The Irascible Professor SM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

"When you play, play hard; when you work, don't play at all.".... ....Theodore Roosevelt.
 

Commentary of the Day - December 21, 2006: Tag, You're Dumb!  Guest commentary by Erik Deckers.

In yet another assault on childhood fun, the game of tag  has come under fire from Addle-minded, er, Attleboro, Massachusetts.  Willett Elementary School has banned tag from recess.

Principal Gaylene Heppe made the decision because, as she told the Associated Press, recess is "a time when accidents can happen."

Thanks to Principal Heppe's attempt to stop hundreds of years of childhood tradition, Willett becomes the latest school in the United States to take one step closer to making children wear helmets in the lunch room.

Citing concerns over safety and liability, the school has put a lock on all unsupervised chasing games at recess -- no tag backs, no free base -- thus ending yet another form of exercise for children.  So, instead of having healthy, well-adjusted kids, Attleboro will soon have a bunch of fat kids whose parents have a litigation attorney on speed dial.

For those of you who think Willett has banned tag completely, take heart.  The ban only applies to unsupervised games.  This means children will still be allowed to play tag in gym class where a teacher will watch over the festivities.

That's a relief, because as everyone knows, 20 active children are so much more safer when they're being watched by an underpaid, overworked adult.  There must be a significant safety difference between gym tag and recess tag, because that one pair of tired eyes is all that stands between the school and financial ruin.

But the similarity between the two forms of tag isn't the only thing that has escaped Principal Heppe's notice.  After all, recess is typically played on monkey bars, jungle gyms, slides, and swings.  And if my childhood is any indication of their safety, she'd better act fast.  I can't count of the number of times I fell onto,  collided with, or kicked one of my friends at recess.

But it's not just about the risk, say some experts.  Neil Williams, physical education professor at Eastern Connecticut State University, says tag is in his "hall of shame."  (Personally, I don't think the guy has a real hall of shame, but that's not important right now.)

He told ABC News that the kids who need the exercise are usually the first ones tagged out because they're the slowest.

"They wind up sitting on the sidelines," Williams said.  "They get no benefit except to watch the stronger kids, the better kids excel at the game."

Say, now there's a great life lesson for children: "Hey kids, if something is too hard, just quit.  There's no point in trying to get better at it."

I'm surprised more educators haven't picked up on this amazing new philosophy yet.  Can't pass that math test?  Don't worry, just read a book instead.  You'll get no benefit from trying, except to watch the smarter kids excel at math.

When I was a kid, my gym teachers were all former athletes with all the care and sympathy of a drill instructor.  Quitting wasn't an option, failure was.  Winning wasn't important, trying was.  As long as you gave your best effort, they were happy.

Not anymore.  Now we've got a teacher of teachers who is one game of dodge ball away from advocating Chairobics for Children.

But that doesn't seem to bother him.  "A lot of people talk about survival of the fittest and how we need to toughen up our children.  But I don't think that causing them to fail in front of each other is a good way," he said.

Actually, that's the only way.  We learn from our mistakes.  We grow from our failures.  If you protect kids from failure and losing, they won't grow.  And then they're going to be in for a big shock when they hit their 30s.

As a father of three, my heart aches whenever one of my kids loses a game or fails a test.  But I have never told them they could quit because something was too hard.

"What can you learn from this?"  I ask them.  "How can you do better next time?"

Sure, it bugs them, but they realize the benefit when the finally do pass their tests and win their games.

If you want to set your own kids up for lifelong mediocrity, that's fine.  If you want to mollycoddle them so they never have to do the hard things in life, that's your own business.

Make sure you explain it all to them when they're 35 years old and can't figure out why they were passed over for promotion again at McDonald's.  As they lay sobbing on their beds in your basement, just tell them,  "That's okay.  If it's too hard, you can just quit."

2006 Erik Deckers.
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Erik Deckers is a freelance writer from Indiana.  He writes a weekly humor column that is published in a number of regional newspapers.  It also is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.kconline.com/deckers/.

The IP comments: Somehow the IP thinks that those kids will find away around the recess restrictions, unless the principal plans to have her entire teaching staff out on the playground supervising the students.  The whole purpose of recess should be to give youngsters an opportunity to burn some calories.

 


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© 2006 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.
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