Posted 7/8/13 by Common Good
The following is an excerpt, by Megan Rosker, from Common Good's online forum on Risk and Legal Fear in Schools.
Our country was founded on the common credence of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". These words were to be our guiding principle as our country evolved. Now, in its adolescent years, our country has fallen victim to over-regulation. I am a mother, a teacher, a play advocate and a writer. I get concerned when I see our children’s freedom continuously imposed upon by the regulations of heavy handed government and school officials.
Children should be freely engaging in dodgeball and kickball. They should be recklessly playing cowboys and hanging upside down from the monkey bars. These activities guide children to explore the world, learn personal and social boundaries and teach important physical developmental skills. However, such activities are deemed too dangerous. To help our children "survive" we have imposed thousands of regulations on teachers and students.
Just because our children are too young to fight for their right of expression, doesn’t mean they don’t have as much of a right to express themselves as adults. The number one way children express themselves is through play. Unlike adults who can hold discussions and work out ideas and problems through a variety of different thought processes and procedures, children really only have one means of expression, play. When we take this away from them, we impede the most natural way in which they interact with the world. Play is truly unique to children and must be understood as something sacred to a child, not an extracurricular act that can be discarded when deemed too dangerous. Play engages every part of a child creative, psychological and emotional being. It is imperative to healthy childhood development.
Play naturally encourages risk. When we take it away we aren’t allowing for a healthy amount of risk. On my own Freedom to Play Scale of one to ten, where one is the Play Gestapo and ten is complete anarchy, schools should be functioning at a seven. This means there are rules to keep children safe, but there is still plenty of exploration too.
Adults have laws to keep ourselves safe as well. We don’t allow theft, rape or murder. These crimes encroach upon the freedom of the victim and therefore we don’t allow them. These laws, however, do not impose on the expression of the victim, only the perpetrator and only on the negative action he has taken against another human being.
School regulations must take the same approach. Children should not be hurting one another, but they should be playing imaginatively. Sometimes imaginative play is rough, like playing with sticks as guns and swords. Roughness does not mean danger, however, and we must carefully walk a line between allowing expression and allowing children to be hurt.
Tragic things happen in our world. We cannot pen laws, however, that impose our adult fears on kids. The tragedies that transpired at Sandy Hook Elementary or Columbine High School are not child problems. They are problems transpired by the lack of care by adults for children. It is never the responsibility of the child to fix our social problems and likewise our children should not be shouldering the fear that accompanies our social problems. Adult problems that must be dealt with and understood away from the presence of our children. When we allow the fear of a few adults to influence our whole society, then we have just stolen the freedom of our society at large and thus we will all be enslaved by the emotional problems of a few select individuals. When this happens, we lose our most important rights, in this case, play.