A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Recess-- an evil capitalist plot?

A principal in Connecticut has banned any sort of competitive activity from recess, claiming that students need to be protected from possible skinned knees or hurt feelings if they actually engage in competitive activities.

I. Am. Not. Kidding.

You know, there's another word for those kinds of activities. What is that word?

Oh yeah! "Fun."

Not to mention that this is yet another example of not allowing kids to just figure things out without some adult, no matter how well-meaning, riding to the rescue.

Children at the Oakdale School here in southeastern Connecticut returned this fall to learn that their traditional recess had gone the way of the peanut butter sandwich and the Gumby lunchbox.

No longer could they let off their youthful energy — pent up from hours of long division — by cavorting outside for 22 minutes of unstructured play, or perhaps with a vigorous game of tag or dodgeball. Such games had been virtually banned by the principal, Mark S. Johnson, along with kickball, soccer and other “body-banging” activities, as he put it, where knees — and feelings — might get bruised.

Instead, children are encouraged to jump rope, play with Hula Hoops or gently fling a Frisbee. Balls are practically controlled substances, parceled out under close supervision by playground monitors.

The traditional recess, a rite of grade school, is endangered not only in the Oakdale School here in Montville, a town of 18,500. From Cheyenne, Wyo., to Wyckoff, N.J., recess — long seen as a way for children to develop social competence, recharge after long lessons, and resist obesity — is being rethought and pared down.

In the face of this, a national campaign called Rescuing Recess, sponsored by such organizations as the Cartoon Network, the National Parent Teacher Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Education Association, has taken hold at many schools where parents and children fear that recess will go the way of the one-room schoolhouse.

At Oakdale, Mr. Johnson finally relaxed some prohibitions after a parade of parents complained. Now, twice a week when a parent or grandparent is present, fourth and fifth graders are allowed to play a modified version of kickball as long as the score is not kept. Many parents are still not satisfied, however, saying that such coddling fails to prepare children for adulthood.

“Life is competitive,” said Shari Clewell, the mother of a fifth grader. “Kids compete for attention. They compete for grades. You compete for a job. You compete from the time you’re little all the way to the end.”

Pretending otherwise is pointless, she said. “They’re kids. They are competitive. They can play jump rope and jacks and make it competitive.”

But the principal is determined. “I’m honestly one of the most competitive guys in the world, having coached sports for a long time,” said Mr. Johnson, who has coached youth basketball and softball. “But I honestly don’t believe this is the place for that.”

Acknowledging that the changes caused “quite an uproar,” he defended his policy as a way to build skills and camaraderie rather than competition and conflict, and said that it had nothing to do with insurance costs. He said he had seen too many recesses where children “want all the good kids on one side and they want to win at all costs, and kids are made to feel badly.”

Children are still encouraged to move about, he said, and are free to walk the grounds with the school nurse, or depending on the day, sing in the chorus, play chess or pick up litter. And he insisted that children could still play competitive games in their weekly gym classes or in extracurricular programs.

But Ms. Clewell was dismissive of the alternatives. “I’m not having my son pick up trash around the school,” she said. “This is recess.”

For now, the superintendent of schools, David Erwin, has not intervened in the dispute, although he acknowledges that the public outcry has caught his eye.

Connecticut is one of only a handful of states that require some type of break, or recess, but its law does not spell out how long they should be or what pupils should be doing. Because of the free hand that schools have across the country, some pinch minutes once used for recess to prepare students for standardized tests. Others, citing liability concerns, have banned sports like dodgeball, where children are the targets.

In Cheyenne, Wyo., one school has banished tag from the playground as being too rough but allows other contact sports, like touch football. Several schools in Colorado have banned tag for the same reason.

Oh, there is more to read, and you want to read it all. An here's the link to the latest research on recess.

A few years back there was an animated show on Saturday morning TV-- back when there still was Saturday morning TV for kids-- called Recess in which the balls actually were controlled by a troll like creature wearing support hose and an attitude. It was a funny take on the elementary school hierarchy. It looks like this primcipal, after putting away the patchouli and cutting off his ponytail to take his place in the working-week, saw that show, missed the satire, and thought it was actually a good idea.

Let's hope he never reads "A Modest Proposal" by Jonathan Swift-- and if he does, I wouldn't have lunch at his house any time soon.

