A blogging mom’s rant about the war on fun in public schools

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Virginia Tech. Littleton, Colorado. Newtown, Massachusetts. Those are just a few of the places that invoke in a nation a sense of dread at what seems to be a growing number of school shootings nationwide. The influx has led to tightened school security all the way down to the elementary level as well as controversial policy proposals the likes of arming teachers.

It’s all about safety. But at what cost?

Halloween is coming up this Friday. Little ghouls and goblins and pirates and Disney Princesses will take to the streets with pillow cases and buckets collecting as much trick-or-treat gluttony as they can possibly carry.

Halloween has become a staple of capitalism and commerce. According to Time Magazine, consumers hemorrhaged $8 billion in 2012.

Halloween, for my family, friends and neighbors is going to be a hoot. The kids will look awesome decked out in creative apocalyptic stage makeup.

But it won’t be that way at school and that, in my opinion, sucks.

When I was a kid I went to school-sponsored costume contests. I won third place for my zombie costume then and that was before it was cool. We had Halloween-themed assignments and sugary parties. On Halloween we dressed up. But not now. In this day of shoot-em up school violence, Halloween costumes, apparently, are just too risky.

Or perhaps they’re a distraction. Or offensive. Maybe it might hurt some kid’s feelings because their family can’t afford a nifty costume. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

Then there’s after Halloween. This year the candy-gathering war lands on a Friday. As a mom who loves helping her kids hit as many houses as possible and rake in more candy than we could ever possibly consume before the chocolate turns white and the taffy goes rock solid, I love the fact that I don’t have to drag my kids out of their sugar-induced comas to head to school. Last year I let them play hookie the day after Halloween because, why the hell not? My kids are smart. They get good grades. They are supposed to have fun and learn that sometimes, a break is both earned and well deserved.

But if things were the way they were when I was a kid, they wouldn’t want to skip school to recover from their sugar hangovers. They’d want to go to school the same way I wanted to with my bags and bags of candy to share and trade and brag about the house that gave away whole candy bars.

Now-a-days kids are educated in a no-exceptions-made prison of sucky rules. What about letting kids experience being kids?

I have loads of stories. I used to ride my bike through the halls of my school with friends on the weekends peering into our. Schools are ghost towns on weekends now. We used to have birthday parties and brought our friends balloons. I had my first kiss in a crowded hallway. I socialized at my locker. Teachers took high performers to fun events after school and no one thought twice about it. The only stories my kids come home with are about their school principle screaming for them to get off campus.

Here’s where this mom gets really annoyed. School uniforms used to be for the private school kids. Us common folk loved to make fun of them for it. And guess what, it wasn’t called bullying. I went through a funky pants phase. I had super awesome finds from thrift stores including a pair of police pants, neon orange bell bottoms, plaid golf pants and mail man pants. I went through a Goth phase with long, flowing black skirts and black lace everything. I even went through the trendy ‘I want boys to like me’ phase with schoolgirl skirts and knee-high socks.

Now school uniforms are common. It takes away from competition and distractions associated with the who looks better than who-type mentality, they say.

If you want to remove a sense of I’m better than you, ban name brand shoes and fancy accessories, makeup and overpriced hand sanitizer. You can take the freedom of self-expression away from a student’s wardrobe, but they’re still going to find a way. Why not just let them? Let them learn that sometimes people have more than you and that sometimes people have a different style. Most importantly let them know that it doesn’t f-ing matter.

Not much in school is fun anymore. Both of my middle-school aged daughters are forbidden from carrying a backpack. One of them isn’t allowed to wear black nail polish or clothing that promotes “alternative lifestyles.” The other isn’t even allowed to carry a water bottle.

When they shuffle into the lunchroom, they can’t sit with their friends.

After school they are shooed off campus faster than you can say ‘I dropped my pencil.’ They aren’t allowed to linger in the halls or chat in the bike lock.

School, in the name of safety, has become a drag.

When I think back to the day I had to report on the tragic shooting in Newtown – when I remember choking back tears as we learned most of the victims were 7 and 8-years old – I get it. I want my kids to be safe. I don’t mind having to show my ID to get on campus or having to go through extra background checks to chaperone a field trip. I don’t mind locks on doors and fences around schools. What I mind is my children feeling like school is the last place they want to be.

So, this Halloween maybe someone in the school district will think about the unintended consequences of over-regulating children. Sure, there are some potential pitfalls with allowing kids to dress up, but there’s a simple solution – put rules on what they can wear. Every once and a while, why not show kids that they can learn AND have fun?

I’m glad I’m not a kid in 2014, but I’m sorry that my kids are.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email [email protected]