BY PAM LOBLEY
NOW THAT’S FUNNY
The Paterson school district, New Jersey’s third largest public school district, had planned to be open on Columbus Day. Usually they are closed that day, in observance of the holiday. But this year, they have already missed many school days because of flooding, and they need to make up those days. New Jersey requires a total of 180 days of school.
When the Italians got word of this, they didn’t like it. The Italian American One Voice Coalition particularly didn’t like it because the school was choosing to stay closed on the Muslim holiday of Eidh-Al-Ahda, celebrated on November 7, but to open on Columbus Day, a traditional American holiday. They saw that as disrespectful to a state with such a large number of Italian American residents. The Paterson school district, by the way, is 60 percent Hispanic, 30 percent African American and 9 percent other.
I like Columbus as much as the next gal. His story is impressive, his achievements loom large, and let’s face it, he changed the world. But if you want to honor him, the kids should be in school.
As a mother of two school age children and a some-time substitute teacher I can tell you that all kids get Columbus coming and going. It starts with picture books in Kindergarten and continues right on up through fifth grade when they learn that yes, though he was Italian, it was the Spanish King and Queen that paid for his trip. There is no shortage of Columbus-worship in the public schools.
I am pretty sure that most kids with the day off will not be spending it by honoring Columbus. They’re going to stay in their pajamas watching Nickelodeon, and then go outside and play. They might go to a movie or hit the mall.
Our school district, in Bergen County, is never closed on Columbus Day. We have a half day. I don’t get this, either. I can guarantee you my family is not going to use the extra 2 hours to attend a parade or attempt a Santa Maria reenactment. We’re going to go to Burger King for lunch and then get a jump on homework.
I don’t want to burst any bubbles, but to kids, a day off from school is a day off from school. They watch TV and play with their friends. Maybe Mom uses that day to buy them new sneakers. If Dad and Mom are off from work, then the whole family might get to do something fun, like a day trip or even a long weekend.
I don’t know any families that use their days off to honor Columbus, or Martin Luther King, Jr., (also heavily taught and appreciated during school-day curriculums), or the Presidents (ditto). Even Memorial Day and Labor Day, two of the most sacred, non-religious holidays in America, are days to go to the beach.
Franklin Roosevelt first declared Columbus Day a holiday in 1937, and at that time it was celebrated on October 12. Later, in 1971, it was moved to the second Monday of the month. I’m pretty sure this was done so that people could have a three-day weekend, not out of respect for the life of Columbus. If giant white sales and Doorbusters are a sign of honor, Columbus has reached the pinnacle.
Pam Lobley writes the “Now That’s Funny” column. Sign up for her mailing list at www.pamlobley.com.
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