26 thoughts on “The Grazing Ram: The Real Problem with Making Columbus Day a Holiday 

  1. Would love to hear Leo’s perspective on the addition of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah! Both important holidays at the start of the year that interrupt school time but are very important to community members in this town and rightfully should have been added. I wonder, however, if those don’t also interfere with everything stated here but are somehow more important than Columbus Day? Especially considering many towns (Stamford, Wilton, Weston, Trumbull, Norwalk etc) celebrate all of those holidays on their school calendars as well. Food for thought for a young writer!

    • The addition of the Jewish Holidays, aside from being so baked into our school system and requiring day time in synagogue is less about the student body after all these years than it is about the teaching staff. Originally the majority of teachers, particularly in our part of the world, were of Jewish descent. Admittedly majority could be an exaggeration but enough that any attempt to staff up schools with Substitute teachers would be an abject failure. Let’s also not forget that when Columbus Day was removed other holidays were added ! Columbus Day is a wonderful opportunity for Italian Americans to celebrate their heritage but they are not spending a day in a religious institution and can enjoy this celebration whilst also being in school and when their parents return from work. This young writer is putting himself out there and making a great argument – one that the entire community should heed – the Politicization of the School Board is unhealthy for the community, unhealthy for the school body and unhealthy for the future of the town.

      • I understand all these points. But as an Italian American who understands the history of Columbus Day and what it means to the culture, it’s odd to take away and not be additive in the melting pot we live in. Inclusivity should be additive not hierarchical, no? The attack on this holiday seems odd and concerning. And mostly confusing that Norwalk and other towns don’t seem to find it problematic.

        Also I think it’s important for our young students and writers to think about this argument from all sides. It’s what makes for a rich and nuanced argument which we should be urging our students towards.

        • When mentioning the surrounding towns that still celebrate Columbus Day as a day off from school, I think it’s CRITICAL to remember the history of why that is. Several (8-10?) years ago many of the local districts were faced with the elimination of February and/or April breaks because of snow days, state mandated # of days in school, AP test prep time required for our high schoolers, etc. The surrounding towns you mention currently DO NOT have a February break. They have a long weekend. New Canaan’s prior BOEs worked the calendar meticulously to ensure our students/families in New Canaan would be able to preserve that historically popular travel/family time. As Columbus Day, like Veterans Day, was not a religious holiday, our schools chose to CELEBRATE them via in school education and discussion. Veterans Day, as an example, is a widely educational day where many former vets visit our schools to truly educate our students about their experiences in the military. As Dr. Correnty (Head of NCPS curriculum) mentioned at the BOE meeting during discussion, our curriculum offers a rich education/discussion of Columbus from elementary through high school. I think we need to stop making assumptions about why previous BOEs made thoughtful, deliberate decisions in the best interests of our students, and start thinking about why no one bothers to research the “why” before claiming victimization/cancel culture mentality. Additionally, Leo hits the nail on the head when discussing the absurdity of adding a day of school in June. AP exams are over, finals have been taken, high school sports seasons are completed, kids are looking to start summer jobs. If adding a day of school is necessary so that we can have Columbus Day as a vacation day outside of school, then February break would have been the logical place to add a day back in. But no one wants to do that, right?

          • I’d be fine with that! I’d love to add a day for Diwali and Ramadan as well. I wonder why we should not question previous BOE decisions but are quick to attack this one’s decisions. Seems like your bias is showing perhaps?

        • I don’t think I understand what Additive and Hierarchical mean – and how is it an attack on the holiday ? It is vital for our children to be in school as many days as possible while paying attention to the health (and mental health) of the entire student body (teachers included) and that likely means taking away a few holidays that do not have religious standing as we can all appreciate cultural standing in endless ways throughout the celebrated day. And to your using MLK day as a nonreligious example – we have given it equity with Presidents day as a non religious day off as the majority of the country sees it as an important opportunity to honor a significant American. It is an endless puzzle and one that is hard enough without politicizing it or assuming the removal of a day as an attack on it.

      • I also wondering if by your reason for religious holidays being added but not cultural ones, MLK should be removed as well? And perhaps we add Diwali as a substitute? Again, there are nuances to this debate and I really think we should be urging our students to see it from all sides. Our town is full of so many different people and we should not be placing anyone’s holidays, especially ones that have been national holidays for years, below anyone else’s.

        I appreciate this student’s column – it’s an important voice. And it should be fostered and learn to grow and change with more and more interesting perspectives and questions he comes across. How lucky we are to live in a town that strives to always want the best out of our kids!

        • Alexandra, if you have an interesting perspective or question, please post it in the thread here so that Leo can take a look at it. Thank you in advance.

