Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Decision to forgo costumes at school’s Thanksgiving feast not palatable

Photo Gallery: La Canada Elementary Thanksgiving feast
La Cañada Elementary fifth-grade students enjoy a Thanksgiving feast in 2011 dressed as Pilgrims or Native Americans. This year, the students were asked to forgo such costumes out of cultural sensitivity, a mistake in columnist Joe Puglia’s opinion, that should be rectified.
(File Photo)

In October1963 Bob Dylan told us, “The Times They Are a-Changin.’” He penned those words as an anthem of political and social transformation, which at the time were flying high on the coat tails of the folk music movement. On Nov. 23, 1963, the night after President Kennedy’s assassination, Dylan open his concert with this ballad. In his autobiography, “Chronicles,” Dylan notes the times were indeed changing because America had lost its innocence.

Having had the opportunity to view the past 55 years from both a micro and macro perspective, I see little change. But, what I do see is evolution. To change is to become different and over the years, change is often a result of legislating morality. However, to evolve is to develop slowly, often into a more meaningful and deeper advanced state. Evolution is internally motivated.

These musings bring to mind the recent talk about the fifth grade’s Thanksgiving celebration at La Cañada Elementary. Indeed, we have lost our innocence where much of what we do is viewed from a politically correct perspective. Attempting to be more culturally sensitive, Principal Emily Blaney influenced LCE to forgo the traditional costumes of the Pilgrims and Native Americans in place of dissociation with our cultural past.

My usual disclaimer when writing about La Cañada public schools: My wife, Kaitzer, is a member of the school board. But these thoughts are all mine, not hers. She tells me nothing.


Back to the LCE Thanksgiving feast: Whether our past is good or evil, to ignore it inhibits any possible evolution toward a more meaningful and advanced state. How can one possibly ignore history and expect the culture to be better because of it? Change can easily be legislated by a persuasive email to the parents. But that’s not evolving.

Where’s the cultural sensitivity regarding disbanding the decades-old tradition of having La Cañada children make concerted efforts to prepare costumes and delve into the history of giving thanks? How is this not a teaching moment? Even if it was just a three-day feast in 1621 when Native Americans and Europeans shared a communal experience. You build off of that moment, not its aftermath.

Students attending the annual Thanksgiving feast celebration at La Cañada Elementary School this year did not wear costumes representating Pilgrims or Native Americans, per the principal’s request.
(Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)

I understand the potential for insensitivity. However, it seems that anything that we do is insensitive to someone. Does sensitivity preclude ignoring what actually happened? Principal Blaney commented that some parents and citizens expressed concerns regarding the costumed tradition of the past. In logic or analysis, the word “some” has no meaning. It’s nebulous. Was it five people? A thousand? We can’t use the word “some” to legislate change. I’d betcha a dollar to a slice of pumpkin pie that there are more people opposed to changing this tradition than those who are for it. So how do you now rationalize this change?


An organization called Understanding Prejudice suggested that schools send letters home to parents addressing efforts to teach children about Thanksgiving in a way that doesn’t stereotype Native Americans. Similarly, in a Nov. 7 memo to the LCE parents, Principal Blaney and Christina Hale-Elliott, La Cañada’s Unified Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer, drafted such a memo.

I envision the job of administration is to administer and not to adjudicate or to influence their political or ideological leanings on another. An effective administration allows the seeds for a meaningful evolution to germinate. Wherever that takes us, then so be it.

Captain Gavlick, my company commander in the 5th Marines, told me that when you make a bad decision, it then becomes your responsibility to make a better one.

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