A school principal in Auckland, New Zealand had the temerity to suspend the rules. There were so many of them that they were stifling the children. He decided to stop coddling children during recess, and to try what we may call a more libertarian approach.
He reasoned it out:
He knew children might get hurt, and that was exactly the point — perhaps if they were freed from the “cotton-wool” in which their 21st century parents had them swaddled, his students may develop some resilience, use their imaginations, solve problems on their own.
Schoolyard play had become overregulated. Perhaps the fault lay with overprotective parents. Perhaps it lay with the idea that regulation is the ultimate prophylactic. But, when the rules were relaxed, when teachers did not have to spend most of play time scolding children for breaking them, good things ensued.
The National Post reported:
Fewer children were getting hurt on the playground. Students focused better in class. There was also less bullying, less tattling. Incidents of vandalism had dropped off….
The students weren’t hurting themselves — in fact, they were so busy and physically active at recess that they returned to the classroom ready to learn. They came back vibrant and motivated, not agitated or annoyed.
Let’s see: we have national hand-wringing campaigns against bullying in schools. We want to institute more and more regulations to put an end to it. And yet, the solution might lie in free play periods.
The moral of the story is that children are naturally and instinctively inclined to engage in organized play activities. They are also inclined to take risks, to push the boundaries and to learn from experience.
This means that the Lord of the Flies is not reality.
When children’s play is overregulated and overly controlled, it brings out their worst. In that case children understand that they are expected to misbehave. So they do. They do not want to disappoint anyone’s expectations.
Moreover, when too many restrictions are imposed, children learn how to play the new game: let’s see what we can get away with.
Can the Auckland experiment work elsewhere? Can it happen in the good old USA?
One difference is striking. New Zealand does not have a litigious culture. People are not inclined to solve all problems by filing lawsuits.
I suspect that New Zealand does not have an enormous educational bureaucracy. America does. In America, all the bureaucrats must keep busy doing something that appears to justify their salaries. What could be better than issuing reams of new rules and regulations designed to protect children from harm?
(My thanks to Lastango for alerting me to this story.)