Canceling Halloween: Group Punishment Gone Wild

A glowing plastic Jack o'lanternA Pennsylvania school recently made the national news for canceling Halloween. They cited lower attendance rates, costume safety issues, poorer students feeling left out, and a lack of consistency with the celebrations.

Rather than address each issue individually, the school deals with it in the typical educational way: punish everybody. Write up skippers? Nope. Address unsafe costumes with individual parents? Nope. Help poorer students find costumes? Nope. Talk to teachers about being consistent in their parties? Nope. Take the easy (and joy killing route) and cancel Halloween! Yes!

If I sound passionate about this topic, you’d be right. It’s not so much the issue of Halloween, but the educational tendency towards group punishment. Throughout school, I was a good kid who rarely got in trouble. However, I experienced many group punishments. In many cases, I had no control over even being in the group. The teacher would put me in a group, then punish me when some of the group misbehaved.

I rarely use group punishment in teaching because it’s extremely unjust. I understand that teaching is extremely difficult and group punishment is sometimes a quick and effective way to discipline. However, I know from personal experience how frustrating it can be to be punished even though you’re genuinely innocent.

I think the School District is making a similar mistake, just on a smaller scale. They’re letting genuine concerns that occur because of a few people ruin the Halloween fun of the vast majority who play by the rules. Finding and implementing solutions would be more difficult, but it’s worth it. In the end, excited kids shouldn’t have to sit through a “fall festival” simply because the school’s leadership isn’t creative enough to figure out solutions.

About Jonathan Bennett

Jonathan Bennett is an administrator, author, and speaker with a background in teaching. His articles receive over a million hits per year and have appeared in a variety of publications. He is co-owner of the small business Theta Hill, and he also writes for The Popular Teen, The Popular Man and other sites.