominates the cultural understanding. This is Cultural Awareness. 
  2. Have students discuss & demonstrate ways this framework leaves some folks out: children with allergies, rural families, neighborhoods with high crime or poverty, etc.
  3. As students brainstorm and share traditions or purposed exclusions (like I reference from my private-school upbringing) outside of this norm, identify these concepts as the Cultural Knowledge base-building. Cultural Knowledge is the fact-based understanding of the differences in cultures.
  4. What to do with these factual examples? Simply knowing that the version of Halloween we now see isn’t the only one and neither did it spring up in a vacuum doesn’t help us be nicer humans. We need Cultural Skill for that.
  5. Remind students that this is not to say that there is anything wrong with the Halloween traditions they know. Cultural Competence does not seek to destroy the fun you’re already having, but instead to show you the way of having fun without blinders on. There’s more out there! Break students into groups to discuss how to use the Cultural Knowledge to broaden understanding.
  6. Either discuss or have students demonstrate thoughtful variations on the Halloween theme: (i.e. The Teal Pumpkin Project) and brainstorm-  what are some other variations that could honor the other traditions within the Great American Amalgamation of Halloween? 

The traditions that brought communities together all over the world to celebrate the onset of winter, remember the dead, and tap into the parts of our consciousness that acknowledge the darker things in a way that allows us to play with them, rather than run from them, is still alive and well.

Help your students enjoy the richness of this holiday!

Topics: Classroom Ideas, Literacy

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