Inauguration Day Should Not Be A Holiday

The other day I got a letter from my daughter’s school describing a dilemma that the headmaster had faced, one that his counterparts in many other schools faced too: Whether to close up shop on the day Senator Barack Obama takes office as president of the United States. The school has not in the past taken the day off.

The letter described a number of rationales for doing so this time, all couched in a bunch of “learning about political responsibility” language. Shortly after the letter from my daughter’s school, I got word that the local public school system (along with others in the greater DC area) will be shuttered that day.

These schools all say that, from now on, Inauguration Day will be a holiday.

It’s obvious that these schools and school systems are making this move because they are pleased with the choice America has made. There is no way that, had Sen. McCain been the victor, any school would be pondering a day off. This is one in a series of examples of schools and educators applying their political biases to their pupils, while professing neutrality. In order to maintain the charade, the schools must turn a one-time event (Obama’s ascension) into a policy (every Inauguration Day is a holiday). [UPDATE: See comments below; there is more nuance to this that emerges.]

The beauty of experiment in self-rule we call the United States is that there is a mechanism in place for power to change hands without bloodshed, without coup, without drama. If anything, Inauguration Day is remarkable because it is so unremarkable. Yes, this is an historic rise of an African American to a the highest elected office in the land. But to institute a holiday across the board based on it is wrong headed. While we may be excited about one particular office holder, we may be just as alarmed by the next – the point should be, instead, that daily life goes on. We go to work or school just as before.

Instead, we are treated to a day off because our guy won.

4 thoughts on “Inauguration Day Should Not Be A Holiday”

  1. actually Virginia and DC schools already had it on the calendar as a day off before the election. It is a federal holiday and the schools followed it. Only Montgomery County made the decision post election. Probably mostly because the teachers pushed for it. The Superintendent was against it but the board voted for it.

  2. Thanks David. Is it really a federal holiday, meaning banks and other such institutions are closed? I didn’t know that.

    Still, the sudden rush in MoCo and also among private schools strikes me as unseemly.

  3. The real loss here is that it is a lost learning opportunity. Sure parents like you who are civic-minded (and, as you have written so often, have the luxury to be at home with their children) will take advantage of this teaching moment. But most parents will farm their kids off to a babysitter or leave them at home with computer games because they have to go to work. Thus, civics lessons and opportunity to share in an historical moment will be lost. That’s the truly sad part of it all. At a moment of such historical proportions, children should be among the peers with whom they will shape the future guided by teachers who can set the context for the historical significance of this election of our first African-American. They should be publicly celebrating the American experience together and learning how they can and will contribute to our nation in the future. National events of such importance should be shared events. What meaning will the inauguration have for the child home alone with their Wii?

  4. BTW, I reference the historical significance of electing an African-American as being a teaching point. Regardless of who wins, a national election and a new administration should always inspire interesting civic lessons. This would have been true if McCain were waiting in the wings. That’s what good teachers do – use current events to set the context for lessons. Perhaps schools could “take the day off” from worrying about standardized testing and getting through the requisite materials to focus on lessons grounded in real life.

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