It’s that time of year, again. Time to break out the tree, ornaments, and other Christmas décor. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my own bubble, complete with traditions and expectations, that I forget that there are other winter holidays.
Back when I taught in public schools, there was a rule about holidays and cultures. If you teach about one holiday or culture, you must give equal time and effort to all holidays and cultures. The other option was skipping this type of social studies topic unless it was present in your basal textbooks due to state or common core standards. Easy enough. Each year my team worked together to provide social studies units throughout the year. It was fun and promoted multiculturalism and the idea that we all ought to help one another.
Because this is the standard in most schools, districts, and states I was shocked to find out that many teachers use Elf on the Shelf during this time of year. I thought it was a joke! Nope, some teachers use this little fella for décor while others (MANY others) use the elf to coerce children into behaving certain ways. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work long-term and is far from a positive, respectful discipline plan.
Using the elf creates kids who are always watching out for anyone with the power to punish them, including bullies. Which, sadly, leads to children following a bully’s directions due to fear rather than making wise choices via an internal compass.
On top of that terrible social skills lesson, the elf doesn’t honor all religions and cultures making the classroom a negative influence on multiculturalism and, sadly, fostering a “we are better than you” bully mentality. This is a form of racism.
I realize this seems like a stretch to those who do not live the daily realities of institutionalized racism, which are often not as obvious as racism from years in our past. However, this type of racism is still very much a reality and teachers do need to be aware of this fact. Keep in mind that some parents are extremely watchful, as they should be, and will report racism to the department of education in their state or to local districts because the elf does violate anti-bullying rules in schools and anti-racism laws. Yes, this can put jobs on the line. Is the elf worth the risk?
Though I know people mean well, it is time to ditch the elf. No Elf on the Shelf needs to be in our public schools. Not even if the elf is free. Not even if parents and kids ask for it. Not even if it’s “cute”. The ramifications from this “cute and harmless” tradition are harmful and have no place in our public schools.
There’s also the issue of telling lies. Yes, many parents lie about Santa, the elf, and more. But should teachers lie to kids? Some kids don’t mind, but others feel betrayed and that can break the bonds of trust they need so they can more easily learn.
Also, children with anxiety often have heightened anxiety if they think someone is spying on their every move. Think about the last time a police officer was driving behind you when you were at the wheel. Did you overthink every move you made even though you follow the rules closely? If so, then you know at least a little about the anxiety a child feels when put under a spotlight because a teacher uses the elf in an attempt to manage classroom behavior. If your classroom behavior management is respectful and effective, then you won’t need a crutch like an elf who spies on children anyway.
Fellow educators, I ask you to do away with the Elf on the Shelf. It isn’t worth the messages the elf sends to our students. It isn’t worth the time explaining the elf, moving the elf, and using the elf to force compliance from students. It isn’t worth someone complaining to DOE because a teacher chose to focus on one holiday or character. Just say no to the elf. Our kids deserve better and nobody needs more stress this time of year. We can achieve more without the elf than with it.