Schools Ban Tag, Cartwheels And 'Unstructured Play:' The Inevitable Outcome Of Unrealistic Promises And Expectations [UPDATED]

from the the-system-suffers-from-multiple-compound-fractures dept

From the look of these stories, there’s no worse place for your cherished young ones to end up than the hellish warzone of the local school. Sure, we all made it through school with a minimum of injuries or threats from Pop Tart-wielding terrorists in training, but today? Today’s school playgrounds are as safe as a minefield subject to hourly bombing runs. [UPDATE: As is pointed out in the comments, Weber Middle School’s ban on balls and other activities is “temporary,” due to construction occuring at the school.]

A middle school in Long Island, New York has banned the playing of typical schoolyard games and the use of many pieces of athletic equipment during recess.

CBS reported that Weber Middle School this week “instituted a ban on footballs, baseballs, lacrosse balls, or anything that might hurt someone on school grounds.” The ban also includes “hard soccer balls” and “rough games of tag, or cartwheels unless supervised by a coach.”

Assistant Principal Matthew Swinson explained that “sometimes when they participate in tag they use the opportunity to give an extra push.”

The school takes pain to note that organized sports, the sort of activity that brings in extra money, are not dangerous (if you ignore concussions, sprains, broken limbs, etc.)

In a press release, the school district stated that “structured athletics” with footballs and baseballs do not pose the risk of “an errant throw injuring a child.” However, “unstructured play with hardballs” is dangerous and therefore impermissible.

This isn’t an isolated event from a single, overreacting school. RyanNerd sends in this announcement from a Michigan school that tag and its derivatives are being banned from its recess periods.

On Wednesday, Oct. 2, New Groningen kindergarten teachers sent home a letter alerting parents to the policy. It described the problem of children “running in packs, pushing, knocking other children over, and making the game dangerous.”

On Thursday, Oct. 3, a follow up letter was sent home with students clarifying the policy after the “no tag” rule created a bit of controversy.

“We want our children to treat each other with respect, kindness, and with safety in mind,” said Ginger Smith, community relations manager for Zeeland Public Schools, on Friday.

The concern, of course, is for the safety of the children, something even members of administration note is something it can’t possibly guarantee.

“We know kids are going to get injured … but we have a responsibility to lessen injuries,” said [NY assistant principal Matthew] Swinson, explaining that the children could only be trusted with spongy balls.

Yes, a school has a certain responsibility to lessen injuries, but that should only apply to objectively dangerous activities, like fighting, kids on the roof of buildings, etc. — the sorts of activities that should already be violations of school policies. Banning activities that kids have participated in for years with a minimum number of debilitating injuries is just ridiculous. Why not just take recess and PE off the table and keep the kids restrained (possibly with three-point belts) at their desks for the entirety of the school day?

This isn’t the only form of panic being indulged by hysteria-prone school administrations. Check out this reaction to a simple bus mix-up by a Canadian school (via Overlawyered).

A four-year-old Scarborough boy wandered into the wrong classroom on his first day in school, wearing the wrong nametag, and wasn’t immediately spotted. Cue panic: The police were notified, an alert went out, dozens of police with a K-9 unit turned up to scour the neighbourhood, terror spread. The little boy watched it all obliviously, until teachers spotted the mistake.

This occurred on the first day of school, a time when children wander in and out of the wrong classrooms all the time. The district’s bus company shuttles nearly 50,000 kids on 1,600 routes every day and an occasional mix-up is to be expected. The police response isn’t. While it’s admirable that staff leapt into action to make sure all children were accounted for, it’s severely undermined by its immediate decision to get the police involved.

This slavish devotion to an unachievable aim (no mistakes; perfect safety) has even managed to hamper the school’s own windmill-tilts.

The driver of Alexander’s bus had a list identifying how many kids were to get off at each stop, but wasn’t allowed to know their names for “security” reasons. The bus company had considered providing photographs to the drivers, but again feared unspecified “security” concerns. Over-reacting in the approved manner, the company is now considering radio frequency identification tags that could be attached to backpacks so every child on every bus could be monitored at every moment.

No one involved knows what they’re doing, blindly thrashing around towards unachievable goals while hamstrung by misguided “security” efforts. I bash school administrations frequently, but everything detailed above is not solely the fault of blundering, overreaching institutions. There are plenty of parents who should share in the blame. If schools have set themselves up as paragons of child safety, it has as much to do with parents’ ridiculous expectations as it does with bureaucratic striving for complete control.

