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substitute ruins Christmas for kindergartners
December 13, 2002 2:05 PM   Subscribe

"No, Virginia Hayley, there isn't a Santa Claus" A substitute teacher in Florida was reading aloud to her class of Kindergartners when the subject unexpectedly turned to the existence of Santa Claus. Rather than perpetuate a myth, "Mrs. P" chose to come clean with the gathered five year olds, and explained that there was no Santa, and that all presents "come from mom and dad." Well, next thing you know, kids are crying, parents are protesting, and the teacher feels awful. In an effort to "make up for the teacher's lapse," the school district decides to send in a "Santa" to visit the class in order to "set the record straight": "Today's visiting Santa, with a natural, full white beard, should convince even a classroom full of skeptics, said district spokesman Englehart. 'He's the real deal.'" Great! Well, except for the fact that he's not. (via obscurestore)
posted by pardonyou? (123 comments total)

 
The teacher sounds like a garden-variety idiot. The parents and school district sound like world-class idiots.
posted by timeistight at 2:08 PM on December 13, 2002


What happens when Easter comes about? Make a rabbit lay a chocolate egg?
posted by psycht at 2:11 PM on December 13, 2002


Here's another version of the same story, more or less, from England a few days ago.
posted by LeLiLo at 2:15 PM on December 13, 2002


Wait just a minute, pardonyou?. Are you implying that the visiting santa was not the real Santa Claus? I declare--these district spokesmen get more and more gullible with every passing Christmas.
posted by vraxoin at 2:16 PM on December 13, 2002


I think it's lame that parents lie to their kids anyway - so much of parenting is based on establishing trust between parents and their children, yet we go to great effort to perpetuate the lie that there is a Santa. When there isn't. I don't think it's right that the teacher told the kids, but it also wasn't right for the the school to go to such extraordinary lengths to reestablish the lie.
posted by drobot at 2:16 PM on December 13, 2002


What happens when Easter comes about?

they should bring in Jesus.

hmm, but would it be your garden-variety caucasian Jesus or the rarer ethnically-authentic Jesus?
posted by dorian at 2:16 PM on December 13, 2002


"The teacher feels awful". Poor wee dab. The daft bat clearly has no idea and has chosen the wrong profession. Everyone knows presents come from the Good Lord Jesus! Tch.
posted by Fat Buddha at 2:17 PM on December 13, 2002


I think I would enjoy my son "ruining" santa for all of his friends. I would take great pleasure in fielding the rash of phone calls. "My son told your child what? Omigosh, I don't know what to do. I will lock him in the basement." In fact, a "Santa is a Lie" T-shirt would go great with my collection of inappropriate baby T-shirts that my son can't read yet. "Property of Jim Beam", "No Fat chicks", and "I shit my pants". Thank goodness he has a mother.
posted by Mushkelley at 2:18 PM on December 13, 2002


Dr. Mitch Spero, a licensed psychologist with Child and Family Psychologists in Plantation and Weston, says it is vital for children to reach an appropriate level of emotional maturity before learning certain truths of life.

Does this really qualify? It's not like the reality of death, divorce or war. It's you lying to a child about a fat man in a red suit.
posted by eyeballkid at 2:18 PM on December 13, 2002


timeistight, I agree -- this one is pretty much a clusterbleep all the way around. Once the cat was out of the bag, the school district probably should have played it down as much as possible and left it to the parents to sort it out. While I think the teacher didn't demonstrate much common sense, I think it's equally wrong for a school district to affirmatively try to prove to kindergartners something that isn't true. The comments about "setting the record straight" and "the real deal" are actually anything but.
posted by pardonyou? at 2:19 PM on December 13, 2002


<flamebait>
If you replace "Santa Claus" with "God" then we've got controversy. Otherwise, meh.
</flamebait>
posted by UrbanFigaro at 2:20 PM on December 13, 2002


This story makes me so angry. I can't believe that the parents would suggest, and the school agree, that a lie should be perpetuated in order to protect children from the truth. You realize of course that the same principle applies to this as it does to the Scopes trial? It just blows my mind that so many people are in agreement with the parents here.

It would have been better for the teacher to have said, when asked about the existence of Santa Claus, "that is something you should talk to your parents about," but once the cat is out of the bag, they put on a fake show to make it look like the teacher was wrong! Doesn't truth matter AT ALL?
posted by Hildago at 2:24 PM on December 13, 2002


Chalk me up as another one that never quite got over the fact that my parents lied to me about Santa and the rest of the land of make believe. It didn't cripple me or anything, but it was certainly one more log for the fire.

I certainly don't want teachers perpetuating lies (although there goes a lot of civics and social studies classes I took as a kid). I guess you could say that the teacher should have refused to answer, but I mean come on - they were five. I don't know exactly when the fact that my parents were full of shit dawned on me, but it seems I must have known by five. Shouldn't five-year-olds have sussed out the truth for themselves by that point?
posted by willnot at 2:26 PM on December 13, 2002


Doesn't truth matter AT ALL?

Where've you been? It's all about spin. Truth can be uncomfortable, inconvenient, or complex, you know.
posted by rushmc at 2:28 PM on December 13, 2002


I think it's equally wrong for a school district to affirmatively try to prove to kindergartners something that isn't true

Oh, lighten up. Having Santa Claus come visit the kindergartners is a perfectly reasonable thing for an elementary school to do. They're trying to make sure that the kids still enjoy the holidays. Sue them.
posted by gsteff at 2:28 PM on December 13, 2002


sue them

That is next week's story.
posted by Tunnel Hair at 2:31 PM on December 13, 2002


Ah, Santa. What better way to tell your children "I will take advantage of your trust for my own amusement"?
posted by Zed_Lopez at 2:31 PM on December 13, 2002


Well, Hidalgo, put it in perspective. It's not like the teacher disabused them of their notion that the earth is flat or that the earth was created 6,000 years ago. I'm pretty sure none of these parents intended their children to maintain a lifelong belief in Santa Claus. It's a harmless fantasy. I think the point is that a belief in Santa is one of those fragile hallmarks of a child's utter innocence and honest belief in magic--that's what parents fear losing. My own daughter's belief in the Santa mythos is priceless; the mere thought of it fills her with breathless joy and anticipation. If I caught someone telling her that he wasn't real, I'd probably want to kick the crap out of them.

There'll be plenty of time for the prosaic realities of life when she's older. For now, just let her believe in Santa Claus and be happy.
posted by vraxoin at 2:38 PM on December 13, 2002


Expose the truth! The man in the red suit was invented by Coca Cola! Here's the full story.
posted by Jimbob at 2:40 PM on December 13, 2002


gsteff: right on. These are FIVE year olds. What's next, spoiling the magician's act at a birthday party? Nietzsche and Rand books as presents?
posted by turbodog at 2:40 PM on December 13, 2002


...and another room full of 30 cynics is born.

After figuring out "the truth" when I was 7 or 8, I don't think I've ever trusted anyone as much since.
posted by mathowie at 2:40 PM on December 13, 2002


"now, children, your mommy and daddy are gonna die.
your pet's gonna die.
you're all gonna die.
now, here's a list of the terrible diseases that will kill you and your loved ones if you don't get raped and murdered or killed in a car/plane crash or something"
(teacher goes on 25 minutes, describing strokes and ovarian cancer and the like)

you guys are really something. she's the Grinch who stole Xmas and you root for her
posted by matteo at 2:42 PM on December 13, 2002


Wait wait wait.

