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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Education in Disguise: Sanctioning Sexuality in Elementary School Halloween Celebrations


Given the pervasive silence that surrounds sexuality in elementary schools,Halloween provides a rare opportunity to explore its tangible manifestations. Schools sanction overt displays of sexuality and transgressions of certain school norms on this day. A time of celebration, it is perceived as a festive event for children, innocent and fun. Yet, because Halloween is the one school day where sexuality is on display, sexuality literally becomes a spectacle. Halloween serves as a magnifying glass to examine the operation of sexuality in the institution of elementary schools, illuminating a nexus of attendant relationships—social, economic, political, and cultural. These relationships lie buried beneath the veneer of fun and play that is popularly imagined as integral to the holiday. Drawing from ethnographic data collected over the 2010-2011 school year, I explore how processes of citizen creation through schooling are abetted by the U.S. consumer market, which strategically targets children, and girls in particular. This paper examines the ways in which elementary school Halloween celebrations bring to light the significance of sexuality in a culture that creates and exploits children’s desires.

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