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When are costumes inappropriate?

There are many opportunities in schools for students to dress up in costumes; school plays, themed events, and holidays (including the ever popular Halloween) allow students to pretend to be someone or something else. But, 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.

Teaching and learning about cultures and religions can benefit from an exploration of costumes. 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 is a thought leader and provider of training and resources that promote respect for religious differences.

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