You mean....THERE IS NO SANTA CLAUS?!?

[sniff]
posted by Ogre Lawless at 2:43 PM on December 13, 2002


sheesh...i'd much rather learn that santa didn't exist rather than find out that Santa and his reindeer would burn up doing 3,000 times the speed of sound. Now that's just cruel.
posted by poopy at 2:45 PM on December 13, 2002


We're a species of liars. Get used to it. The ability to tell the truth went out the (not yet invented) window once we learned how to communicate with each other.
posted by WolfDaddy at 2:49 PM on December 13, 2002


Reminds me of my favorite Donald Barthelme story, "The School".
posted by faustessa at 2:50 PM on December 13, 2002


One take on the whole reality of Santa issue... and a whole debate on it at iVillage.

From the second link: "Why can't we just see that there is no RIGHT or WRONG answer. We don't have to put each other down or be contradicting. It is really what works for you and your family!! We wont always agree with the way that other people raise their children, but we need to raise our children to the best of our ability with our values in mind."
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:50 PM on December 13, 2002


Being Jewish and all, I was certainly clued in to Santa Claus' non-existence somewhat earlier than my friends. However, my parents told me that it wasn't nice to tell the other kids that Santa didn't exist, so we settled on a compromise position--"Santa just doesn't come to my house."

But I did get to gloat about the eight days of Hanukkah...
posted by thomas j wise at 2:52 PM on December 13, 2002


i agree with gsteff and turbodog: these are 5yr olds. imagination and fantasy worlds are a big part of their life. i don't think that exposing the truth about Santa is going to protect them. i think of it as smoldering wonder and joy in a kid's life.
posted by poopy at 3:06 PM on December 13, 2002


If you replace "Santa Claus" with "God" then we've got controversy

Man, if they had someone dressed as God come in the week after and console the kids, how awesome THAT would be!!
posted by jonson at 3:08 PM on December 13, 2002


My 6-year-old boy still believes in Santa. My notion that this is probably his last Santa-believing Christmas -- well, it's bittersweet.

I can discern by the reactions here who the parents are and who the non-parents are.
posted by Holden at 3:12 PM on December 13, 2002


I'm a parent. And my thought on this was: "Kid, I know I'm going to have to lie to you someday about something. But I promise, it's going to be something far more important than an imaginary source of gifts."

I don't know if people think that "believing in Santa" is cute, or is a good way to teach some sort of virtue (generosity?), or if it's some kind of enhancement to the imagination, but there are ways to support cuteness and virtue and imagination without telling a bald-faced lie.

If you don't ever lie to your kid about Santa, you never have to burst his bubble. You want to promote imagination? Great. Play dressup, or read fairy tales, build a fort. You want to teach kids the joy of giving? Take them shopping for Toys for Tots. You want cute, get a kitten.
posted by padraigin at 3:20 PM on December 13, 2002


she's the Grinch who stole Xmas and you root for her

I don't know, I definitely feel that a better course of action would have been for the teacher to say "that's something you'll need to ask your mommies and daddies about", it wasn't her place to disabuse the kids of the idea. But I don't think that knowing that Santa isn't a real man in a red suit necessarily ruins Christmas, there are ways to explain that "Santa" is a concept or metaphor which maintain the integrity of Christmas being a special time without need for the belief that Santa is real. I don't recall ever really believing that Santa was a real person, I always knew that he was just a way for my parents to make the day special for me, and I never felt they were lying to me, either (they'd talk about Santa, but there was always a tongue in cheek element to it, and to this day, the gag gifts we give each other are from Santa).

You want cute, get a kitten.

Just please not for Christmas.
posted by biscotti at 3:26 PM on December 13, 2002


What happens when Easter comes about?

they should bring in Jesus.


Well, that'd make Good Friday awfully exciting. But it might backfire come Easter Sunday, unless they get a really miraculous Jesus impersonator.
posted by Nelson at 3:28 PM on December 13, 2002


You want cute, get a kitten.

Just please not for Christmas.


biscotti, you're so right. I should have rethought this on preview, in light of the fact that I cleaned up a little pile of spit and curly ribbon only this morning, courtesy of Mister Fuzzypants.
posted by padraigin at 3:33 PM on December 13, 2002


"It's the belief that if you do the right thing for its own sake, you will be rewarded."

You've got to love that contradiction.

Maybe the school should have said to the parents, "sorry, but this wouldn't be a problem if we all didn't decide to lie to our kids for the first seven or eight years of their lives. Sure, our teacher screwed up (she shouldn't have been the one to tell them), but guess what? We don't penalize staff at an educational institution for telling the truth."
posted by Dasein at 3:35 PM on December 13, 2002


'...We don't penalize staff at an educational institution for telling the truth.'

From the link:
Shea wanted the substitute reprimanded and not allowed back into the class.

The school refused, Shea said.

posted by poopy at 3:45 PM on December 13, 2002


now, children, your mommy and daddy are gonna die.
your pet's gonna die [etc.]


I think there's a HUGE difference between introducing real concepts the kid might not be ready to accept, and disabusing the kids of a lie.

Kid's don't start out knowing about or believing in Santa Clause. That's shit that parents put in their heads because it's just so damn cute to play with their trusting little natures. They'll believe whatever the fuck you tell them. And, they'll believe the next thing you tell them just a little bit less. I'm amazed at all of the parents who are always so eager to be the boy who cried wolf and pass off responsibility for that lie onto the magic of the season and the innocence and imagination of youth. I'm also amazed that so many people continue to have faith in some god after finding out what a load of crap all the other magic characters with super powers turned out to be.

And I really doubt that kids really care about santa. They like getting free presents, but the embodiment of that is meaningless. It could be the a guy in a red suit, a martian or their parents for all they care as long as it brings them stuff. The holiday is about the free crap -- oh, and the threat that if the kids are bad, then maybe santa won't come this year.
posted by willnot at 3:51 PM on December 13, 2002


Jimbob: while the links you gave were very interesting (it's fascinating to see a cultural myth develop), the timeline (the "full story" link) if anything contradicts the anti-coke article. Coke didn't regularly start using the red suit etc. until 1931, but the red suit was apparently firmly ensconced by 1927. Even if they had some influence, it seems to have been more influenced by a card maker in the late 1800s. Also, most of the aspects of the legend that that article is fulminating about look from that timeline to be much older than coke's use of the figure. It looks like they really just seized on a growing trend that happened to suit their corporate colors, and their influence simply firmly set an already common color.

The relevant text from the timeline:
A Boston printer named Louis Prang introduced the English custom of Christmas cards to America, and in 1885 he issued a card featuring a red-suited Santa. The Santa with a red suit began to replace the fur-dressed Belsnickle image and the multicolored Santas. Although Santa Claus was still wearing different colors of garb into the 20th century, the red suit had become a standard image by the 1920s, as described by The New York Times on 27 November 1927.

