03 June 2005

Because It's a Tradition

Traditions are a part of every culture---large or small. They create some "norms" for the group. They include those all important rites of passage. You may anticipate or dread a variety of traditions that you are privy to, but you can't escape them.

Or can you?

Is it possible that some traditions can and should become obsolete?

As we move toward the end of the school year at my school, I have to question some of our "traditions." Yesterday was the "school picnic." A whole day devoted to play. There was an assembly where the gymnastics students performed while the jazz band played. We had a car show, badminton, staff vs. student softball game, barbecue lunch, and more. All of these were fun, but as the years pass, more and more students opt to stay home that day. Why come to school if we're not doing anything? How do you tell parents that their kid can serve detention for not coming to school for a picnic day?

Next week we have a "Moving Up" assembly. This is yet another rah-rah event to glorify the seniors. (Trust me, there are plenty of scheduled events to celebrate their accomplishments.) A couple of teachers speak...some seniors sing or read poetry...somebody will cry on stage...and baby pictures of graduating seniors are shown. At the end, the staff lines up and shakes the hand of every senior while the lower grades "move up" into the seniors' seats. The originator of this tradition has long since left our building...along with most of the enthusiasm for this particular event. This year, only two seniors bothered to try out to do something for this assembly. Why on earth are we still doing it after all these years? Is it enough to say "because it's a tradition"?

Maybe these events just need to have meaning restored to them. But there are few people still working in the building...within the culture...who remember the glory days of these traditions. They certainly aren't interested in being the guardians of them.

I'm not sure how to decide when a tradition has outlived its usefulness...how to ease it gently into that good night. I have watched a larger ongoing debate here about whaling, and society as a whole doesn't seem to have good agreement about these things. Will it be easier as a smaller body...as a school...to do so?

I do know that next year will look different. Not just for me---but for the 1/3 of our population who will be new to the building and have no knowledge or expectations for our traditions. I wonder if there's some way to get them to help us create some new ones.

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