Thursday, December 24, 2009

miracle on 34th street

I watched the 1947 version of "Miracle on 34th Street" last night. Hadn't seen it since the year our boys had their moment of doubt about Santa. After watching the film that Christmas, Santa had a one year reprieve in the Long house.

But I guess I was so focused on my sons' existential moment that I failed to notice something else. Who are the bad guys in the movie? They are legion and led by the forces of creeping consumerism as portrayed by the Macy's toy department manager. Then there are the agents of cynical, populist politics represented by the judge in the Trial of Santa Claus. I was most sensitive to two other villains that grabbed my attention: the psychologist and the "progressive school" the little girl, Susan, attends.

The psychologist is a wreck, a wretched little man who, because his own life is a wreck, crusades against the Macy's Santa, our hero, who is either (a)The Real Deal or (b)a harmless delusional saint.

In one scene, The Psychologist lectures the children and parents of Susan's school about the myth of Santa and why it is bad to fool children. This echoes Susan's mother who takes great pains to demystify life for her so that she will not be disappointed when she learns that myths are untrue. The heart of the movie is Susan's conversion from Santa Skeptic to True Believer. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

The Psychologist and the Progressive School (read non-traditional) are demonized. They are the unknown; the different; the new and strange and disruptive.

Beginning in the 18th Century, "progressive education" presented an alternative to the rigid, one-size-fits-all, abstract, two-dimensional, teacher-driven, factory-model schooling that we now call "traditional".

Back in 1947 and still today the Fear Mongers enlist Santa Claus to battle the forces of change, to protect anything and everything dubbed "tradtional", and to protest any idea labeled "progressive". We've always done it that way.

On this topic we could go as deep as the salt mines under Cleveland (did you know that Cleveland used to be the sea bottom?), or as far afield as the once open grasslands of the American plains (..."where the buffalo roam and the skies are not cloudy all day."). Instead let me say this:

I like Santa Claus. I loved my sons' love of Santa and their faith in the essential goodness of the universe that he embodies.

Look at the history of Santa Claus and the history of Christmas itself to understand how thin a veneer "tradition" represents. The history is much richer, more nuanced and controversial than most of us understand.

My cat is afraid of change. You should have seen her the day the Christmas tree went up: sniffing the tree, sniffing the light cord, her tail straight up in the air, twitching.

People are afraid of change, too. But without change we'd still be living in caves. Beware the fear mongers. They want to keep you in your cave.

Yes, there are other approaches to education. If you were happy with your own education and think that approach was good enough for your children and will prepare them for life in 2025, fine. Enroll them in a school just like you went to. An old fashioned school.

If not, if you think there must be a better approach, look for an alternative. Just don't get Santa involved. He's got no dog in this hunt.

No comments:

Post a Comment