Haddon H. Sundblom, a commercial illustrator, began to work for Coca-Cola in 1924, and from 1931 on he created at least one painting of Santa Claus every year for use in advertisments by The Coca-Cola Company.
posted by advil at 3:57 PM on December 13, 2002


wow...after reading many of the comments here im starting to really appreciate the memories of my childhood ...

oh! and 'rudolph the rednosed reindeer' is on tonight... i plan on tuning in. guess i'm a sucker.
posted by poopy at 3:59 PM on December 13, 2002


I for one welcome our new jolly ol' overlords.
posted by thatweirdguy2 at 4:00 PM on December 13, 2002


The ability to tell the truth went out the (not yet invented) window once we learned how to communicate with each other.

Gee, that's funny, I do it every single day! Perhaps you meant the desire to tell the truth?

these are 5yr olds. imagination and fantasy worlds are a big part of their life.

Imagination and fantasy are important, for adults as well as children. But not distinguishing between them and reality is psychotic and leads to all manner of trouble.
posted by rushmc at 4:03 PM on December 13, 2002


Disclaimer: I'm a parent. I'm an atheist.

If a teacher at my 6 year old's school told her there was no Santa Claus, I'd be there with a pitchfork and torch. Cause my children pain and I'll come after you.

If you don't want your kids believing in Santa, then fine, then tell them it's the parents. I prefer for my children to feel sense of magic, suprise, and wonder that is woefully lacking from adult life during their childhood.

The teacher telling them about Santa is no different than telling them "Yes, there is a God." or "No, there is no god.". There's no place in public school for such discussion with 6 year old children. The teacher could have easily said, "Do your parents believe in Santa?" and left it that.

There was no reason for the teacher to reveal the truth to the children.
posted by Argyle at 4:04 PM on December 13, 2002


Imagination and fantasy are important, for adults as well as children. But not distinguishing between them and reality is psychotic and leads to all manner of trouble.

oooookkkk... we're not being just a tad overly dramatic? of all the serial killers, mentally disabled, and maniacs out there, i've yet to come across the story of a good boy/girl, raised in a good home who, once they learned the truth of Santa Clause became suddenly psychotic and mentally snapped.

maybe some people here should come back down to reality.
posted by poopy at 4:10 PM on December 13, 2002


So we should all just tell our kids Santa's a goddamn amalgam*? I suppose this is the end of the Gingerbread Man running through grade schools too.
There is too much reality in the world as it is. If we can't believe in the unbelievable, there goes invention, art, etc.

*twisting a movie quote for my own purpose and on preview what argyle and poopy said.
posted by nramsey at 4:16 PM on December 13, 2002


If a teacher at my 6 year old's school told her there was no Santa Claus, I'd be there with a pitchfork and torch. Cause my children pain and I'll come after you.

Whoa, chill out Argyle. The teacher isn't causing the child real, physical pain, and if they're mentally anguished, it's because the parents have been lying to the kids. You can be upset with the teacher, but you've go no grounds to act as if the teacher's done real harm to the children.

The teacher telling them about Santa is no different than telling them "Yes, there is a God." or "No, there is no god."

There's a huge difference. People do not worship Santa, they do not hold belief in Santa at the core of their being, and there is no rational argument that there is a Santa. He's a fiction. Maybe God is, too, but He's not one that parents make up to dupe their children.

There was no reason for the teacher to reveal the truth to the children.

I agree it was a bad decision, but maybe some people live their lives as we tell our children they should live theirs: truthfully.
posted by Dasein at 4:18 PM on December 13, 2002


This happens every year. One year and nine days ago this was posted here: Teacher fired for...well....teaching.
An Australian teacher was dismissed from her job for telling her class of youngsters that Santa Claus does not exist. Is she an excellent educator, or a grumpy Grinch?
What is it with substitute teachers? And I just now realized that if Bin Laden gained 200 lbs your kids could be sitting on his lap at the mall right now. Either way, the terrorists have won.
posted by Mack Twain at 4:19 PM on December 13, 2002


I'm with Argyle on this one. It's up to the parents (or the kids themselves) to reveal the truth behind Santa when they are ready.

5-years old? There is nothing wrong with believing in Santa Claus at that age. When I found out that there wasn't a Santa Claus (after asking my parents those questions about time/space/speed), I kept up the charade for my little sister (who was only 5 at the time). When she figured it out on her own, then we enjoyed Xmas without the notion of Santa Claus (except when we'd give gifts to someone in the family without them knowing who gave it by labelling it "From Santa"...I still do that occasionally).

I get the feeling that some of these Scrooges here would love to run around DisneyWorld ripping off the heads of Mickey and Goofy in front of the little kids getting their pictures taken with them and claim that it's an "important life lesson".
posted by grum@work at 4:31 PM on December 13, 2002


People do not worship Santa, they do not hold belief in Santa at the core of their being, and there is no rational argument that there is a Santa. He's a fiction. Maybe God is, too, but He's not one that parents make up to dupe their children.

This brings up a very good point. What about a good ole fashioned brawl of God vs. Santa? Where are the lines drawn and how is one considered Sacred yet the other is a child's fantasy? Fable, myth and religion.

I get the feeling that some of these Scrooges here would love to run around DisneyWorld ripping off the heads of Mickey and Goofy in front of the little kids getting their pictures taken with them and claim that it's an "important life lesson".

Yeah, in a world where all kids are exposed to the naked reality of the world, we take away the beauty of childhood.
posted by poopy at 4:34 PM on December 13, 2002


I prefer for my children to feel sense of magic, suprise, and wonder that is woefully lacking from adult life during their childhood.

Well yeah, me too...but again, I'd like them to feel these things without me having to LIE TO THEM.
posted by padraigin at 4:37 PM on December 13, 2002


This is a big deal about nothing.

and

We should not teach children lies.
posted by moonbiter at 4:45 PM on December 13, 2002


There was no reason for the teacher to reveal the truth to the children.

Teachers need a "reason" to reveal the truth? Shouldn't that be the default?
posted by dagny at 4:51 PM on December 13, 2002


o.k. i'm convinced. i will now tell my brother that he is feeding his children lies, contributing to their future psychoses and destroying any hope of them being able to trust anyone ever again. thank you for this enlightening instruction manual on what is right and wrong.
posted by poopy at 4:53 PM on December 13, 2002


Thanks weirdguy2!

It amazes me how strong opinions are on this. As a father of 17 month old girl...I assumed she would believe in Santa as I did...My wife thinks we shouldn't lie to her. I am torn.

I had hoped this thread might help me decide what I thought was right...giving me food for thought. Still don't know. Why can't you people tell me what to do?

Just kidding...anyway thanks for the laugh weirdguy2.
posted by Richat at 4:53 PM on December 13, 2002


(tangent about a very short story that ties to several motifs in this thread) Thanks for the reminder about Barthelme's "The School," faustessa--I'd forgotten all about it.
posted by win_k at 4:58 PM on December 13, 2002


oh, and have a very merry christmas...

sorry. not merry. have an honest, protective and instructive christmas.
posted by poopy at 4:59 PM on December 13, 2002


it wasn't her place to disabuse the kids of the idea

It's not like the teacher disabused them of their notion

disabusing the kids of a lie.

So this one time I disabused my disabuser while I was disabusing all over her face.

Vocab word of the thread.

/snarky
posted by lazaruslong at 5:10 PM on December 13, 2002


You could have called me precocious but at about the age of five I said something like this to my parents. "Every single one of my presents says 'Love Mum & Dad' on it and never 'Love Santa', so it seems like you bought the presents and wrapped them up."

