Last month on Twitter, a Tweet about “Crazy Hair Day” sparked interesting conversations around words, hair, and spirit. A long-standing practice in schools has been “Spirit Days”. Centered around themes that are supposed to demonstrate school or community “spirit”, these days have been around for as long as I have been in education. As a child, I remembered these days as being about wanting to fit-in in a space where I didn’t. As an educator, I reflect on those feelings and consider these days not as “spirit” days but rather days when the disparity between who has and who has more is celebrated. Did you wear the right thing or style your hair in the right way? Great, you have “spirit”. I’ll circle back to why I have spirit in quotes here shortly. In this post, my goal is to ask you to reflect on these “Spirit Days” and to act. Now I know that might be asking a lot because there are many individuals who feel as though I’m taking the fun away from school and making something bigger of a small issue. I’ve heard it said. I would like to ask you to read further before ignoring my request.
The original post above asks readers to consider the language of the day. As we open more avenues for conversations around mental health and well-being and to remove the stigma, using the word “crazy” in education shouldn’t happen. I’ve heard the word in halls and have asked students to describe what they mean and there have always been more appropriate terms to use. If students can do that, as educators and administrators, we too can follow suit and actually lead. Words have an impact. Consider what you are saying, what you actually mean, and say that.
Beyond the fact that the wording itself is problematic, hair has a different significance for different people. I initially wrote groups of people, but even within populations, there are differing beliefs or feelings. Now, I know that there are some looking for an education on this right now and that’s where I will ask you to do the work. This post is meant to get you to reflect and then act. Part of the work is to do the research, to come to your own understandings, and then to do better. I mentioned earlier that as a child, spirit days were about fitting in because I felt as though I didn’t. I was one of a few Black children in all of my elementary and secondary school experiences. As I recall, there were never more than a handful of students who looked like me in not just my grade, but in the entire school. Many of my peers were fascinated by my hair. In Grade 1, I remember being teased on end because my hair was cut into a very low afro. I tear up as I write because I remember the blue jacket that I wore and when I didn’t want to remove my hood at school because I knew that everyone would laugh, and they did. Throughout elementary, I adopted the nickname, “Sonic the Hedgehog” because when I curled my hair, it didn’t move, even when I ran. Even in my attempt to fit in, I was yet again made fun of because of my difference. I could go on about stories but this isn’t about me. It’s about the students in your classrooms and schools who might be able to tell similar stories and the common theme might be that they have no one standing up for them or if they do, it’s sometimes after the trauma, to help soften the blow.
Earlier on, I put this in quotes because I’m interested in a serious definition of the word in this context. What does spirit actually mean? When I think of school or community spirit, I think of action for the betterment of said school or community. How does dressing up in a jersey or styling your hair in a certain way accomplish this? Oftentimes we ask students to show their spirit when in reality, their true spirit isn’t rewarded for showing up on a daily basis. What is this spirit we are after and why is that more important than students showing up in their authentic selves on a daily basis? When we think of education, what is spirit in education? How are we honouring that? Is it merely compliance with the day? Taking this further, our role isn’t social convenor but educator, what spirit do we bring to our education spaces? What are we telling students about what we value in terms of spirit?
Now I know that some might be upset that I’ve put it out there to consider getting rid of these days, but please consider the greater trauma being caused by what you deem to be “fun”. I’ve spoken about this in staff meetings and have been overlooked. I dread these days because often enough, I see a younger version of myself walking the yard or the halls, experiencing the same thing. Isn’t it time for us to stop?