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Massachusetts School Bans the Use of Term 'Best Friend'

The Washington Post/Getty Images

We all remember the elementary school drama surrounding who was whose "best friend." In an effort to avoid these tiffs, however, Pentucket Workshop Preschool in Massachusetts is taking a bit of an extreme step: banning the term altogether.


The controversy was first brought into the public eye by parent Christine Hartwell.

When Hartwell's 4-year-old daughter returned from school in a strange mood one day, she asked what was wrong. The young girl replied she wasn't allowed to call one of her classmates her best friend. Hartwell commented to Boston 25 News:

When I asked her what was wrong she said she was really sad about what her teacher did that day.

Though the school had intended to protect students' feelings by banning the phrase, it seems feelings were hurt nonetheless.

How do you police a four-year-old from expressing their feelings? It's outrageous, it's silly [and] it hurts.

The preschool defends their unorthodox decision.

Pentucket Workshop believes that banning the term "promotes inclusion in the classroom." Hartwell and her husband met with the Director of the preschool, who cited research the school has done on the "pros and cons" of children calling each other "best friends." The Director said the school would continue to discourage usage of the phrase "in group settings," a point which was reiterated in a letter the school sent the Hartwells:

It has been our experience (which spans decades) that the use of the term 'best friend,' even when used in a loving way, can lead other children to feel excluded [...] which can ultimately lead to the formation of 'cliques' and 'outsiders,'

Hartwell is now withdrawing her child from Pentucket.

She is hoping to re-enroll her daughter at a preschool that will allow her to have a "best friend." She commented:

I want her to be able to express her thoughts and feelings in a healthy way, as children should.

Pentucket had no comment on the issue.

In truth, there's most likely some wisdom on both sides of the argument—calling someone a best friend in a large group could make others feel excluded for not having a best friend, but banning the term entirely seems like a drastic action that could cause as much pain as it avoids. Perhaps a compromise is in order...but it doesn't seem like the parties involved will be finding one anytime soon.

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