I had a very poor imagination as a child and was more interested in solving math problems than daydreaming, and since old Nick couldn't be proven, I didn't believe. Oddly enough, now I'm unintellectual and a complete dreamer, so I think I must be living back to front :-) (Yes, almost anyone here could beat me at a math quiz now)
posted by wackybrit at 5:18 PM on December 13, 2002


I prefer for my children to feel sense of magic, suprise, and wonder that is woefully lacking from adult life during their childhood.

Why? No, I mean it, I'm genuinely curious, why? Do you feel that it better prepares them for that adult life which you claim lacks these things? If not, then what is your rationale for this preference?
posted by rushmc at 5:19 PM on December 13, 2002


It would have been better for the teacher to have said, when asked about the existence of Santa Claus, "that is something you should talk to your parents about," but once the cat is out of the bag, they put on a fake show to make it look like the teacher was wrong! Doesn't truth matter AT ALL?

No kidding - have schools no shame? Next they'll be teaching evolution!

There's a huge difference. People do not worship Santa, they do not hold belief in Santa at the core of their being.

Tell that to these guys!

My son is 8 and he still believes, even though he's pretty perceptive - I don't expect that he'll care when he finds out, as long as the presents keep coming.
posted by Ch33ky at 5:19 PM on December 13, 2002


Santa as a concept can be real.
Just make sure you have someone, be it dad or uncle or brother or friend, to dress up and "be" Santa... essentially a representative.
You get to perpetuate the concept and not lie to your kids.
posted by linux at 5:24 PM on December 13, 2002


Sheesh - there are damn good arguments on both sides:
Proof Santa does exist.
Proof Santa doesn't exist.
posted by madamjujujive at 5:25 PM on December 13, 2002


Back to the real topic.. when I have kids, I'm going to tell them that I/we buy the presents, but that Santa is a nice thing to believe in just for the fun of it, and that he's not 'real.'

Kids are not as stupid as you think. As a kid, I thought of all the things I would do different as an adult.. one was to respect how smart kids are. So.. tell them he's not real, but encourage them to believe in it anyway. After all, most of us celebrate Christmas even though we're not Christian.. so this is not hypocritical.

A world without dreamers would suck. Develop their imaginations.
posted by wackybrit at 5:28 PM on December 13, 2002


I think that people in this thread (and in the "real world," too) are setting up a false dichotomy by saying one must either "tell lies and encourage your children to embrace silly-but-heartwarming fantasies, thus setting them up for disappointment and pain" or "be honest and responsible and live up to your child's trust in you as a parent--and suck all the fun and imaginative playfulness out of a child's life." It is perfectly possible to include the idea (and character) of Santa Claus in a child's life and Christmas without doing so in a dishonest and manipulative way.

Creating a joyful holiday atmosphere involves a lot more than pointing at the fat man in the red suit hawking wares on tv (which, alas, he has largely been appropriated for in recent years). There's nothing wrong with storytelling and other efforts to build a family holiday tradition that draws on older traditions--I'm all for it (I had it myself and am actually quite a sentimental sucker). But if you can look your child in the face and tell them a direct lie when they are asking for the truth and trusting you to give it to them...then I do find that appalling and condemnable.

In my experience, the people who contort themselves the most to extend their children's belief in a literal Santa for one more season do so far more for themselves than for the kids. And that's just plain selfish.
posted by rushmc at 5:29 PM on December 13, 2002


Ok, I have a different perspective on this.

Figuring out that Santa doesn't exist, is a nice achievement for children. The child has to sort through clues and hints, and weigh them against their own emotional desires for Santa to be real, and eventually the child realizes that, no matter how much they want Santa to exist, the evidence is simply too strong to ignore.

I always thought it was one of the first steps a child takes in deductive reasoning, and an important lesson in self examination. It's not so much about having a fantasy taken away, but rather losing a nice opportunity for emotional development.
posted by Beholder at 5:30 PM on December 13, 2002


man, i can't wait till christmas. hopefully santa will leave me all of your presents.
posted by Stynxno at 5:32 PM on December 13, 2002


I always thought it was one of the first steps a child takes in deductive reasoning, and an important lesson in self examination. It's not so much about having a fantasy taken away, but rather losing a nice opportunity for emotional development.

I always thought of it as one of the first rites of passages of life.
posted by poopy at 5:36 PM on December 13, 2002


I can't ever remember really believing in literal Santa. When I was very young, as Christmas approached the presents started to accumulate beneath the tree. Some of the tags said "From Mom" and some said "From Dad" and some said "From Santa". All in the exact same handwriting. (Even the ones that were "from" our dogs and cat.) And yet, it was all part of the fun to play along, even all these years later.
posted by Guy Smiley at 5:43 PM on December 13, 2002


When I was a pip, I remember getting presents from all manner of things: my parents, the cats, santa, some reindeer, my grandparents, random family friends, gnomes....I don't think that I ever really believed in Santa, but that didn't mean that I didn't wake up at four in the morning on Christmas, and skulk at the top of the stairs waiting for the bacchanalian glut of goodies.

I think kids are intrigued and enchanted by Xmas whether Santa is real or not; all the surprises and little shiny things and lights are enough to make you explode as a tiny person. And my parents were always very creative and thoughtful with the wrapping, so it was an adventure whether or not Santa squeezed through the wood burning stove and then opened it from the inside to give me booty (not that type of booty, you leches!). It can be magic with or without some guy breaking into your house and leaving behind things instead of taking them.
posted by readymade at 5:46 PM on December 13, 2002


If I ever have children, I will most certainly and completely without regret lie to them about Santa Claus as long as they'll believe it. I figured it out on my own, as most kids do. It wasn't traumatic, last time I checked it didn't turn me psychotic, and as a matter of fact, when I decided once and for all that my parents were Santa, I thought it was so cute. It just made me love them all the more.

But you'd LIE to your CHILDREN?!!

Hell, yeah. This has all the moral ambiguity to me of lying to a child to cover up the surprise party they're having. In other words, I'm not only completely o.k. with it, it makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

My sister's 34, my brother's 31 with three children, and our parents still give us gifts signed "Santa." I'll love them for it forever. Good Lord. I respect the right of any of you to find no value in believing in magic for a little while, but if I had been denied that opportunity, I'd be resentful about it.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 5:47 PM on December 13, 2002


It is perfectly possible to include the idea (and character) of Santa Claus in a child's life and Christmas without doing so in a dishonest and manipulative way.

yes, but then santa would cease to exist. and it totally destroys the fascination of putting out milk and cookies. man... childhood, those were the days.
posted by poopy at 5:49 PM on December 13, 2002


I respect the right of any of you to find no value in believing in magic for a little while, but if I had been denied that opportunity, I'd be resentful about it.

couldn't have said it better. thank you santa ;)
posted by poopy at 5:50 PM on December 13, 2002


Santa as a concept can be real.

Santa as a concept is real.

I believed in Bigfoot until about four days ago when some jerk with wooden flip-flops put salt in my coffee.

People like this muttonheaded teacher give wonder and imagination a bad name. Ptooie.
posted by hama7 at 5:51 PM on December 13, 2002


I will concede that there is something sort of awesome about the realization that the entire Western world has conspired to ensure that you and all your friends believe in something completely imaginary...and that you, upon discovery, are brought into the conspiracy.