So many kids today are hopelessly out-of-shape, malnourished, micromanaged, and overscheduled. So many kids do not know how to solve their own problems without running to mommy or the teacher. I mean-- walking around the school yard with the school nurse? Is that lest they stub their widdow toes? And of course, part of the problem is that some parents want to build protective cocoons around their offspring and don't encourage the development of any independence-- and, by the way, failing to supervise kids is not the same thing as allowing them to "be bored." Then there are those parents who threaten a lawsuit any time a kid gets a boo-boo at school.

The world is a competitive place. Yes, absolutely, all manner of sins are often excused by that mantra, too. I know it. Nonetheless, with proper supervision, a game of kickball shouldn't hurt anyone. Yes, I know some people have horror stories to tell about how recess scarred them forever. However, for the vast majority of us, unstructured play time taught us self-reliance and problem-solving, got our hearts pumping, and gave us something to look forward to after lunch, not to mention helping us to be more focused for the rest of the afternoon classes. It's no wonder that adult kickball and dodgeball leagues have started up around the country. The there's paintball, which doesn't seem to be dying off but is actually used by corporations as a "team-building" activity. Competitive sports teach strategy. Competitive sports teach resilience. And games organized by kids give them a sense of real responsibility for themselves instead of expecting the adults in their lives, and in particular teachers, to make sure they are constantly entertained.

Come to think of it, the point in my life when I got too busy for unstructured recreational time was the point in my life I went from being a string bean to something that influences the tides. So, listen, Mr. Johnson, take a deep breath, and let the kids go out and play.

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At 12/19/07, 1:29 AM, Blogger KauaiMark said...

"...and are free to walk the grounds with the school nurse, or ... pick up litter."

Sounds like prison

At 12/19/07, 6:46 AM, Blogger Laura(southernxyl) said...

I was all for them not making kids play dodgeball at PE. My daughter suffered through dodgeball. She was smaller than everyone in her class, some kids were actually twice her size, and her eyes occasionally crossed so that she didn't have a snowball's chance of dodging that ball.

But how did we get from mandatory to banned in one step? Did we just skip over the whole optional step?

At 12/19/07, 9:15 AM, Blogger Mrs. T said...

Geez, even prisoners get recess!

At 12/19/07, 10:54 AM, Blogger Mrs.K but you can call me Coach said...

Yanno, I wonder how many of these guys have looked through ninth grade curriculum... didn't they read "Harrison Bergeron" or better yet The Giver? Sameness is not where we should be headed.

At 12/19/07, 4:27 PM, Blogger matineeidol said...

When I was small, in Ohio, recess was every day, even when it was so cold that dozens of first graders huddled into "the tunnels" (or leftover sewer pipe) simply to keep warm. Now THAT was fun. Plus, it put us all to sleep for the rest of the day.

As an adult, however, I am proud to say I have no long-term emotional or physical scars.

Silliness, though. Recess is the last bastion holding back childhood obesity.

At 12/19/07, 5:06 PM, Blogger Penelope said...

Back in the '80s when I was in elementary school I saw the beginning of this -- tag got banned. I have no idea why, but all we did was manage to find creative ways to play tag that didn't look like tag to teachers.

(This eventually led to the creation of "zombie tag" in college. Preferably played in a poorly lit, crowded space.)

I do think our society overemphasizes competitiveness in play. Still, since they kept kickball and no doubt their high school still has sports teams, all they do is send mixed-messages to children. Great idea, guys.

At 12/21/07, 12:00 PM, Blogger loonyhiker said...

If we don't teach them how to deal with competitiveness as a child, how will they know how to act as an adult? Do they learn from the people who act like idiots at games shown on TV? Isn't this just another social skill that children need to learn? Isn't capitalism based on a sort of competitiveness? Maybe I'm just being stupid or simple minded but I think we are doing an injustice to these children by doing this.

At 12/22/07, 1:49 PM, Blogger Mrs. Bluebird said...

My original career was in the corporate world and believe me, competition in the real world is something many of my younger employees had trouble dealing with. I'm wondering if they didn't develop those coping skills because of vapid idiots like this principal. Honestly, if kids are so protected that they never experience disappointment, they'll have a lifetime of misery ahead of them.

At 3/2/09, 5:54 AM, Blogger sexy said...

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At 9/27/10, 2:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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