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Columbus Day Controversy in Somerville: What do You Think?

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone fired back at a Boston Herald columnist for her piece titled "Fun takes a holiday in Somerville."

A Boston Herald column titled "Fun takes a holiday in Somerville" caused a stir Friday, and now Somerville's mayor has fired back.

The column describes an email sent by Anne Foley, principal of the , to teachers at the school. The email, according to the column, takes aim at Columbus Day and Thanksgiving.

The Boston Herald column quotes from the email, in which Foley wrote, "When we were young we might have been able to claim ignorance of the atrocities that Christopher Columbus committed against the indigenous people … for many of us and our students celebrating this particular person is an insult and a slight to the people he annihilated. On the same lines, we need to be careful around the Thanksgiving Day time as well."

The column, which also said Somerville schools have a "ban" on students wearing Halloween costumes, quickly made the rounds on the Internet, landing on blogs as far away as Michigan and Las Vegas, among other places.

The response was strong enough that Somerville's mayor, Joseph Curtatone, quickly fired back on Friday, the same day the column was published.

The Boston Herald columnist "clearly was more interested in stirring the pot than having an adult discussion," Curtatone wrote, saying the column "turned into regional and national radio and Internet fodder."

"Apparently some people must take great offense at something new each day and today we have become the designated punching bag."

"No one is saying people cannot celebrate our traditional holidays, just that there's more to them than fits on the back of a matchbook," Curtatone wrote. "Principal Anne Foley raised a fair point with her staff. The story of Columbus is complicated, just like history is complicated. Our educators should be having that discussion. We encourage healthy debate in our schools."

Curtatone also said Somerville has "the biggest Halloween-themed party in the metro Boston region," referring to the festival planned for Oct. 23 along Somerville Avenue.

Curtatone wrote, "The biggest thing the Herald missed in its column was the headline—'Fun takes a holiday in Somerville.' We have more fun with more events and holidays in this city than any other city I've ever seen."

What do you think?

Was Somerville the "punching bag" in a "national game of who can take the most offense," as Curtatone wrote? Or was Foley out of line and misguided when she wrote her email to teachers? Are we right or wrong to celebrate Columbus Day and Thanksgiving?

Chris Orchard (Editor) October 17, 2011 at 02:50 PM
Tony Pierantozzi, superintendent of Somerville Public Schools, has released the following statement about this matter: "Over a week ago, the Principal of the Kennedy School sent an email to the faculty of the Kennedy School. The email was intended to spark healthy faculty discussion about the teaching of Christopher Columbus and the European colonists, which it did. Several days after the discussions, someone sent the email to a Boston newspaper. The story became larger than life. A brief internal message intended simply to generate adult discourse became a front page news item. At no time did anyone representing the Somerville Public Schools state that holidays or celebrations would be reduced, changed or curtailed. Lost in the 30 second bites is the concept that celebration is very different than education. In Somerville we do both very well and we should continue to do so. We have fun during our many city-wide and school celebrations. In our schools, we prioritize the state and local curriculum, celebrating holidays when related to the curriculum, while respecting the rich diversity of our community. When we teach and learn about history, we do so with the knowledge that history is complex and a full story takes time to study and learn. I am proud to be the Superintendent of Schools in a District, and live in a City, that does both well.”
E Hines October 21, 2011 at 01:47 PM
I blogged on this a bit ago (http://aplebessite.com/2011/10/16/holidays-and-insensitivity/ ), asking some questions of Drs Foley and Pierantozzi, questions that I also emailed directly to the two. To date, I've not received any answers. Although I didn't mention it in my post, I also emailed Jessica Heslam, the other of the <b>Boston Herald</b> article of interest, requesting access to the Foley email that triggered this. I've received no response to that request, either. It would be informative to compare Dr Foley's telephone message apology and Dr Pierantozzi's statement cited above by Mr Orchard with that email. There's plainly more to this than is readily apparent. I'll be making a follow up post in a bit, with any new information I can find. Eric Hines

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