So perhaps I will not lie about this to my child, but rather, bend the truth a bit to include her in the fun.
posted by padraigin at 5:54 PM on December 13, 2002


...and that you, upon discovery, are brought into the conspiracy.

thank you. we all need our imaginary conspiracy theories, even if it's a jolly old elf.

Frodo Santa Lives!
posted by poopy at 5:59 PM on December 13, 2002


Sending a Santa into the classrooms to "set the record straight?" What poor judgment by the school board. If it's true Santa is associated with Christmas which is a Christian celebration, then why would the school board impose such a religious belief on the children? And be allowed to do it? "Santa does exist" is not the right thing to say to a Jewish kid, for instance, who gets no solace from hearing his religion indirectly bashed.

Furthermore, I pity the child who actually cries upon making the discovery of the nonexistence of Santa Claus. Parents who instill that much credibility into an imaginary being with few if any benefits (good behavior motivated by greedy reward...? I think not) perhaps ought to re-examine their own values...
posted by superfem at 6:02 PM on December 13, 2002


quoth willnot:
"I'm also amazed that so many people continue to have faith in some god after finding out what a load of crap all the other magic characters with super powers turned out to be. "
Yes, because those of us who aren't atheists are just a bunch of sheep--BAAAA! /sarcasm

As for the Santa Claus thing, I'm split. While I think it's a stupid fantasy we teach kids, it's still kind of a cool sort of fantasy. I guess I'll have more of a set opinion on the Santa Claus issue when I have kids.

As for the sub...I agree with some of the previous posters in that she should have told the children that that's a matter to ask their parents.
posted by lannie628 at 6:04 PM on December 13, 2002


It always amuses me to see people declare "When I have children, I will [x]". No, you won't. You don't have any idea what you're going to do with your child, and when he or she is born you're not going to have any clue what to do. And if you do have these preconceived (pardon the pun) notions and decide to carry them through no matter what, well, you're blockheaded. Raising a child is a tremendous learning experience, on both sides of the fence.

My 7 year old son's a dreamer. He still believes in Santa, but he's been questioning for the past couple of years. Our answer is always "Well, what do you think?" We let him decide.

Of course, I tell him the same thing when he asks me if there's a God.
posted by SiW at 6:28 PM on December 13, 2002


No, no, no! The problem is not that we allow our children to believe in Santa Claus. That is fine. Furthermore, the teacher should not have told the students there was no Santa Claus. That's for the parents to do.

The problem is that after she had told them, the school scrambled to cover up the incident, and maintain the lie at the cost of the teacher's credibility, not to mention the truth. They brought in a Santa Claus impersonator to make it look like the teacher was WRONG. They made an unfortunate incident into a travesty, and showed that they don't even understand what their job as educators are.
posted by Hildago at 6:29 PM on December 13, 2002


^jobs
posted by Hildago at 6:30 PM on December 13, 2002


Thanks for giving me courage, hama7. I believed in Bigfoot as well. And the Loch Ness Monster. No one better mess with Nessie.

Listen again to readymade:
I think kids are intrigued and enchanted by Xmas whether Santa is real or not; all the surprises and little shiny things and lights are enough to make you explode as a tiny person.

Exactly. My 14 month old squeals when she sees our tree (she calls it "sha" for some reason), and runs to hug it. There's plenty of magic and worlds of imagination in this holiday without Santa.
posted by footballrabi at 7:02 PM on December 13, 2002


I agree that the school might have hurt the substitute teacher's reputation by this, but the fact still remains that she was the one - through no inherent malice - who started the whole thing. It's a (pardon the pun) snowball effect: teacher says something inappropriate and school coordinates damage control. To blame all this on the school is nice because it's not an individual we're blaming, we're attacking the institution, something that involves depersonalization. It's no longer 'she', now it's 'they'. very similar to carpet bombing.

phrases like 'cover up' and 'maintain the lie' are a bit deceiving, conjuring up images of conspiracies again. this is not JFK or The X Files: this is an unfortunate isolated incident that happened in a grade school class.
posted by poopy at 7:07 PM on December 13, 2002


While I think it's a stupid fantasy we teach kids, it's still kind of a cool sort of fantasy.

See, this is the kind of thinking that baffles me. Why would anyone choose to treat a fantasy as though it were real, whether it's Santa, God or whatever? Don't you care enough about reality and sanity to want to keep fantasy, however enjoyable it may be on its own terms, separate from what is real and true?

Also, I don't see how something can be both "stupid" and "cool." But then I've never been part of the glorification-of-stupidity cult, either.
posted by rushmc at 7:52 PM on December 13, 2002


this is not JFK or The X Files: this is an unfortunate isolated incident that happened in a grade school class.

How is the magnitude of the distortion of truth relevant? Where do you think politicians learn that it's acceptable--and often rewarding--to lie? As children, often from their own parents who don't have the moral fiber to practice what they preach and so end up teaching a very different lesson than they intend.
posted by rushmc at 7:55 PM on December 13, 2002


SiW wrote: It always amuses me to see people declare "When I have children, I will [x]". No, you won't. You don't have any idea what you're going to do with your child...

Amen! Back before my wife and I had kids, my father-in-law used to get the biggest kick out of hearing me declare what I would and wouldn't do with my kids. Now that I have kids of my own, I understand his amusement.
posted by tippiedog at 7:59 PM on December 13, 2002


Mrs. P? What is she worth, 25 points?

Those children are worth 100 points, IIRC. Or is that geriatric patients during euthanasia day?

(Yes, this is a very obscure reference to something. Kick the ball around for a whlie.)
posted by shepd at 8:25 PM on December 13, 2002


phrases like 'cover up' and 'maintain the lie' are a bit deceiving, conjuring up images of conspiracies again.

From the article:

To make up for the teacher's lapse, the school district is sending a Santa to visit the school's kindergarten classes this morning to set the record straight.

"This is going to be awesome, a really good way to fix what happened," Edworthy said.


There is no Santa Clause. Therefore, a lie is being maintained. The school is trying to make the children forget what the substitute teacher told them, which is to say they are covering up what she said. If you don't like my diction, that's okay, but it's not like I'm making this up.

she was the one - through no inherent malice - who started the whole thing. It's a (pardon the pun) snowball effect: teacher says something inappropriate and school coordinates damage control.

You seem to be laboring under the assumption that the school had to hire an actor to pretend to be Santa Clause in order to prove their teacher was a liar. They didn't have to do anything like that. In fact, the right thing to do would have been to reprimand the teacher and then stand by what she'd done. They mocked the entire concept of education by teaching lies to children, by replacing the truth with a lie, and patronizing students at the cost of their teacher's integrity.
posted by Hildago at 8:28 PM on December 13, 2002


What's everyone so upset about? Sure the parents lose a little leverage with the old "Be good or Santa won't come see you" threat. But think of the money that can be saved over the next three-four years not having to perpetuate the myth...
posted by GT_RULES at 8:45 PM on December 13, 2002


I had hoped this thread might help me decide what I thought was right...giving me food for thought. Still don't know. Why can't you people tell me what to do?

Treat it like a fairy tale, like a game of make-believe. It's something we do that's a fun game to play, with lots of cool rules, and it's a way for us to give things to each other without knowing who gave it, because giving is good, and if you're a religious sort it also honors good ol' Saint Nicholas. Santa isn't really real; he doesn't need to be -- he's real like The Little Prince and Snow White and are real.

yes, but then santa would cease to exist. and it totally destroys the fascination of putting out milk and cookies. man...

