Dear Teachers and Staff,
It's that time of year when students begin asking questions about Santa Claus. Some are believers, some are doubters, and when they come together…watch out! My suggestion is to treat the idea of Santa much like you would the idea of our democracy—a pleasing notion that some take comfort in (even if it's not real!).
Students will bring in all kinds of legends from their families. Some will believe Santa carries a magic key that unlocks any door. Others will believe elections represent the will of the people. It's important not to question these obviously fraudulent ideas and let their parents decide when they are ready to learn the truth.
Be prepared for challenging questions like, "How can Santa visit all the children of the world in a single night?" Imagine that same student asking, “How can we have a representative democracy when districts are drawn for purely political reasons?” What the student needs to understand is that sometimes we simply choose to believe in things even when we can't understand how they work.
Kids get a lot of conflicting messages. Consider the Santa at the mall: Some kids will believe this is the real Santa, while others have been told this man is just one of Santa’s helpers. Likewise, some students may believe their congressional representative is a dedicated public servant, while others will understand that they are the puppet of a handful of powerful donors and lobbyists. The point is, we sometimes see different things when we are looking at a man in a suit pretending to be something they are not.
Be especially aware of those "know-it-alls" in your class. Some may boast they know Santa Claus or Democracy aren't real and point to examples, like the logistics of Santa's voyage or Bush v. Gore. But whether they're talking about the different faith traditions around the world or Citizens United, remind the other students that they need to look into their hearts—not at the mountains of evidence—to decide what is true.
Some students may have firsthand experience that makes them doubters, like a Christmas where Santa never came, or a parent who was turned away from the polls by racial profiling. (Often it's the same student.) It's important to acknowledge these experiences without conceding that they illustrate the farce of both institutions.
One phrase I suggest all my teachers get acquainted with is, “It’s a mystery.” When a students asks how Santa knows if they’ve been naughty or nice: “It’s a mystery.” When a student asks how alternative ideas can ever gain traction in a two-party system: “It’s a mystery.” This keeps you from having to wade into these sticky situations and prepares students for the non-responsiveness they can expect from their own government.
With a little direction from you devoted educators, I know we can help our students have a magical Christmas and continue to prop-up the charade of our national government.
Ben Godar is a writer and filmmaker. When nobody will give him money to do that, he tries to be funny on Twitter.
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