Michael J. Radwin

Tales of a software engineer who keeps kosher and hates the web.



Saturday, October 21, 1995
Section: Local
Page: 1B


Until a few days ago, I had decided on a really scary Halloween costume. I was going to put on a suit, get together with four similarly clad friends, and go trick-or-treating as the Los Altos school board.

But since the board came to its senses and decided it was OK to celebrate Halloween during school hours, I’m not sure if my costume will be scary enough. I think it will be, though. Because board members saw the light only after more than 600 outraged residents deplored their unanimous decision to ban Halloween parties at the request of a few parents who think the holiday celebrates devil worship.

Pretty frightening, eh?

Los Altos parents, teachers and kids saved the day, but you have to wonder what’s in store the next time painfully conscientious administrators seek to set an agenda according to a few people who think the world should revolve around their beliefs.

Hey, it’s not easy being a sensitive soul these days. Once, even in enlightened circles, it took courage to implore a group to include and accommodate the minority. Now it takes as much guts for what Los Altos resident Keith Williams described as ”the acquiescent majority” to appeal for a little sanity and common sense.

WHEN A school board in one of the nation’s top ”smart spots,” according to American Demographics magazine, appears to be on the same side as a guy passing out pamphlets describing himself as a ”former Satanist turned prophet of God: ‘The witch that switched,’ ” you have to wonder what the heck is going on.

Another parent who took the podium at this week’s public meeting announced, ”There are 150,000 witches living in the United States, and some are in this room.” I was probably one of them because I could barely suppress the urge to turn a hose on this woman. (Though, in the interest of free speech, the crowd should have saved their ”boos” for Halloween).

Why had the board not simply told these few parents their children would not have to participate in Halloween, but expecting everyone else to alter a beloved, secular tradition is unreasonable?

Tolerating a minority shouldn’t mean tyrannizing the majority, and Los Altans who spoke eloquently against the Halloween ban said sometimes even compromise isn’t a fair solution. The request for a ”disclaimer” after Halloween stories, for example, would do more harm than good.

”Well, that’s the story of ‘Gavin the Lonely Goblin,’ ” a teacher might be forced to say. ”But children, you should know that some people believe Gavin would like to boil you in oil and eat your liver with a bottle of Chianti and fava beans. OK, class dismissed!”

THE BEAUTY of the Halloween controversy was the silliness of it. It was a user-friendly illustration of the dangers of knuckling under to a vocal minority and ending up with, in Keith Williams’ words, ”social sterility.”

Of course, some similar controversies have been trickier to navigate, like the fracas in East San Jose about whether ”Huck Finn” should be banned from high school reading lists because of its use of racist language.

But Los Altans carved out good guidelines for handling these situations: Bans are almost never the way to go. Inclusiveness – celebrating a variety of religious holidays and discussing different viewpoints – is usually the best solution. And sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand and say, ”Enough already!”

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