Why? It doesn't mean Santa doesn't exist, it means he's make-believe. Your kids never contentedly poured make-believe tea for make-believe guests? Hell, I think I'm gonna leave some cookies out, and a glass of nice cold milk for the big guy. And don't forget a carrot for Rudolph.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:51 PM on December 13, 2002


I can't believe nobody's posted this yet, but it still works:

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to have men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.


Happy Holidays, MeFites.

And G*d Bless us, every one.
posted by yhbc at 9:01 PM on December 13, 2002


As children, often from their own parents who don't have the moral fiber to practice what they preach and so end up teaching a very different lesson than they intend.

calling all parents, please a show of hands who practice what they preach. limbaugh, o'reilly and countless others use this same argument. if only we as humans could somehow shed these damn shackles and evolve.

In fact, the right thing to do would have been to reprimand the teacher and then stand by what she'd done. They mocked the entire concept of education by teaching lies to children, by replacing the truth with a lie, and patronizing students at the cost of their teacher's integrity.

stand by what she had done. that's the whole problem: what is a state-run institution to do in a situation like this? what would the outcry have been if they had done just that? it's another catch22. once again: why so much attention on the institution? the teacher had a very significant role to play.

and if we're going to bring up the argument of 'teaching lies to our children' then we might as well scrap the entire education system itself, take all children away from their parents and then proceed to shooting them off into space.... well, not space really, more like 'never never land'.
posted by poopy at 9:13 PM on December 13, 2002


a devout christian friend of mine believes the same way that most of you do. but to him, the truth is teaching the gospel of jesus. i don't argue with him about that (church and state is not the issue here) but it does provide a unique perspective on 'truth' and 'fact'.

what we think of as the truth might not be truth when we wake up in the morning. we all know this because history has shown us that what we think is correct might not be so. Facts are what we believe in, the same way that we believe in genetics, money, santa, jesus, etc. In other words, we have faith that what we've been taught is correct and true. Tomorrow might prove otherwise. We might just wake up tomorrow and find that Santa Clause has indeed visited.
posted by poopy at 9:44 PM on December 13, 2002


what we think of as the truth might not be truth when we wake up in the morning. we all know this because history has shown us that what we think is correct might not be so.

Whoa, that's like, cosmic! Except that it's not a question of whether Santa Claus is real but hasn't been observed yet, we made him up! We took stories about a person who lived a long time ago and consciousy modified them into something else. It's not out there to be found, it's a story.

Stop for a moment and consider what you want your children to be taught in school. Do you really think it's ok to tell them "We think there are fifty states, but there's no way of knowing for sure"? We can teach them about quantum probability and epistemology a little later. At the age of five, you teach them facts and make them learn to trust adults and the learning process. It's ok to teach them things that may be proven wrong later, but it's not ok to tell them the truth is a lie.
posted by Hildago at 10:39 PM on December 13, 2002


At the age of five, you teach them facts and make them learn to trust adults and the learning process. It's ok to teach them things that may be proven wrong later, but it's not ok to tell them the truth is a lie.

oh jeez. how to refute this?

let's see: "trust adults" and "teach them things that might be proven wrong later".

but it is most definitely not right to "tell them the truth is a lie".

i give up. you're right.
posted by poopy at 10:51 PM on December 13, 2002


Well, yeah.
posted by Hildago at 10:57 PM on December 13, 2002


we have faith that what we've been taught is correct and true

This is a comparable argument to the "faith in God = faith in science", which is equally wrong. Most of what we're taught is based on either concrete evidence or organized methods of investigation of theories, there should be little or no faith involved. Scientific process is designed to test conclusions on an ongoing basis, this is why current scientific "fact" in some areas is almost always just the best conclusion going by the data at hand (hence the "may be proven wrong later"), but it's almost always at least very close to the pure truth, it's supported by evidence, and it's never an outright lie. This is not the same thing as teaching children that a purely invented character is a real person. I don't have much of an issue with people who want to encourage their kids to believe in Santa, but I think the compelling argument for it has to do with fun and make-believe, and not with comparing Santa to, say, biology.
posted by biscotti at 11:04 PM on December 13, 2002


Well, yeah.

hehe

i'm right, no you're right! :)
posted by poopy at 11:05 PM on December 13, 2002


"You should speak to your Mommies and Daddies," would have been the most politically correct thing to say, undoubtedly. I personally believe that if these children were bringing up Santa's existence and actually questioning it, that they deserved the truth. It's not like it was spit out randomly, out of the blue.

There can just as much wonder and intrigue and appreciation of the Christmas season by a child who doesn't believe in Santa (I was raised Jehovah's Witness, and still adore the Christmas season and mythos, even though I don't celebrate) as other children.

Anyhow, I thought the point was to celebrate Jesus' birth and foster a sense of good will toward men, etcetera, etcetera? Can't that be conveyed without perpetuating a lie that's apparently so deceptive that some of these little kids were virtually traumatized to find out it isn't true? That in and of itself should be a good indication that lying to kids--even the little ones, and even if you think you're doing the "right thing"--just ain't kosher.

Lying doesn't suddenly become acceptable because there's a long tradition of lying behind it. Lying's lying, dude.
posted by precocious at 11:34 PM on December 13, 2002


I don't have much of an issue with people who want to encourage their kids to believe in Santa, but I think the compelling argument for it has to do with fun and make-believe, and not with comparing Santa to, say, biology.

the point wasn't really to compare santa with science, but if we're going to go down that road and let it all hang out then why not tell them openly about the bomb, overpopulation, polution, etc, etc, etc... and shoot, just for giggles, let's tell them how we got to this position in the first place. could it be *gasp* science? nooo. nope nope nope. let's just say that santa doesn't exist because, you know, we're being honest.
posted by poopy at 12:13 AM on December 14, 2002


poopy, I don't see how you make the connection between telling kids about Santa and blaming science for everything bad. And I don't see how being honest with children is in any way bad, especially when they themselves express an interest in knowing something. It's a long way from "Santa is make believe, like The Little Mermaid" to "listen up kid, you're gonna DIE DIE DIE so you'd better get used to the idea now".
posted by biscotti at 12:32 AM on December 14, 2002


After 10 years of dealing with parents who don't raise their children in the same manner in which I raise mine, I've come to the conclusion that parental style is as closely held a structure as religious belief: To criticize the style is tantamount to criticizing someone for stepping into Temple once a week.

While my boys don't believe in the reality of Santa, we still celebrate Christmas. I don't think any of us would have as much fun without getting the tree and stack the presents. My youngest son, in the past 2 years, has decided that he wants to celebrate Chanukkah as well (without the gifts), so we light the candles, say the blessings, and play the games.

It's all broken down into what makes your family work. I'll openly criticize the act of outright lying to a child about Santa, but I won't attack a specific person's actions with their child. While I have a frame of reference for the parent-child dynamic, I don't know how that person's dynamic works. If his/her relationship with the child is a good one, and it also happens to have the whole Santa thing thrown in -- it doesn't bother me at all.

If I hold one belief in life, it's that my purpose here is to provide a safe and loving home to my special little boys. My hope is that other parents feel that way.

