Trick or Treat? The Fear of Innovation

It’s Halloween soon. For some it’s time to carve pumpkins, dress up and get some treats ready for the kiddies. For others, it’s time to barricade themselves in their houses and pretend there is nobody at home when the bell rings, whilst wishing Halloween had stayed across the pond, where it surely belongs.

Indeed, many people’s rejection of this relatively new event in British calendars seems to be based on the grounds that Halloween – as we know it today – is an American import. But never mind the fact Halloween is actually an ancient Celtic tradition and never mind the fact that most of the other, so called, native British traditions – from tea drinking (China, 18th century) to Christmas trees (Germany, 19th century) – are both imported and properly foreign. Why such visceral rejection of a new trend?

I think the answer is that we seem to be hardwired to be suspicious of the different and the new. I think this is why new trends are slow to be accepted: it is, after all, someone else’s idea and not our own – innovation’s number one stumbling block.

In my mind, one can easily draw parallels between our instinctive reaction to the new and different at a cultural level and the adoption of innovative teaching practices in our schools: an initial adverse reaction, followed by grudging adoption and finally culminating in acceptance in the isn’t-it-great-this-was-my-idea-all-along fashion.

Take social media as an example. Schools, by and large, tend to reject its use. Much like Halloween, it is seen as a threat to our own way but, much like Halloween, schools are grudgingly starting to adopt it as they realise the truth that was staring them in the face all along: all our students are already on board.

Right then, off I go to carve some pumpkins with my children…

What do you think?

Thanks to Laughing Easy for his wonderful pumpkin photo.


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  1. Halloween was known about but not really celebrated in England when I was a child (in the 1940s/50s). When my two daughters were around 7 or 8 (in the 1970s) my wife, who is Irish, carved out turnips or swedes – not pumpkins, which is an American tradition. Our daughters dressed as ghosts, and we played traditional Halloween games such as apple ducking. This was just a few years before Halloween in the American style began to catch on in this country, which must have been around the early 1980s. I remember our neighbours’ kids looking on enviously at our daughters having such fun. Now Halloween is a big event where we live (in Berkshire), and I quite look forward to seeing the children in their scary costumes appearing at our front door. Our grandchildren will be having a Halloween party on Sunday.

    Halloween was certainly celebrated in Ireland when my wife was a child – it IS, as you say, a Celtic festival orginally. Guy Fawkes night, which comes close to Halloween, is not celebrated in Ireland, so Halloween is traditionally the main festival there at around this time of the year. Halloween celebrations in Ireland and Scotland go back to the late 19th century. What seems to have happened is that Irish and Scottish immigrants to the USA took Halloween with them, and now it’s come back to England via the long route across the Atlantic.


    1. Ideas and traditions have always spread across borders. Today communications technology allows this transfer to happen much more easily. This is the nature of the world we live in… the world we need to learn to live in.

      Thank you for your comment Graham.

  2. Halloween has done very well in this country because there’s an enormous amount of money to be made out of it.  The problem with your argument is that you assume that  the adoption of Halloween was a good thing – hence you use it as a reason for teachers adopting social media – but there is no evidence for this at all.  Is Halloween a benefit to our society?  I don’t think one could argue that it is, except for the bonus of an extra party or two.

    Perhaps we as teachers ought to be teaching our students to be sceptical of social media, just as we should teach them to be sceptical of American imports that arrive on our shores with the sole intention of making money.  

    1. Thanks for your comment, Bill. I don’t agree with your premise though. I recently was at a meeting in which a participant proudly stated that she wasn’t on Facebook because she had “real” friends. I think you both assume that virtual social interaction and face-to-face social interaction must exist to the exclusion of one another. This is, in my view, a most pernicious false dichotomy and we, as teachers, ought to teach our students to use the tools that are available to them appropriately. You want us to blame the technology when we only have ourselves to blame for having left our students to fend for themselves in a digital world we chose to ignore until it was too late.

      Therefore I challenge you to spend some time teaching your students to use social media appropriately and then garner their opinions again. Now, that would be interesting.

  3. It’s a good metaphor. In culture, things are manifest quickly into the consciousness like memes, but it seems to take (suspicious/cautious) institutions a little longer to appropriate them. Luckily, teachers and students who are often ahead of the institutions may instigate the step-change by osmosis. Nostalgic attitudes prevail for old systems. I think of Asia, where I spent 4 years – the trend for Halloween, the encroaching Americanisation of food, fashions, etc, many of which go against the grain of Confucianism in South Korea. We live in a global world and realities evolve.

Your feedback and comments are very welcome