HomeHealth & Behavior

The great Thanksgiving feast debate

Are school celebrations a valuable teaching tool or a waste of time and money?

By GreatSchools Staff

Do your child’s school celebrations sometimes miss their educational point? One recent debate in the GreatSchools parent community about Thanksgiving feasts offers a glimpse of how even a holiday as innocuous as one devoted to turkey eating can brew controversy over values, culture, and a school’s decision to treat parties as teachable moments.

One mom was so disgusted by the amount of food wasted by her son’s classroom feast one year that she rallied his classmates’ parents in protest. Together they decided that a better use of the children’s time would be to make baskets of food to donate. The next year the entire school followed suit.

The perfect solution to our culture of excess and gluttony? Not so fast. Some parents argue that a Thanksgiving feast at school is a fun, hands-on way to learn about the history behind the holiday while celebrating community and family.

Check out these outtakes from the Great Thanksgiving Feast Debate, and tell us where you stand on school special events: Do schools lavish students with extravagant parties to the detriment of their learning? Or are celebrations important teaching tools?

Waste not, want not

Last year, while our second-grade teacher made "stone soup" in the class and all the children shared that soup together, the other two second-grade [classes] celebrated Thanksgiving by having a lavish feast in the cafeteria. While I don't think the harvest celebration between the pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians was a waste, the feast at our school certainly was! I'm sorry, but I don't believe that "sharing" food one day a year really teaches our children anything. Most children at our school come from affluent families. They will go home and eat more turkey while many families in our community will go without. The sharing of food could be equally achieved by just having some pumpkin pies (or something simple to eat) in the class while they all make baskets of food to donate. If you'd seen the amount of food that was thrown away last year after that feast, you'd see my way also, or so I hope! — by Eccentric

My son's private school always has a big, expensive feast that we, the parents, must pay for. They send a letter home with the statement, "If you need financial assistance, please let us know." Well, what if I just feel this is a stupid, unnecessary expense? I love the idea of putting the money toward creating food baskets for needy families instead. I am going to write the school principal immediately and propose Mandolyn

I believe that making baskets for the needy is a great idea. This idea should spread to all schools. Children learn what caring and sharing is all about that way, and we need more of that everywhere. Every holiday should involve something where the needy are concerned. — by Makemesane

Comments from readers

"I went to Village School (alternative school in Great Neck). And they have a Thanksgiving Luncheon every year. It's nice to celebrate within the school community but shouldn't these special events only be for the family? As much as I would like this to be true, school is not a child's family. There needs to be boundaries between school and family. Our children are at-risk for emotional abuse from all this fake friendships from teachers. "
"In my daughters school they want to do away with all types of celebrations, which I don't agree with, children need to socialize together in their in the place were they spend most of their day.If the teacher is creative all celebrations can become a great teaching tool. But it can also just be fun!! Sometimes we forget that our kids have alot of pressure in todays world and they need some down time to just have fun..."
"I am a teacher in a school with students whose culture is different from those who celebrate with a traditional American meal. Having a feast with my students is a way to introduce the kids to foods often eaten and cooked the way Pilgrims and Native Americans might have enjoyed their meal. "
"I believe that schools are to teach academics. Parents are responsible for teaching morals and values. With the proper home training they will be well rounded adults. You teach your children by example.....if you want them to be caring, responsbilbe, and giving, lead by example. It is NOT the schools job. "
"Thanksgiving feasts at school are always awkward for my grandsons, who are vegetarians. The food basket idea sounds like a win-win situation: the children learn about sharing, and the recipients have a feast!"
"Kids work much harder than we ever did in school. A party is a great way to have them do something fun for a change. The reason why there is so much waste is typically because their is too large of servings given to them and parents go overboard and bring too much stuff.It doesn't eliminate the positive binding sharing experience. Donate on your own time, as we do is my opinion so your kids get it. I am tired of everything in our school system being politicized, and over analyzed."
"While I don't agree with 'excess' and 'gluttony' I do not agree that holiday feasts at school are inherently wrong. I do not find anything wrong with taking a break from the routine of schoolwork to have some fun and eat a feast. At my children's school each class has its own 'feast' but the school also has several fundraisers (turkey drives, canned food drives, etc.) going on at the same time. I think this teaches a great lesson, but on the other hand I feel that kids don't ALWAYS have to be doing something educational. Let them have fun, be kids, and enjoy themselves without having to worry about the problems of the world. They'll have plenty of time to do that as adults!"
"I find that a shared event such as a small Thanksgiving celebration helps children to learn about community and sharing. However, I feel it should be small (pie, soup, etc.). Emphasis on helping others and being thankful for what we have should be the focus."