Wednesday, January 03, 2007


One of the downer stories of the past year was the movement to ban the playing of tag and other active games during school recess. I believe there was one school that tried to ban running on the playground altogether.

The logic of such a ban is easy enough to understand—we can trade spes (the supposed benefit of letting kids run around at recess) for res (measurable reduction of injuries and related expenses).

The obvious refutation is that the benefits of letting kids run around far outweigh the costs of the predictable accidents and even deaths.

But forget the analytical level. On a purely aesthetic basis, what kind of human being would propose a ban on kids playing tag. Might as well wear a sign that says, I’M A STUPID ASSHOLE, or I’M FROM ANOTHER PLANET.

When I think of the incredibly dangerous things we boys did, and survived, I wonder what overly supervised kids do these days to test physical limits.

A couple of brothers on our block would build rudimentary soap box racers, plywood, 2x4s, skate wheels, or wheels from red wagons, broomstick and rope for steering, and when they were finished, they’d “test” the cars.

Testing a new car meant driving it halfway down a hill directly into a telephone pole. As there were a number of poles on that downhill block one could intensify the “test” by choosing a telephone pole nearer the bottom of the hill, so that the car had more time to pick up speed.

The whole idea was that the car would eventually crumple and be thrown away. It’s not like they were good for anything. I think this was before the term “crash test dummy” entered our parlance.

Here’s another amusement I now cringe to think back on. We had lots of what we called “plane” trees down by the zoo and Fort Funston, their branches spread out in horizontal planes. I think of the branch formation, similar to but thicker than Monterey cypress, as affected by the steady winds off the Pacific Ocean.

We discovered that it was impossible to fall through the outspread arms of these trees. So, we’d climb to the top, balance on the top nub, and dive out into the branches. Then we’d sort of swim through the branches back to the tree’s trunk and repeat. None of us got seriously injured.

Heck, the first time I hitchhiked I was eight years old. Our parents didn’t mind.

Now it seems you have to be fairly poor to have a normal childhood. Middle class kids are scheduled and supervised and picked up and driven. When do they have time to get in trouble?

And when do they ever have to invent their own fun?

[The tree picture was taken from the superb Civic Center Blog, a link is in the right column.]
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