Should Teachers Be Telling Kids Santa Isn’t Real? This One Did.

Should Teachers Be Telling Kids Santa Isn’t Real? This One Did. December 7, 2018

Santa Claus.

The jolly, fat, gift-delivering, white-bearded guy is a beloved children’s storybook character who doesn’t exist in the real world, just as invisible divinities don’t.

no virginia teacher rejects santa
Charming 1910 painting by American West artist Charles M. Russell — “Seein’ Santa” — depicts a drunken cowboy spewing rotgut liquor upon seeing a ghostly Santa and his reindoor approaching like a dream from his rear. (Tim Evanson, Flikr, CC BY 2.0)

But although most sane adults choose (reasonably) not to believe in Santa, they also choose to keep the myth very much alive for as long as humanly possible in their children.

It’s what we Americans do, as well as adults in other countries with longstanding Christian traditions, including the beloved Christmas season.

‘Introducing doubt’

So, you mess with people’s Christmas fantasies at your own peril, particularly when it’s the fantasy of Lisa Simek, a “New Jersey fashion publicist, mommy and ‘enthusiast of all things pretty’ [who] compelled a school to apologize for introducing doubt into young minds after a substitute teacher told first grade students that Santa Claus isn’t real.”

The incident is reported in a Patheos Nonreligious hub December 3 post, titled “Santa ain’t real: school apologizes for ‘crushing kids’ spirits,” in Barry Duke’s The Freethinker blog.

This capitulation to Simek’s rant by the Michael Raj, principal of Cedar Hills School in Montville, New Jersey, is beyond disappointing. It not only protects an invented cultural icon from factual scrutiny, always a bad idea, but perpetuates its bogus acceptance by children as real.

The tempest in a teacup began recently when Simek prayed in a Facebook post for “a Christmas Magic miracle to keep these kids believers for a long as possible,” as their churches simultaneously pray for the same thing for their religious faith.

Somehow, these people believe that children who don’t wholeheartedly believe in Santa or an omnipotent sky god are doomed to ill-fated lives ever more.

‘Crushing spirits’

Simek’s ire apparently was intensified by the fact that the errant substitute teacher had not only dismissed Santa’s existence but also that of Rudolf and the rest of his reindeer, plus the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy for added measure. (One could only hope she had added the Holy Spirit to the list of nonexistent entities revealed to the children.) Wrote Simek:

“A grown woman tried to crush our six-year-old’s spirit, along with the spirits of 22 other kids. Many of us parents have been doing damage control since the kids get home from school today.”

Principal Raj, noting that he was “troubled” and “disheartened” by the ruthless trashing of such venerable childhood fantasies, stressed that the “childhood wonder” and traditions and stories associated with Christmas are “near and dear in my own heart.”

In a letter to Cedar School parents, he assured them he had spoken to the unnamed offending teacher immediately about her “poor judgment”:

“I am sending this letter so that you are aware of the situation and if the conversation comes up at home over the next few days you can take appropriate steps to maintain the childhood innocence of the holiday season.”

Whether the teacher was punished in some way was not reported.

What’s the rule?

A commenter to Duke’s post named “Raging Bee” wrote, reasonably:

“All in all, maybe this teacher was a little out of line … but nowhere near as out of line as the parent’s reaction. What’s this leading to, a rule forbidding any teacher from questioning any fanciful story their kids hear?”

I distinctly remember the day in childhood when an older neighbor kid callously informed me that Santa wasn’t real. It was disappointing but only briefly, when I realized I’d still get real presents whether Santa was real or not. Interestingly, I immediately believed what this kid was saying, so I suspect I already had harbored my own skepticism. I mean, that’s an impossible number of houses to deliver presents to in one night, right? Even a kid can figure that out.

So my takeaway from my own deconversion from Santa belief is that truth is not to be feared, and that it’s best to wave away superstitious nonsense as early as possible.

Otherwise, you’re in danger of getting into the habit of permanently believing such things. Certainly seems to work that way in the case of religious indoctrination of children.

In my view, Santa is, one might say, a “gateway drug” to God. So the quicker kids are disabused of Santa’s existence, perhaps the quicker they are able to rationally question the divine. So, let’s not force them to believe in the unbelievable indefinitely.

Which is not to say Christmas can’t stay as wonderful as it is, full of gifts and friends and family and love. Warm chestnuts on an open fire, sleigh bells in the snow and all of that.

In my view, Christmas should be like a good Dickens novel, where we know full well it’s fiction but allow it to fill ourselves with joy nonetheless.

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Cover image of “3,001 Arabian Days.”

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