FARGO, N.D. — The recent story from East Grand Forks, Minn., about “less rowdy” school recess made my teeth grind. The proponents of organized recess made a passable case that it’s good for children. But the idea of orderly, structured, regimented recess seems counterintuitive. The value of recess — indeed, the joy of recess as I remember it — was the chaos of a free-for-all break from the discipline of the classroom.
According to its advocates, the new version of recess emphasizes self-evaluation, behavior and problem-solving. Sounds like a counseling clinic, not playtime. Sounds like a disguised classroom exercise in which kids will worry about how they are evaluated, rather than enjoy plain ol’ playtime.
It’s part of a trend that converts kids into tiny, faux adults. It seems like a creeping application of behavior modification that has more to do with mollifying overprotective parents than allowing children to be children for as long as possible.
The other day I heard myself saying, “When I was a boy …” I sounded like my father did when he lectured me about my behavior, wardrobe, haircut, friends, work ethic … whatever. He and my mother also advised me to play hard, get banged up occasionally, learn how good it feels to win, don’t whine when you lose. How can children grasp any of that today when phony rules ensure every kid is a phony winner and when play is evaluated in an inhibiting psychological context? The result has been a couple of generations of entitlement crybabies.
A self-righteous army of purse-lipped regulators aims to insulate children from any and all risks. By that standard, my generation was out of control. We had fun, got hurt, got up and had more fun. Here’s a sampling of what kids miss today:
• We drank water from the garden hose, not a plastic bottle.
• Riding in the back of a pickup truck on a warm day was a wind-in-the-hair treat.
• We ate Aunt Marie’s apple pie, which was made with lard, butter and refined sugar.
• Breakfast with eggs fried in bacon fat and toast slathered with apple butter was the best.
• We built go-carts out of scrap lumber, rode ’em down a hill, crashed into bushes or the street curb because we forgot brakes, then fixed it and roared down the hill again.
• No PlayStation, no CDs, no cell phones or personal computers, no texting, no chat rooms. We had friends and went outside to find them.
• We fell out of trees, broke bones, got cut, and there were no lawsuits.
• We shared a Coke with three friends from one bottle and no one died.
• Church baseball league had tryouts and not everyone made the team.
Those who didn’t learned to deal with disappointment, get better and try out again next time.
We survived, thrived and became a generation of innovators, risk-takers and visionaries.
Oh yes, recess was a rollicking revel of chaos, laughter and an occasional skinned knee.
Jack Zaleski is the editorial page editor and a columnist at The Forum of Fargo/Moorhead, where this column originally appeared. It is reprinted with permission.