Today was an unfortunate step backwards in the process of necessary change to the cultural and social atmosphere in Malden. I can understand the thought process to a degree that Principal Keenan and Superintendent of Schools Dr. DeRuosi and any others involved in the decision used in removing the tradition of sharing Valentine’s Day cards at the Salemwood School. What I cannot understand is the reasoning and the conclusion they arrived at and the subsequent communicating of their reasons which has confused, angered, and frustrated an entire city and by the virtue of social media, enflamed the debate nationally. This is not the kind of issue we want shining the national spotlight on Malden. This is the kind of issue we should be leading other communities in defending.
As the years have gone by we have seen so many of our familiar customs flicker away. Many succumb to the Grim Reaper of traditions …political correctness. Superintendent DeRuosi used “political correctness” as his basis for supporting the Valentine’s Day ban at Salemwood. I ask that he clarify exactly what he means by removing all references to Valentine’s Day as a “politically correct” move. I ask to whom does such a ban benefit and why? I also would ask why just Salemwood, not Linden, Ferryway, Beebe, or Forestdale? I ask that he define who would be offended, specifically.
Both Principal Keenan and Dr. DeRuosi pointed out that the “diversity” of the school was a main component in arriving at and supporting the decision. I will ask again, what does that mean? Yes, Malden is a very diverse community. Which race, creed, ethnicity are so enraged and so large in number that because they came out in such mass decrying the celebration of a non-religious observance that has its founding in retail commerce not religion?Yyou found it necessary to upheave a worldwide traditional observance of love, caring and compassion and turn it to a bland art project…and you did it to the children of the community. That is unacceptable for administrators of the educational directives and goals of the city and its citizens. Love, compassion, and sharing are values we need in our society and in our community. Traditions are to be upheld. Yes we have many citizens from numerous cultural backgrounds, customs and beliefs; however we hold it fundamentally American to accept their customs and their constitutional right to practice their beliefs and customs. In turn it is expected that they are to also assimilate to our traditions just as we would have to comply and accept, if not practice, if we were to reside in any other country around the world.
“According to a letter sent to parents from Principal Carol Keenan last week, the school "(does) not celebrate holidays and/or birthdays during school hours," citing the "more than sixty-seven different cultures and languages" represented there.
"We welcome and celebrate our diversity, however to insure equity of all beliefs we are unable to acknowledge specific holidays," she wrote.”
Principal Keenan says “ the school does not celebrate holidays and birthdays during school hours.” Yes there are 67 languages and cultures represented, that’s great. They all do the Pledge of Allegiance before class don’t they? My son does at Ferryway School. Is Salemwood exempt from Pledge of Allegiance based on diversity? Seeing as the flag is the very symbol of the freedom that allows for that diversity to flourish and survive yet has also come under fire for being “politically incorrect” in many other communities. So how is a non-religious observance that is not designated by any federal state or municipal law as a holiday any different? How can you quote a policy that prohibits holiday observances yet you banned a non-holiday, non-religious observance on the merit of that policy? It makes no sense at all, it’s in fact contradictory. My son learned about the Menorah during Hanukkah, we aren’t Jewish, why didn’t he learn about the birth of Christ? My son learned the Dreidel Song but not Ave Maria…should I have protested?
The claim that the financial limitation of the families in purchasing Valentine’s contributed to the decision may be fair and respectful and even honorable. However, it is difficult to assume that every family cannot afford the $1.00 cost of 30 Valentines at any Dollar Tree Store (of which Malden now has two). Also, as some student did in my son’s class, they just wrote them out on plain paper. It was worth just as much as one with captain America, or Spider Man or Harry Potter on them. If costs to families are such a concern ask the other parents to chip in, reach out to the business community, and engage the tremendous community programs and organizations to assist. This will alleviate the financial worry, avoid any embarrassment to the children but also engage more of the citizens and businesses in assisting their neighbors and create the habit of support among all residents of Malden. This was an opportunity to unify a community and it was missed because of what I see as authoritative ignorance and resistance to others ideas. This was quite simply a poorly thought out decision which has been exacerbated by the lack of clarity in responding to the attention it brought on our city. We have had enough sad and distressing media coverage in the past year can’t we agree?
You underestimated the acceptance of a child’s mind and imagination. If you choose to see a child’s response through your eyes as an adult, you will make decisions that benefit the interest of an adult and not of the child. As educators, that deserves a failing grade. Children don’t see diversity; they are unaware of the differences that become such divisive issues as we age. They don’t care about, because they don’t know about, religious implications, ethnic and cultural differences. They just want to share, have fun, laugh and play. The banning today at Salemwood stole part of the children’s innocence we as adults are entrusted to protect. How are we to raise tolerant young people that will grow to benefit the society we inherited and were expected to progress when we are the ones allowing society to regress because we are afraid of upsetting a few people? Today this thought process, this ignorance to the true feelings of the city upset hundreds and now with the national spotlight, thousands of people. An unintended consequence I’m sure but proof that this decision was wrong.