To the parent's reactions regarding the teacher: I can fully understand how they would react that way. If you intrude upon the happiness that is wrought between myself and my child, you will hear from me.

To the school board's reactions after the incident: That is plainly crossing the line. Following the reasoning of the earlier point: If the source of information about Santa is supposed to be the parent, why is the school board stepping in now?
posted by thanotopsis at 12:40 AM on December 14, 2002


I'm most bothered by the psychologist who said that Santa Claus is necessary as a spur to good behavior. All it teaches children is that telling a lie is OK as long as it gets people to behave "correctly."

I think we are also guilty of idealizing children a little too much. When I was in elementary school, little kids were mostly likely to have their illusions about Santa Claus shattered by the older kids. (Disillusioning kindergarteners was the cool thing to do when you were in fifth grade.) Figuring out that Santa Claus wasn't real was actually considered proof of your maturity, that you weren't a "baby" any more.

By the way, didn't anybody here go to school with Jewish kids or with kids who belonged to conservative Protestant sects? Where I grew up, there were definitely kids whose family belonged to Jehovah's Witnesses, Worldwide Church of God, or other sects that viewed Christmas as pagan. The Church Lady on Saturday Night Live who anagrammed Santa so that it spelled Satan wasn't that far off from real people who lived where I grew up.
posted by jonp72 at 1:20 AM on December 14, 2002


So I'm 3 years old, sitting there on my ass one day, when Santa comes to our house. Imagine my surprise... Anyway, he comes up to me and asks me what I want for Christmas. I tell him, and what do ya know, he takes the very toy I mention out of his sack and gives it to me. Now I'm really amazed. After that Santa leaves, but not fifteen minutes later some guy, looking surprisingly like Santa (minus the beard and outfit), comes to our house, goes in to the kitchen, and starts drinking vodka with my dad. My parents never had to lie about Santa again, thought they never lost the nasty habit of asking me what I want for Christmas. And you know something, knowing that the presents came from my parents rather than some mythical entity made them much more valuable to me.
posted by epimorph at 4:24 AM on December 14, 2002


The kids have learned some important lessons. The establishment: lies to them; punishes people who tell the truth, and; will desperately and pathetically resort to any dog and pony show to cover up.

I hope that in ten years, when the revolution is in full swing at Forest Hills High School the parents and teachers remember the day when truth set their children free.
posted by wobh at 4:27 AM on December 14, 2002


Facts are what we believe in

Sigh.
posted by rushmc at 6:47 AM on December 14, 2002


I don't see how you make the connection between telling kids about Santa and blaming science for everything bad.

yeah, me either. i woke up this morning, looked at my comment and said 'oh boy, that's a doosy'. just forget i said anything.
posted by poopy at 7:17 AM on December 14, 2002


I saw a Santa Claus last night, at a town "get out and do your Christmas shopping" night. There was bad christmas music blaring from large Peavey loudspeakers, and Santa was getting drunk on white wine. Red, he explained, would stain his beard.
posted by troutfishing at 8:37 AM on December 14, 2002


Here are the questions that pop into my mind:

Is disseminating TRUTH the primary (or only) point of education? Isn't (most) education more concerned with socializing than truth-telling? That was certainly true in my experience, though no one would admit it. School was SUPPOSED to be about learning history, language, science, etc. In reality, the teachers spent more time teaching cultural myths, rites and rituals -- and rules of conduct. I'm not claiming this is a good thing, but I do think it's the reality -- at least in my experience -- of public education. And if this is the role of education, then SHOULDN'T schools promote belief in Santa? Santa (and children's belief in Santa) is a deeply rooted part of our culture.

Truthfully, I think most schools are caught between two (sometimes) conflicting goals: to teach truth and to indoctrinate cultural mores. This thread is fascinating, because we see these two trends in live conflict.

Were the children seriously harmed by the teacher's actions? We don't know. We don't have the evidence. We're doing a lot of ungrounded speculation.

If a STUDENT asks a teacher a question, does that teacher have the responsibility to answer that student truthfully? I taught kindergarten and daycare for several years, and I wrestled with this one constantly. Consider these questions:

Is God real?

Is it okay for my dad to spank me?

Do you have a penis?

What happens when people have sex?

Where does the devil live?

These are all actual questions that children asked me. Irregardless of what's right or wrong, I would have lost my job if I'd answered any of them truthfully. Most of the teachers I worked with would brush the kids off with "that's not appropriate for school" or "ask your mom and dad." I never felt comfortable with these answers. They seemed designed to let me off the hook, while the child was left hanging -- confused as to why that particular question induced a different response than "what is one plus one?"

After a while, I settled on explaining my situation to the kids. I would say something like, "that's an interesting question, Johnny. I wish I could talk to you about it. But there are some questions teachers aren't allowed to talk about..." This seemed to work pretty well, and often sparked a conversation about public vs. private speech. So at least the social rules part was out in the open. And the child felt he was deserving of my attention.

I'm still not 100% happy with the way I handled it, but I think that would have been impossible under the circumstances. I wanted the children to feel just as comfortable with their religion or sexuality as they felt with drawing pictures or playing tag. But that's not the way our culture is.
posted by grumblebee at 10:12 AM on December 14, 2002


grumblebee - good answer! ("that's a really interesting question, Johnny, but..."
posted by troutfishing at 10:31 AM on December 14, 2002


...there are some questions teachers aren't allowed to talk about...

This is a tricky one (I think you probably handled it as well as could be expected), but many children have very limited contact with adults, aside from their immediate family and their teachers, most kids don't interact with adults on a daily basis. So if one of those adults won't answer their questions, who will? If the question is about their parents (like the spanking one), it seems somehow wrong to just tell the kid he's on his own (even though I agree that the teacher may not always be the right person to answer the question). (oh, and poopy, no worries, been there, done that ;>)
posted by biscotti at 10:55 AM on December 14, 2002


Tomorrow might prove otherwise. We might just wake up tomorrow and find that Santa Clause has indeed visited.

It's a lovely thought. If he did, though, I'd spend the rest of my life wondering -- "What the hell was he doing here ten days early??"
posted by webmutant at 11:08 AM on December 14, 2002


There can just as much wonder and intrigue and appreciation of the Christmas season by a child who doesn't believe in Santa

Indeed. I don't understand why some parents get so upset about this. If you can't enjoy Christmas without pretending the story about a jolly old elf from the North Pole who goes about distributing presents is literally true - which is what the phrase "teacher ruins Christmas for kindergarteners" would imply - then you are completely missing the point of the holiday.

Kids have a strong sense of make-believe, anyway. My parents never pretended Santa Claus literally existed, but when he showed up at my grandparents' house one Christmas morning, knowing that he was really just a guy in a red suit didn't matter that much. I could become an astronaut by putting on a papier-mache helmet and a backpack, so it was no big deal to think that someone could become Santa Claus by donning a silly hat and a fake beard.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:17 AM on December 14, 2002


Here's another thought, the teacher wasn't JUST telling them that Santa doesn't exist, she was telling them that Santa doesn't exist and that their parents had been lying to the for years about it! I know she didn't actually say that, but she must be smart enough to know that's the implication.

