In September my son came home with a "favor bag". A favor bag, as my son saw it, was when a classmate put together a small bag of goodies that could then be shared with each member in the class. Over the next few months we received more and more favor bags from his classmates. Each were filled with pencils, rulers, erasers, stickers, tattoos, and other small trinkets. And every time we reviewed the bags contents, we kept what we really wanted and disposed of the other items.
Before you know it the time had arrived to celebrate my son's half birthday! He was so excited when he saw his name on the list of scholars to be celebrated, and immediately began asking about what kind of things he could put into his favor bags. Being an expert in this area of celebrations and favor bags, my wife stepped up and took the lead of planning and purchasing the items for the bags. And then it was time to go to the store and purchase what we needed to fill 20 favor bags for my son's class.
My wife came out of the local Walmart and put the bags in the back seat next to my son who had recently fallen asleep. As she started to buckle in she said, "It would have been cheaper for us to just throw a birthday party". She was joking, but there was some truth in her statement. She handed me the receipt for the favor bags, I looked up, and we gave each other that "wow" look. Thankfully, we are in a place where we can go to a store and spend the funds we did to purchase items for our son's favor bags. But that got me thinking...
Is celebrating my son's half birthday equitable?
I want to restate that we as a family are fortunate enough to be able to purchase the items that went into my son's favor bags for school. We even had fun putting the bags together and then playing with the left over trinkets. But reality is that we would not have made any such purchase if it hadn't been for the "peer pressure" to do so. My son had seen and received enough favor bags throughout the year that prompted his desire to bring his own bags in when it was his turn. Of course we could have told our son "no", but we didn't want our son to feel different from any of his classmates. Therefore, we purchased the goodies, packed the bags, and sent a very happy little guy to school.
But as I reflected more on the purchase price and the time it took for us to put all the bags together, I began to wonder if this was equitable for other children in my son's class. There was the time that we as a family had to dedicate to go to the store, actually three stores before we found something that we were okay with sharing. Then we can talk about the financial piece as my wife went to swipe her debit card. To follow that up was the 45 minutes we dedicated to unpacking the trinkets from their original packaging and putting them into their new bags.
Again, I do not share this to complain, but rather to be transparent of how this can serve as an inequitable practice for other families. There are families that simply do not have the time in their day to go to any stores and look for goodies. Not only is there the possibility that they may not be able to spend the time doing that, but they may not have access to transportation to make that possible. We then add on the financial piece, which for more than enough families, every dollar has a purpose and that purpose is not for goodies to be shared in class.
Think about all the times throughout a school year where a scholar is invited to participate in activities that may incur costs to family time and/or finances. There are some of the national holidays that are still celebrated in some schools. Birthdays and other classroom celebrations. When the kid gets older there are multiple after school activities that also come with a price tag. And when we think of all of those activities and celebrations, do we consider what we are asking of our families, especially families who are less fortunate.
Reality is that I could have told my son that he would not be sharing favor bags with his class. We could have shared with him how we want to use those funds and/or that time to do other things as a family. But when it comes down to it, that decision doesn't affect me, it affects my child... my scholar. And the social-emotional affects he would have experienced, are the same ones that so many other scholars feel when they can't afford to participate in activities and celebrations. There is a very real social-emotional result to scholars who cannot or choose not to participate in these activities and celebrations.
If I speak from my personal, local and immediate, the families that can participate in these activities and celebrations are a majority white, middle-class families. They are scholars who's parents were able to participate in similar activities when they were in school. The reality is the majority of these activities create a divide between the have's and have not's. And those divides too often reflect a racial divide as well. More times than I care to count I have witnessed our predominantly white scholars voluntarily participating in activities while our scholars of color observe from the "outside".
My fear is that we are creating an environment that may cause undue pain and possibly trauma for scholars who are less fortunate. Schools that are still engaging in school wide activities that uplift the experiences of our more fortunate scholars are either unknowingly (or possibly knowingly) diminishing the experiences of our less fortunate scholars.
And the solution doesn't have to be to cancel everything.
Schools do not have to take drastic steps to decrease or remove all activities that have the potential to create a divide amongst the scholar population. However, the importance of reviewing activities and celebrations through an equity lens before moving forward is something that must happen more frequently and by more and more schools. From administration to classroom educators, it is in the best interest of ALL of our scholars to be mindful of the effects of events on our scholars.