Lamenting The Restricted
World Of Contemporary Childhood
By James Donahue
There appears to be a
movement among elementary school districts across the United States to ban children from playing
all forms of contact games while left unsupervised on school grounds. School authorities cite the reason as fear of lawsuit
from accidental injury.
Recess is “a time
when accidents can happen,” explained Gaylene Heppe, an elementary school principal at Attleboro, Massachusetts, where the board of education recently
voted to ban games of tag, touch football and any other unsupervised “chase” game.
Elementary schools in
Cheyenne, Wyoming and Spokane,
Washington, also banned tag during recess. A school near Charleston, South Carolina, has outlawed all unsupervised
Not only are schools
acting paranoid about potential litigation from playtime injuries on school grounds, but they are over-reacting to potential
acts of terrorism by students against their schools. Children have been expelled from school for merely bringing a pair of
scissors, or a jackknife on school grounds.
We have seen stories
about police being called to schools and elementary age youngsters apprehended and charged after getting into a fistfight
. . . something that often happens when children congregate.
One parent in the Massachusetts district complained that the ban on tag and other contact
games is unnecessary. “I think it’s unfortunate that kids’ lives are micromanaged and there are social skills
they’ll never develop on their own,” said Debbie Laferriere. “Playing tag is just part of being a kid.”
How correct she is. My
own experiences growing up about a half century ago were amazingly active, extremely enjoyable, highly memorable, almost totally
unsupervised, and sometimes dangerous as hell. Not only did we play wild games of tag and touch football, we explored dark
drainpipes that seemed to lead to nowhere, jumped across floating ice floes along the coast of Lake Huron, explored empty
and dilapidated buildings and stood by the side of the road in the winter trying to get passing snowplows to bury us with
We got into big fist
fights in the boy’s restrooms and I remember one amazing snowball war in an open field separating the Parochial and
Public Schools that lasted every noon hour for at least three days before school administrators managed to put a stop to it.
I think what happened was that the weather changed and we couldn’t pack good snowballs anymore.
We snuck into Saturday
matinees at the local theater after figuring out a way to pry open the exit doors, played cowboys and Indians and pirates
with sticks that we thought looked a little like guns and swords and built forts out of old junk lumber laced with rusty nails
and climbed trees. I remember the pure joy of riding the upper boughs of a maple tree in our front yard was it whipped around
in a high wind.
Somehow we all grew up
healthy and with all of our members, eyes and body parts intact, even though a few of us sported black eyes, bloody noses
and other aches and pains resulting from our misdeeds. It was common to be hauled off to the doctor’s office for a tetanus
shot after stepping on a rusty nail.
About the worst thing
I can recall was the day one of the small children was struck and killed by a passing car after getting off a school bus.
It was a pretty serious event and we talked about it for days. But there was no special counseling offered by the school.
We knew that death was a part of life and just accepted it.
I look back on my childhood
with fond memories and am happy that I grew up at a time when school and social adults stayed the hell out of the way we played.