Among any grouping of parents, there will be a subset that believes no harm should ever come to their children. Those few moments when they’re prevented from hovering over their young ones, they expect the next line of defense to pick up the slack — without the slightest drop in quality. There are also a number of parents who aren’t as attentive, but still believe the school should keep their kids from getting injured or misplaced and are willing to make this point through lots of yelling and legal threats. Then there are those parents who view public schools as ultra-cheap daycare, but who still believe that the schools should do a better job parenting than they do.

Somewhere in between these extremes, there are sets of realistic parents who understand that sometimes undesirable events happen, including injuries, and that no one is truly to blame unless there’s evidence of a severe lapse in controls or observation. But realists are no longer the majority — if they ever were.

The problem is that administrators have let these unrealistic demands guide their policy making. Part of it is the desire to reduce legal exposure and liability. This leads to ridiculous policy changes like eliminating “hard” objects (with no sharp corners or heavy materials) from everyday play. This leads to kids being suspended for bogus weapons policy “violations.”

Parents may express disbelief that tag is no longer allowed at their school, but many of those protesting need to take a long look at their own expectations. No educator can be expected to prevent every injury, threat or harsh word from affecting these parents’ children. I think most parents realize this, but when something happens to their kid, all rationality flies out the window as the psyche indulges the very common human urge to attribute blame and hold someone — anyone — responsible for this “crime” against their flesh and blood.

To roll back school policies to something approaching reality will take a serious effort from both parents and administration. Schools need to stop over-promising (and reacting badly when they inevitably under-deliver). Parents need to realize the only way they can protect their kids from bad things is to keep them locked up at home. Both need to cede control, especially over eventualities they can’t possibly hope to have any input in.

But this is a very unlikely outcome for two reasons. No school administrator wants to roll back policies only to deal with the wrath of parents who still expect schools to provide a protective bubble for their children. Very few parents (other than the realists) want to accept the fact that their children cannot be protected from every eventuality. Because of this impasse, ridiculous policies and overreactions will continue to be the rule, rather than the exception.

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Comments on “Schools Ban Tag, Cartwheels And 'Unstructured Play:' The Inevitable Outcome Of Unrealistic Promises And Expectations [UPDATED]”

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That One Guy (profile) says:


‘ The bus company had considered providing photographs to the drivers, but again feared unspecified ?security? concerns. Over-reacting in the approved manner, the company is now considering radio frequency identification tags that could be attached to backpacks so every child on every bus could be monitored at every moment.

So photos are considered ‘security risks'(guess they better cancel school picture day!), but radio tags that would allow complete strangers to track where a child is, and would have to not only be person specific, but always carried, aren’t considered risks?

I weep for the education of the future generations, when morons like that are the ones in charge of the children. On the other hand, such behavior would be good to get the next generation used to around the clock surveillance by those in charge, which seems to be where things are headed, so maybe that’s where they’re getting their priorities from.

Davey says:

Re: What...

It’s easy to slag schools and teachers, but the reality is that they’re reacting like anyone would to their circumstances. When idiot parents (which seems to be at least a near majority) bring the shysters in or launch Net campaigns every time their little princes and princesses get a scab, the only defense is the claim you practiced extreme “safety protocols”.

It’s way over the top to expect school personnel to all take heroic stands against the self-obsessed, entitled mobs of bad parents. This is the matrix for America’s long slide into the cultural gutter.

Anon says:

Re: Re: Re:

Most of school prior to college is a waste of time. Why memorize spelling words when the kids should just be encourages to read books that use these words, then have open discussions about these books.

Whatever is wrong with school these days, I was a failing student, dropped out in middle school, but went back for highschool to get into college. I was then an A student.

Just getting away from school was the best thing for me. I had a natural tendency to read and learn, so the years of not doing school I spent a lot of time on the Internet.

Lots of Discovery channel, Learning Channel, History Channel.

No matter how you look at it, I went from a failing student to an honor-roll student by doing nothing more than not going to school for several years.

School is a joke.

Now college, that was structured in a great way to learn. I loved going to class.

Call me Al says:

The good old days

I remember playing a game at my primary school in England called “British Bulldogs”. The idea was every player except one would line up on one side of a field. They had to then run to the other side and the lone player would tackle them to the ground. Every person tackled then joined the player in the middle.

The idea was to be the last one running.

It was a rough game and mostly it was rugby players like myself who relished it. However I don’t remember ever seeing any kind of bad injury during play. Whereas official sports were always ending up with broken arms and legs and concussions. Maybe we were just lucky.

I remember hearing a few years later (in the early 2000s) that my old school had banned the game due to safety concerns. I was quite sad since it had been a lot of fun and it made great use of the wide open fields of my school.