I'm not saying she shouldn't have said what she said, but I hope she took that into account before talking. To me, that's the crux of the moral issue here.

biscotti, I completely agree with you about the limited contact many children have with (caring) adults. It used to break my heart that I couldn't intervene more to help these kids out -- that my silence on certain issues might contribute to a child's confusion, feelings of neglect, etc. Every thinking teacher must wrestle with these questions. Ultimately, it got to me too much, so I quit the profession. I still teach, but only adults -- not children.
posted by grumblebee at 11:56 AM on December 14, 2002


Figuring out that Santa doesn't exist, is a nice achievement for children. The child has to sort through clues and hints, and weigh them against their own emotional desires for Santa to be real, and eventually the child realizes that, no matter how much they want Santa to exist, the evidence is simply too strong to ignore.

Thank you for this, Beholder... and to padraigin for the "conspiracy" follow-up. Like Richat, I - as a parent - was somewhat disappointed to find that this thorough debate failed to strongly sway me one way or the other.

I'm an atheist, but married to a Catholic, which makes for all manner of interesting conversation. I'm also a cynic and otherwise one who takes perverse glee in dispelling pointless illusions. So there's a part of me that definitely agrees with folks here who find the "propagation of a lie" to be the central crime.

But, I also let my 4-year-old daughter believe in Santa, and she does, even despite a party pooper in her preschool class last year that insisted otherwise. And the look on her face, and the way she gets all worked up, is nearly enough to make my heart explode. And she's now eagerly pointing out all the trappings of Christmas to her baby brother - which is adorable, and also, no small feat in Hawaii, where the stereotypical notions of Christmas are generally absent.

She'll find out when she finds out, and she'll take pride in that, as she does sorting out other puzzles. (I figured it out at six, when I recognized "Santa's" handwriting, but I let my brother believe until he was almost nine.) I'll be proud of her too. But for now? I'm glad she believes.

I might not believe in a god, but I surely appreciate the power and value of belief in general. She'll have the other 90 percent of her life to come to grips with harsh realities.
posted by pzarquon at 12:56 AM on December 15, 2002


When I was wee kid, a not-so-wee kid tried to convince me that Santa did not exist. I sprang to Santa's defense, and I think I did a remarkable job - the fellow never did convince me that Santa was not real...of course, I never convinced him that he was real, but...

So, from first-hand experience, I learned how stubbornly we can hold onto and defend what we choose (or are encouraged) to believe, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I learned that reality is perception, and that it sustains itself through collaborative fiction...and then, when I turned 7...

The point is, from a completely pragmatic standpoint, more good than harm was done - more was gained than lost. Only a moron-in-training would come away with nothing more than "I won't get fooled again". If ever Opus Jr. exists, I think he'll believe in Santa - later as he grows into the ideal spectator, he can marvel at his own eager gullibility, and understand it in others.

(And, of course, Santa kindles that wonderful sense of entitlement...)
posted by Opus Dark at 2:35 AM on December 15, 2002


I learned how stubbornly we can hold onto and defend what we choose (or are encouraged) to believe, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I learned that reality is perception, and that it sustains itself through collaborative fiction...

collaborative fiction is a nice phrase for talking about our collective world view, which I agree is an important element of reality. Still, trying to comprehend what are the things themselves is not the domain of "morons in training" - if people want to know the Truth and they mean it ontologically, and they're disappointed to be lied to, that doesn't make them idiots.

I don't remember if I ever believed in Santa, but stockings were always the best part of christmas in my household - laying out a flat sock at night at the end of the bed and waking up to find it bulging with oddly shaped goodies, round at the bottom where there was an orange and some nuts as always. We enjoyed this tradition so much that at a certain age my sister and I started making stockings for each other and our mom, and the three of us would open our two stockings apiece together in the morning. I'm nearly thirty years old and will be spending christmas with my sister, and we are planning to do stockings, as we've done every year I can remember.

And we use real socks, not those foot shaped fuzzy polyester things.
posted by mdn at 8:20 AM on December 15, 2002


She'll have the other 90 percent of her life to come to grips with harsh realities.

I still don't understand this particular rationale. If life is such an awful, heinous thing, why choose to bring someone into it in the first place? I don't see how using one's advantage in knowledge and power over a toddler to deceive it about the nature of the world, to paint it as better than it is, does anything but set them up for disappointment. Is the idea here that a few pleasant years will somehow "make up" for all the years of prosaic pain and struggle? Because it certainly won't prepare one for it. Some of the biggest intellectual and emotional struggles I've had were the result of trying to resolve the disparity between the way I'd been led to believe the world was (not just by parents but also by society in general, teachers, books, movies, etc.) and the way it really turns out to be. Why set out to intentionally make this disparity--and the resulting dissonance--greater for a child?
posted by rushmc at 8:45 AM on December 15, 2002


If you can't lie to your kids, what's the point in having 'em? Lying to them is part of what makes it worth raising the blighters!

Best lie I've ever heard, and dearly wish I'd been able to propagate: that those huge, white, plastic-wrapped bales of hay out in farmer's fields are "cow eggs." Oh, how I wish I'd known that in time to lie about it!
posted by five fresh fish at 11:36 AM on December 15, 2002


rushmc, your point is made. But dousing a child with fraud, fallacy, deceit, and error is likely to ignite an irredeemable cynic...I mean, cute as it would be, I don't want my kid's first words to be "aw, fuck it". I think I'll aim at tolerant skepticism, and let him rise to his own level of essential cynicism.
posted by Opus Dark at 12:27 PM on December 15, 2002


I find it odd particularly that the person involved here is a teacher. A teacher is telling children the truth about something that their parents and society in general lies to them about and a large number of people react negatively. Shouldn't teachers be educating children? I'd like to believe that a large portion of education deals with the dismissal of myth and rumor. This teacher was merely doing her job and keeping the parents from letting a child continue to be kept in the dark.

I may be a bit biased though. I never really believed in Santa despite my parents trying to convince me. It didn't make any sort of sense and seemed to quite obviously be fake. Nevertheless I eventually gave up arguing with them on this and accepted the fact that they felt it was more important to lie to me. I guess in one way or another I've been an atheist since I was 4.
posted by Belgand at 11:57 PM on December 15, 2002


Best lie I've ever heard, and dearly wish I'd been able to propagate: that those huge, white, plastic-wrapped bales of hay out in farmer's fields are "cow eggs." Oh, how I wish I'd known that in time to lie about it!

My husband tries to convince his young cousins that they're "marshmallow farms."

As for Santa, I'm in my early 20s, married, and still get presents lovingly wrapped with tiny tags reading "To Kelly From Santa" in my mother's distinctive handwriting. My mother-in-law does the same thing. I was never sat down and told Santa didn't exist. However, I was never told that he did exist. My mother took the "If you want to believe in Santa, than he's real" approach, which morphed into the "if you ruin Christmas for your little sister I swear to god you'll get nothing but socks and underwear" approach.
posted by Kellydamnit at 8:45 AM on December 16, 2002


I think I'll aim at tolerant skepticism, and let him rise to his own level of essential cynicism.

I don't think being grounded in reality necessarily has to produce an embittered cynic.

...Okay, maybe it does, but it's STILL the only morally viable option.
posted by rushmc at 10:07 AM on December 16, 2002


If Santa Claus is a myth created by adults and told to children, how would it encourage the child's imagination? If they believe you, it's just one more thing that you're telling them and has about the same effect as telling them something factual.
posted by dagnyscott at 11:49 AM on December 16, 2002


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