When I first arrived here, I was shocked by the way Valentine’s Day is celebrated at school. Parties and giving little bits of pointless paper to every child in the class seemed completely meaningless to me.
When I was a child we all made a card at school. Some took it home, some gave it anonymously to someone they ‘fancied’ and some gave it to their best friend. Most of the class didn’t get a Valentine, usually one boy and one girl received loads, it didn’t really matter, that’s life.
I do however understand the policy of all or none when giving out these odd tiny Valentines they have here. Nobody wants to be the child who receives nothing. I buy into it because the children want to give, but they ask all kinds of questions.
- Why do I have to give something to that person if I don’t really like them?
- Can I give something more special to my best friend or will everyone else think it is unfair?
- It takes too long to write cards for everyone can’t I just send a few?
- Why should I give something to someone if they are horrible to me?
The answer to most of these questions is ‘because school says’, which is always the worst kind of answer in my opinion.
I think there is a better way. Can we spend time talking with children, discussing the issues and then let them decide for themselves?
- What would it be like if we could choose who to give Valentine’s to?
- Could we make a few really special Valentine’s with thoughtful messages instead of a piece of paper with a name on?
- How about if all Valentine’s were anonymous – if we gave a Valentine to the people we care about but we don’t tell them who gave it?
- Would that make it more about seeing a smile on someone’s face rather than how great a gift we could give?
- How does it feel to be the only child without a Valentine? Think about those people, perhaps you would like to send them one so that they wouldn’t feel left out? (My daughter said she was going to send a card to the girl in her class from learning centre, even though she didn’t know her, because she thought otherwise she might not get any.)
- Do you feel that you should send a card to all the class to make it fair? If you do then go ahead.
- If we only send to some people what message are we sending? Are we saying you are the most special people in my life or I don’t like these other people?
Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love and friendship. We don’t care about all people equally and that is perfectly normal. Giving to all in my opinion makes it thoughtless. Rather than celebrating how we care for everyone, it degenerates into an automatic exercise that is expected of us. We send cards without sentiment because we have to, not because we care about those people. We can’t write special messages to our friends because that wouldn’t be equitable and to write a long message to the whole class would take too long.
I like the exercises where the children have to think of one good thing to say about each person in the class but even then I have had my child in tears because there are some children she doesn’t really know and can’t think of anything good to say. Even at that level then, it is false sentiment.
I wonder how much this is thought about at school before they decide on an all or nothing policy as a matter of fairness? Is it really fair and can’t we trust our children to show kindness and know right from wrong without imposing our own ideas on them?
I wonder what the children would say if we had these discussions? I think we might be surprised.