Dannie blaze (profile) says:

Re: The good old days

At my fencing class we play British Bulldog with swords – you take a touch, you join in the middle. It’s fantastic fun.

I do have to wonder if now, though, my parents must have been in the minority, as they accepted the bruises and scrapes I got at school from running, playing and climbing trees with a kind of weary acceptance.

Its inevitable that kids get hurt at some point. Learning to deal with pain is an important life skill. Minimising risk is sensible, eliminating risk is not only impossible, but attempting it causes more problems than it solves.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: The good old days

we did that as kids, except we called it ‘maul ball’, give someone those big red rubber balls we had in elementary school, and everyone else took after them…
prob much like a rugby scrum…

don’t remember anyone getting hurt, but we did have fun, so that is probably why it is outlawed…

i mean, that is the point of all this: to bleach the fun out of fucking EVERYTHING

geezus, what a sterile, boring, antiseptic world uber-PC assholes are working to make…

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:

Re: The good old days

However I don’t remember ever seeing any kind of bad injury during play.

That was a favourite game at my school too and rough to the point of violence, but I too cannot recall any serious injuries. A chipped tooth I remember, lots of people groaning from being winded by a rough tackle, sprains, bruises, the occasional bloody nose or lip, a few black eyes…

They say “Kids these days think everything is handed to them on a platter.” How the hell else are kids supposed to think when they get wrapped in cotton wool until they are “adults”?

Anonymous Coward says:

over reactions by schools, stemming from the school shootings, although admirable in some ways, are ridiculous in others.

over reactions (and stupid law suits!) by parents, stemming from the school shootings and the very occasional playground injury, although admirable in some ways, are ridiculous in others.

so now it is forbidden for children to do the things all children do when growing up, ie, play, fall, throw, run, climb, fight.

Anonymous Coward says:

“School Bans…Unstructured Play”

To me it seems like they are training kids to believe that disorganized, unstructured and possibly spontaneous activities are dangerous and that the only permissible kind of activity is one that is managed by a superior – just the kind of thing you would expect from an army.

The goal is to train kids to obey without question. To suppress the leakers, the rebels and those that point out uncomfortable facts that embarrass superiors.

This is incredibly dangerous slide towards dictatorship.

Trails (profile) says:

Five kids are playing rough tag, the obvious solution is...


The idiocy of this is that schools are failing to enforce ideas of respect in some small subset of kids, so they ban a game. A kid who wants to shove will shove. Banning tag does nothing.

Anyways, the root of the problem is obvious. Schools would be so much safer if it weren’t for all the kids…

beech says:

seriously Tim?

“Why not just take recess and PE off the table and keep the kids restrained (possibly with three-point belts) at their desks for the entirety of the school day?”

Its common knowledge that using anything less than a 10 point harness to lash a child to a desk is basically the same thing as murder. Your suggestion of a mere 3 point harness reveals you terroristic and reckless abandon for our most precious widdle dumplings!

Anonymous Coward says:

You miss a crucial point in the story

Tim, you and the rest of the media are missing a crucial point about this ban on most sports, it’s TEMPORARY.

The reason for the temporary ban is that there’s a lot of construction, either at or right next to the school (it’s unclear which with how most news organizations like to ignore this part of the story).

Because of the construction, the area the kids have to play in is much smaller then usual. It seems like their real concern is any activity that involves a lot of running around with so many people in such a small area could cause injuries if the balls you kick or throw hit someone not paying attention/not playing your game, or if you accidentally run into someone from your game that requires running and knock them over (I’ve had this happen to me once during recess, I fell on the cement sidewalk, it was very painful and got me a giant bruise on my knee).

Once the construction is finished the ban will be lifted.

MikeC (profile) says:

Re: You miss a crucial point in the story

To pay attention to this part of the story:

The school district, in a press release, said that due to construction going on at the school, there is “limited space” for the children to play during their 20-minute recess period. “With children in close proximity to each other, it is not safe for them to be engaged in unstructured play with hardballs,” said the district.

Would not lead to the hyperbola of the moment that ever news source (even Mike) loves to see. This is on case where most everyone has it wrong. Now if they should not raise the ban when the construction is done, we have a legitimate discussion point.

Mike C.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: You miss a crucial point in the story -- TECHDIRT ALWAYS DOES!

And there will not be even a whoops! They’ll just go on as if didn’t totally fail!

[UPDATE: As is pointed out in the comments, Weber Middle School’s ban on balls and other activities is “temporary,” due to construction occuring at the school.]

Blue is wrong…….again.

Anonymous Coward says:

More kids are probably injured...

from tripping over their shoelaces than from unstructured play. It’s time to ban shoes with shoelaces and force all school children to wear Velcro fastened shoes instead.