        • MLK was also a minister and MLK Day is widely observed in a church (New Canaan has an interfaith service which is always fantastic). Veteran’s Day is celebrated in school. This is more of a comparison. If anything it’s more relevant as we all know and love the veterans in our lives. But still it is better served in school. It is still a special day that is observed, but in an academic setting where it can be more educational than just a day off doing nothing. How are kids honoring Columbus at home? I doubt many are taking a field trip to Plymouth Rock. So wouldn’t they be better served learning about Columbus in school (like they have been)?

  2. So well written! Great to see a student point of view. Agree wholeheartedly with every point made here.

  3. I whole-heartedly support the reversal of the 2012 decision. And Julie is a top-tier public servant; hard-working and dedicated.

  4. If people are worried about missing school in October an easy solution is to start school earlier in August. Now perhaps is also a good time to have a discussion on why we ‘only’ have ~180 days in a regular school calendar.
    Either way when looking at the Columbus Day issue when it came up in the Fall I was curious that it appears that the fall of the Mongul Empire and Constantinople appeared to have a very large impact on why many ‘explorers’ went west instead of east. Both Spain and Portugal were geographically well suited for this change.
    My sense is we could all learn a bit more with some extra emphasis ‘on the age of the explorers’ as well as the impact on areas they explored (this was a global impact not just here in North America). Perhaps being very clear that Columbus Day is also Indigenous Peoples Day will help that mutual understanding along.

    • Thanks, Giacomo. I would note here that Dr. Jill Correnty, deputy superintendent of New Canaan Public Schools, did note during the rather contrived “debate” on this at Board of Ed meetings that our students do learn about the explorers and Columbus. Whether that makes New Canaan the center of a rile-’em-up pretend culture war about slaughtered Caribbean natives from 500 years ago, I don’t know.

    • Sounds like the important things our kids might learn in school- not at a typical kitchen table on a vacation day, Giacomo.

    • Perhaps we should ask our students if they are in support of starting school earlier in August or going later in June. Just like it made sense to consider the effects of school start/end times on our community’s work/life schedules, it also makes sense to consider the summer schedules of our students. Many high school students have jobs they rely upon for income, summer athletic and academic programs that require immense time commitments, internships that provide them with robust life experiences, summer college programs that increase their exposure for future applications and higher education in general.

      As adults, let’s keep the best interest of our students in mind and stop overwhelming them with personal political views.

      As to the comment above about my bias towards previous Board of Ed decisions, I never said we shouldn’t question their decisions. I, personally, have vocally questioned and advocated against many prior BOE decisions. I said we should attempt to UNDERSTAND them. I watched the BOE meeting regarding the Columbus Day decision and was shocked at how little understanding there was by many new BOE members of the factors that went into optimizing our current school schedule. For example, one BOE member suggested we could just send students to school on the Friday before Feb vacation. No, we can’t – that’s a professional development day for our teachers – not an optional day off. That probably would have made sense to research earlier. Another new BOE member. blatantly suggested that our schools don’t currently teach Columbus as part of our curriculum, to which Dr. Correnty rattled off the numerous in-depth curriculum units at all school levels. It also needed to be explained to BOE members why an added day off in October is not supported by our teachers, faculty, administration or students.

      There was no give and take at the BOE level on this issue. Whereas in previous BOE decision making discussions, many BOE members have been influenced to consider alternative perspectives, the five “yes” votes walked into this meeting determined to vote yes at all costs. That is the most frustrating and concerning aspect of the decision to revert Columbus Day back to a day off. The new BOE members ran on a platform of, and I quote, “Keeping politics out of Education”.

      I’m pretty sure they’ve missed the mark there.

  5. Great article!
    I would like to hear your voice at a BOE meeting…very well thought out, sensible and accurate!

  6. Very well written, I’m glad so many are seeing what these Board of Ed members are really doing.

  7. Leo- thank you for taking the time to voice the point of view of so many students and their families in a mature and eloquent manner. This is such an impressive column!

  8. How many families in New Canaan regard the restoration of Columbus Day as a school holiday (called “Columbus Day /Indigenous People’s Day”) as sufficiently important to add a school day at the end of the year?

  9. Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a cogent breakdown, Leo, and for reiterating once again the desires of our school staff who are charged with the most precious responsibility of educating New Canaan students.

  10. Bravo Leo for this well articulated and well researched article! As one of NCPS’ most important stakeholders (an actual student!), you raise important concerns. Columbus Day is not a religious holiday and comparing it to the Jewish holidays is a false equivalency. NCPS already does an excellent job celebrating Columbus Day in school. If academic excellence is truly NCPS’ utmost priority, adding an unnecessary non religious holiday in the beginning of the school year when crucial learning gets done, is clearly not the right path. Something has fundamentally changed in our community since when the holiday was removed by a bipartisan BOE a decade ago and this young author has rightfully pointed it out.