Considering Costumes in Education

There are many opportunities in schools for students to dress up in costumes: school plays and productions, themed events and holidays, (including the ever popular Halloween) allow students to pretend to be someone or something else. The space between having fun and potentially misrepresenting—and therefore disrespecting—a group of people, can sometimes become a liability when schools are working toward creating inclusive learning environments.

Tanenbaum’s training and curricular resources encourage educators to show both historical and present-day images of different groups. Principle seven, "Adapting and Integrating Lessons Appropriately," of Tanenbaum’s Seven Principles for Inclusive Education, summarizes that societies and cultures are constantly changing, and it is important for students to recognize the ways in which cultures and peoples change over time.

On Sunday, February 24, many Jewish people around the world celebrated Purim. Many observe this holiday by giving mutual gifts of food and drink, giving charity to the poor and participating in a celebratory meal and public recitation of the Scroll of Esther. Contrasting with more solemn synagogue occasions, both children and adults often attend the story of Purim reading in costume. Today people enjoy dressing up in all different types of costumes (not just those related to the Scroll of Esther): Harry Potter, Batman, wizards and more.

Teaching and learning about cultures and religions can benefit from an exploration of costumes. Even if you are not discussing the story of Purim in your classroom or the many modern-day adaptations, consider the following questions for students when discussing the appropriateness of costumes:

  1. Does this costume mimic someone’s culture?
  2. Could anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, feel comfortable wearing this costume?
  3. Does this costume perpetuate a stereotype?
  4. What can you do to have fun with costumes and still be respectful?

Tanenbaum’s Education program is a leading provider of training and resources that promote respect for religious differences.

To learn more contact education@tanenbaum.org .