I know, I know. People have strong feelings about this. And I get it. I do. It’s been a rough few years, and who doesn’t need a little more joy? I don’t disagree. I just don’t think that joy should take the form of an Elf on the Shelf. That’s right. I said it. And I’m standing by it. The Elf on the Shelf doesn’t belong in the classroom. Here’s why:
It’s not inclusive
Not everyone celebrates Christmas. In fact, about one in 10 Americans doesn’t. And before you come at me with “it’s secular,” think about it for a minute. We’re talking about a symbol from a dominant cultural holiday. According to the NAEYC, “Regardless of how commercially advertised or widespread these approaches may be, they are grounded in specific religious and cultural assumptions.” In other words, you can’t separate Elf on the Shelf from the underlying meaning behind Christmas.
It undermines trustworthiness
We’re talking about a fairly elaborate lie here. For the uninitiated, the Elf on the Shelf observes children’s behavior and heads back to the North Pole nightly to report on their behavior (naughty, nice, or otherwise). Yes, Santa is a lie too, but that’s a parent decision (and parents will deal with the fallout). But the Elf on the Shelf takes the lie further. As teachers, I just don’t think it’s a position we want to be in where we are perpetuating an untruth.
It erodes intrinsic motivation
As a classroom management system, the Elf on the Shelf is pretty terrible. Having a spy in the classroom doesn’t exactly promote an environment conducive to respect, kindness, and learning. Now I know some of you have the Elf look for positive behaviors and reward those, but any way you slice it, the idea is that they should behave or they won’t get presents. Don’t we want our students to be respectful, responsible, and kind because it’s the right thing to do?
It invites chaos
Some of you are really creative, and your Elf gets into some serious shenanigans. For some kids, I’m sure it’s exciting to come to school each day to see what the Elf got up to. But some of those set-ups (OMG! He pooped Hershey’s Kisses!) are going to get those kids all riled up. And heaven forbid someone accidentally touches or moves the Elf. Good luck getting through your math lesson when your students are crying because their Scout Elf lost its magic.
It’s a time suck
That dang Elf has to be moved EVERY NIGHT. Who really has time for an intricate set-up for the elf, ideally involving a clever pun, 25 times IN DECEMBER?
It’s a family choice
There are just so many layers here. Some families who do Elf on the Shelf may resent you for doubling up or not like the way you do it. Those who don’t now have to explain to their kids why. Someone is going to ruin it for someone else (“You know it’s really your parents”). You have socioeconomic differences in families as well (Not everyone is going to get a new iPad. So does that mean the child was bad?). IMHO, we’re best served by staying the heck out of it.