Sunday, March 11, 2018

Blowback Against the Nanny State: Let the Kids Play With Scissors, Hammers and Saws!

By Ellen Barry

Educators in Britain, after decades spent in a collective effort to minimize risk, are now, cautiously, getting into the business of providing it.

Four years ago, for instance, teachers at the Richmond Avenue Primary and Nursery School looked critically around their campus and set about, as one of them put it, “bringing in risk.”

Out went the plastic playhouses and in came the dicey stuff: stacks of two-by-fours, crates and loose bricks. The schoolyard got a mud pit, a tire swing, log stumps and workbenches with hammers and saws.

“We thought, how can we bring that element of risk into your everyday environment?” said Leah Morris, who manages the early years program at the school in Shoeburyness in southeast Britain. “We were looking at, O.K., so we’ve got a sand pit, what can we add to the sand pit to make it more risky?”

Now, Ms. Morris says proudly, “we have fires, we use knives, saws, different tools,” all used under
adult supervision. Indoors, scissors abound, and so do sharp-edged tape dispensers (“they normally only cut themselves once,” she says).

Limited risks are increasingly cast by experts as an experience essential to childhood development, useful in building resilience and grit.

Outside the Princess Diana Playground in Kensington Gardens in London, which attracts more than a million visitors a year, a placard informs parents that risks have been “intentionally provided, so that your child can develop an appreciation of risk in a controlled play environment rather than taking similar risks in an uncontrolled and unregulated wider world.”

This view is tinged with nostalgia for an earlier Britain, in which children were tougher and more self-reliant. It resonates both with right-wing tabloids, which see it as a corrective to the cosseting of a liberal nanny state; and with progressives, drawn to a freer and more natural childhood. It is also supported by a growing list of government officials, among them Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of Ofsted, the powerful agency that inspects British schools.

Ms. Spielman has poked fun at schools for what she considers excessive risk aversion, describing as “simply barmy” measures like sending schoolchildren out on city field trips in high-visibility jackets. Late last year, she announced that her agency’s inspectors would undergo training that will encompass the positive, as well as the negative, side of risk.

“Inspections will creep into being a bit more risk-averse unless we explicitly train them to get a more sophisticated understanding of the balance between benefits and risk, and stand back, and say ‘It’s O.K. to have some risk of children falling over and bashing into things,’” she said. “That’s not the same as being reckless and sending a 2-year-old to walk on the edge of a 200-foot cliff unaccompanied.”

Read the rest here.

 Robert Wenzel note: Well, this seems to be some pretty decent blowback against the nanny state and three cheers for that but I would still prefer that education be turned over to the private sector where multiple options would bloom, rather than government decrees that are sometimes good, very often very bad.


  1. Maybe they'll bring back the school rifle clubs that were once prevalent in the UK and US (yes, even in New York City) in the 50s and 60s ...

  2. This is just sad. They don't have a clue what education or risk really means. They need to stop trying to be clever and start studying Maria Montessori.

  3. Maybe they’ll go so far as to immerse young boys in an environment where they’re regular let preyed upon by pedophiles. Oh wait, they’re in England.

  4. JP has commented on the import of 'rough and tumble' play.