What’s scarier than Halloween?

Entitlement! Earlier this month, parents of students in Milford, CT’s public schools learned that district officials had canceled the schools’ traditional Halloween festivities to prevent any students who don’t celebrate Halloween (e.g. for religious or cultural reasons) from feeling excluded. I write about just such misguided moves by educators—essentially excluding everyone in the name of inclusion—in my new book, Stop Moaning, Start Owning: How Entitlement is Ruining America and How Personal Responsibility Can Fix it.

They’re akin to not keeping score and/or awarding trophies to every participant in youth sports to prevent smaller or less coordinated participants (of which I was one!) from feeling excluded or canceling honors ceremonies to prevent lower-achieving or less motivated students from feeling excluded. As in most such athletic and academic cases, I believe that the intentions of the school officials in Milford probably were good, but they were misguided for two key reasons:

1) They were fostering a sense of entitlement among kids to be protected by others from ever feeling left out of anything. That’s misguided because, in America, we all have the right to go through life without being forced to embrace anyone else’s traditions, but no one has the right to go through life without being exposed to, or even feeling offended by, others’ traditions.

2) They were depriving kids of crucial opportunities to learn to tolerate feelings of exclusion. That’s misguided because we’re all excluded from some things in life—we can’t each be every religion, do every job, etc. Being exposed to things that others enjoy in which we can’t fully participate isn’t necessarily oppressive; it can promote awareness, tolerance, and admiration of others’ experiences.

I believe most Americans intuitively understand the misguidedness of trying to shield kids from ever feeling excluded or offended, which was affirmed by the overwhelming positive public response to a Kia commercial shown during Sunday Night Football within days of the Milford schools’ Halloween decision which points out the folly in treating lesser-achieving competitors the same as champions. Unfortunately, for many Americans, understanding the misguidedness of such things doesn’t necessarily translate into standing up to them.

And parents’ failures to stand up to them allow kids to grow into college students who don’t mind “speech codes” on campus, intended to prevent students from ever feeling excluded or offended by anyone’s words. Even President Obama has decried such free-speech restrictions in the name of inclusiveness, seeming to agree with me that young Americans feeling excluded or offended may be bad, but young Americans not minding the loss of their First Amendment rights is worse! (And what comes next may not scare the President, but it scares me: those college students grow into professionals who don’t mind having their incomes “equalized” by the government!)

I was heartened, then, to hear recently that the Milford public schools have reinstated this year’s Halloween festivities in response to pressure from parents who apparently understand that nobody—young, old, or in between—is entitled not to experience uncomfortable feelings, and when one does experience such feelings, figuring out how to tolerate and deal with those feelings constructively is part of growing into a personally-responsible individual. So, if the parents in Milford are representative of parents across America, there’s reason for optimism (at least until someone proposes singing a Christmas carol at a “winter” choir concert in December!) that parents are awakening to the many ways in which schools have been fostering entitlement when fostering personal responsibility would serve their kids much better.

For more on entitlement vs. personal responsibility in kids and schools, Stop Moaning, Start Owning: How Entitlement Is Ruining America and How Personal Responsibility Can Fix It, is available everywhere NOW from HCI Books, and SIGNED copies are available on my website.

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