Imagine the outcry that would result, as myriad pretentious parents let loose their fury because their little treasure(s) weren’t allowed to wear $200 tennis shoes to school. “Think of the children,” and the emotional damage it will cause.

Pfffttt… the real damage to children comes from teachers who play favorites with their star pupils and pets, those who excel on their own, and let the students who need help languish in the back of the classroom or the line in gym.

tek'a (profile) says:

Re: More kids are probably injured...

Funny, I found the exact opposite in my education (a fair little while ago now) and have heard the opposite complaint from family with school age children.

Teachers spent some ninety percent of their time backtracking to work with.. lets see under-performing students as many were not ‘dumb’, leaving children at an expected reading and knowledge level to languish. With state testing and minimums there are no rewards or encouragement or even time to have ” star pupils and pets, those who excel on their own” as some kind of special group.

Anonymous Coward says:

Playing "Tag" with people who don't want to play

When I was a kid, “tag” was a tool of bullying because someone who wanted to hurt you would just start an impromptu game and forget to tell you that you were involved. So then they would “tag” you, with a full running start, with two forearms to the back and neck when you were minding your own business looking the other way. “Hey — we were just playing tag! I didn’t mean to hurt him!”

This is why we can’t have nice things. It taught me to stand with my back to a wall at all times.

Hezaa says:

Re: Playing "Tag" with people who don't want to play

“This is why we can’t have nice things.”

So instead of addressing bullying behavior by modeling and teaching empathy towards others, or addressing bullies/excessively violent children individually, they simply ban all activities that could feasibly be twisted into violence by a bully. This teaches children nothing, and it restricts the freedoms of every child, depriving them of opportunities to learn how to handle freedoms responsibly.

We can’t have nice things because no one wants to do the work of keeping them nice.

ipgrunt (profile) says:

I don’t think limiting liability is only “part of it,” but most of it, hence the no-tolerance policies. Both perpetrator and victim are punished now in school altercations.

There was an article out of dallas yesterday covering a study that demonstrated anti-bullying classes actually train youngsters in new bully techniques, and have been increasing the amount of bullying in the schools being studied.

It seems as if we’ve lost the ability as a culture to handle even the simplest tasks anymore.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don't get these times we're living in.

What the f?

-4th Grade
My teachers did not care about me playing Mortal Kombat on my GB. “Yes the 90’s were awesome.”

-6th Grade
My school bought some crappy iMac “okay, okay pretty kick ass at the time” systems loaded with Turok. It was some good fun except the teacher played it more than us students did.

-9th Grade+
The point where none of the teachers gave two shits of what was going on unless it was the 2:30 rush to get the fuck to their cars fast as possible.

Now it seems like they care so much, but only in the way where they can wear their nipple shirts and please themselves to the collective displeasure of the students.

MikeC (profile) says:

God it took an Allstate commercial to say it right!

“Man-eating sharks live in every ocean, but we still swim. Lighting strikes somewhere in the world, but we still play in the rain. So many things can happen. However, bad things in life can’t stop us from making our lives good.”

Text from an Allstate Commercial!

This should be an anthem for our kids.

Silver Fang (profile) says:

Childhood isn't what it once was

I’m so glad I was a kid in the 80s before all BS hit the proverbial fan. We played dodge ball, kick ball, tag, etc. I wasn’t particularly good at any of these games, but I still enjoyed them. We used a merry-go-round in kindergarten and it was great fun to try to jump on it while it was turning at breakneck speed. We had tall slides, see-saws and swingsets that seemed like they would catapult you into the air. We climbed on monkey bars that seemed as tall as Mt. Everest to our innocent eyes. Did injuries occur? Yes. I distinctly remember a girl falling and being hurt badly enough that an ambulance had to be summoned. But seeing that taught me that we were not invulnerable and I played carefully. If we were to have been shielded as today’s children are, would we have learned those limits? Perhaps with time, or perhaps, like some of today’s children, we would have to take incredible risks just to taste blood or feel pain.

Alex says:

Do it, but at your own risk

I live in New Zealand where we play Bullrush, which is what we call British Bulldogs. Lots of schools banned it ages ago but most have brought it back. Every school I, or a friend of mine has been to has the rules of any physical game is allowed as long as it doesn’t constitute fighting or illegal activity, and you play tackle games like rugby and bullrush at your own risk. Oh, and no mixed-sex tag games (for obvious reasons)

I agree with this, the American government needs to stop wrapping the kids in cotton wool. Parents, stop being overreactive and suing the school when your child comes home with a bruised pinky from playing rugby. American kids should play these games at their own risk.

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