Movies and television don’t help. Repeatedly, we are shown that novelty and intimacy are mutually exclusive principles, that you can have one, or the other, but not both...Read More
One Halloween, I dressed up as Cinderella, a different time- a nurse, but my all-time favorite costume was an old lady. I wore my hair pulled back into a bun sprinkled with baby powder. I wore a crochet shawl and walked hunched over a cane. Was that offensive? Was that ageism?
According to some, dressing in a costume that is other than what you are should be avoided.
But isn’t that what dress up is about? Isn’t it about trying on something different than who or what you are?
Some schools are advising their students against borrowing from other cultures. See- The New York Times article: Costume Correctness on Campus: Free to Be You, But Not Me.
The message: It is dangerous to pretend.
Was it sexism when, at 18, I dressed as a black cat wearing only a black leotard and stockings, high heels and a tail? I looked more like a Playboy Bunny.
But Halloween was the time I got to pretend or play I was something I wasn’t. And it wasn’t pejorative or prejudice or mockery. It was curiosity.
I have a male friend who, one Halloween dressed as a mutual female friend. He wore a long blonde wig.
But this year, according to the above-mentioned article, it’s a no-no to dress in drag or as Caitlyn Jenner.
The associate editor of Lenny, an online newsletter, wrote in an email, “Dressing up as Pocahontas (or sexy Pocahontas, let’s get real), is offensive because it takes the whitewashed version of a whole group of people that have been victimized and abused in their own land,” and presents it as “ a thing one can try for a night.”
Yes! That’s the point!
That’s why we dress up, starting in pre-school. Play is essential for children. (See- Let the Children Play.)
But it is also important for adults.
Stuart Brown, president of the National Institute for Play believes after decades of research, that there are dangerous long-term consequences of play deprivation. And he believes play is essential for all people, at all ages, at all times.
Dressing up is a form of play (role play) that requires imagination, fosters learning and may, actually, increase empathy.
When you dress up you are stepping into someone else’s shoes, or trying to, even if for just for one night.
Of course there are people who use Halloween as an excuse to ridicule and that’s never acceptable except for the time when someone I know dressed up as Sarah Palin.
That was mockery. (And totally acceptable.)
But is it ridicule when a young child, in an elite private school, wears a toolbelt and dresses up as a carpernter?
Where do we draw the line?
Nobody wants to be accused of ageism, sexism, racism or being insensitive.
So let’s use our heads.
When my daughter (who is white) wanted to be Scary Spice (who is not), it was all based on awe and admiration.
She didn’t want to be Baby Spice.
Should she not have been allowed to explore the Scary Spice persona?
In my mind, it would’ve been discriminatory, and just plain wrong, to tell her she had to be one of the white spice girls.
As children try out different roles (karate kid, superhero, celebrity, carpenter, doctor, nurse, chef, mother) they are solidifying their own identity.
Maybe adults are too.
In all fairness, I do remember a pencil can in the middle of our communal table and echoing the words to a Dick and Jane book.
But mostly, I remember Green Trees. Yes, that’s right our playing field had a name. And I recall, vividly, a seesaw and running and playing tag.
Twenty years later, things were different.
My son’s kindergarten day ended at 3:00. He was not yet 5, but the first thing his teacher told me at his parent conference in November was, “He still wants to play.” She said this as if this was a bad thing and that something had to be done if my son was to succeed at all.
Being an NYU student who was majoring in education, I ignored her. Well, that’s not exactly true. I talked about her endlessly to anyone who would listen, wondering why someone who obviously knew nothing about children or education was allowed to teach.
The year before, when my son was 4, his teacher raved at our parent conference about how he had a glowing imagination. She reported that he could brilliantly story tell, recall details from stories he’d been told and had a flare for description. And most importantly, he had a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face.
So you can imagine my surprise when his kindergarten teacher did not feel the same way about his development and wanted him to sit still longer and pay attention better.
This child of mine had learned to tie his shoes the previous summer while he was still 4; but when I showed up in April to help out in his classroom, his teacher looked at me, pointed to my son’s untied shoe laces and said, “It’s time he learn to tie his shoes.”
Why had my son played (pun intended) like he couldn’t tie his shoes throughout most of the year?
And what else had he pretended he couldn’t do?
According to Let the Kids Learn Through Play, a New York Times piece, academic teaching in kindergarten can backfire. It can cause unnecessary stress and spoil a child’s desire to learn.
Jay Giedd, a neuroscientist, spent his career studying how the human brain develops and says that most kids younger than 8 are better suited for exploration than they are for didactic explanation.
Formal education at an early age will not foster people who can discover and innovate; and in fact, may result in children earning lower grades than children who had the opportunity to learn through play.
My grandson is now learning to read and it’s as if this generation of teachers and educational policy makers still did not get the memo:
Children learn through play.
It is essential for their development, not to mention their happiness and overall well-being.