The lesson these children learned today wasn’t diversity, it was you can’t accept others differences, we don’t trust you to be able to do that so we will strip everything of its unique flavor and color so that no one gets left out. We wouldn’t want kids to learn acceptance and adaptability because as we know no one ever leaves the city they grew up in so why would they ever need to learn to adapt to change, accept other customs and beliefs and learn that our differences and accepting them are what makes us as individuals and as a communities strong.
The Principal and Superintendent need to admit this was a poorly planned attempt at avoiding any backlash or it was provoked by a very small issuance of complaints from a distinct minor amount of people who like the Principal and Superintendent, did not take the time or go through enough discussion to make an educated decision. That is disappointing since you are the leaders of the selfless, amazing and dedicated teachers we have put our trust and faith and hopes in to assist us as parents and in many cases unfortunately, take on part of the role as parent to the hearts and minds of those we are grooming to be our successors in moving our society forward. Today I feel a major step backward was taken in Malden, and by the outpouring of anger, frustration and disbelief, I am far from alone in that thought.
No one is above the citizens of the city, the SalemWood situation though not life altering, underscores the need for greater open discussion from the small issues of life in Malden to the more serious. It also takes the focus off the greater issues that truly need to be addressed. There has been more social media, on the street, in the shops and online discussion about the Ballpark, proposed DPW move, City Hall Proposals, snow plowing and the beer sales issue at McDonald Stadium than we have about advancements in solutions to the crime and violence facing our city. Whether it’s the confusion around the new ballpark, open meeting violations or the exaggerated, embellished, or false and misleading information regarding recent crime in the city, those provided with the privilege to serve in an elected, appointed or hired public position should then know they have a responsibility to clearly articulate to the citizens any and all information in a timely and open manner. This should be done with the input of residents in order to establish a greater communication among all parties. Yes we know PTA involvement is low, yes there are many residents who do not care or even know about much of what is going on in any city, but that is not an excuse to make decisions without the understanding or forethought of how people will react. By creating a negative rate of approval within the city it continues to dismiss the positive efforts of so many under promoted ventures the city has to offer.
The Friendship Card idea at Salemwood is a worthwhile alternative out of fairness, not political correctness, finances or diversity (I'm a bit tired of the overuse of the word diversity as a selling point, a negative description, a crutch or a reason for making the vast amount of decisions) ...but once again poor communication throughout city departments, facilities and government is creating frustration, if you don't understand the speed and scope of social media and the news cycle, perhaps it’s time to engage in meetings, discussions and decisions in a more advanced timely manner. Everyone knew February 14th was coming. Everyone knows there is a possibility of snow in February and the storm was predicted with certainty over a week ago. Print a notice and send it home with the kids on Thursday, don’t mail it home. Do not use the blizzard as an excuse for the lack of ability to communicate the change from Valentine’s Day cards to friendship Cards…that will not hold up and shows a lack of respect the for intelligence of the community.
I am finding it very difficult to understand why the residents of Malden are speaking loudly and in great numbers and much of the decisions regarding the city from its officials are being done in relative secrecy and silence. There must be discussion and debate on the merits of all decisions that need to be made. It must be inclusive of the citizens of the city through citizen panels (as the Mayor has convened and will continue to do) and the councilors that represent them. Residents must know where to find this information when it is available (city website, city social media, local media, and city councilor email newsletters), citizens must do their homework which is every citizens responsibility and bring your voice to the table. Not everyone is on Facebook or Twitter or has email even in this day and age and many details are not translated well in text. Our city officials must be out there expressing passion and decisiveness towards all that is good or bad in Malden.
In today’s world politicians aren’t the game changers, it’s the men and woman with the rolled up sleeves, the ones freezing in the hockey rinks or on the sidelines, running the bake sales, standing proud on Flag Day and talking about that game in ’65 when you know who blocked who knows what and secured the win over whats their name.. Those are the people that will make the greatest positive impact on the city of Malden. All our leaders have to do is what they haven’t and what has led to the state of the city as I see it today….they have to listen.
As is being discussed nationally today with many congressional representatives not being from the states or districts they represent...If Malden has officials in its employment that aren't from Malden, perhaps we should look at ensuring they have the guidance from long residing citizens who are well versed in the pulse of the city. We can attract top notch talent to work in Malden because of the positive attributes associated with our cultural heritage, school system and other opportunities but if they don't know how to communicate with the public and in a manner that best serves Malden, perhaps we need to re-evaluate more than just the best way to celebrate Valentine's Day.
Scott Saia /Ward 1 Resident
Founder and Joint Organizer of Malden's Home For The Holidays Street Hockey Tournament