Hey, let’s lock the fun out of school!

May 2, 2014

There was a time when a neighbourhood school was more than a place you simply went for classes and drudgery, when it was more than a place of fear.

My own boyhood experience was that we kids would go to school after hours and on weekends to – imagine – play, say, baseball on a Saturday morning or, in the winter, hockey on the rink that my Grade 6 teacher, Mr. Chamberlain, had flooded just outside the row of windows where even the good students would look out to daydream.

It was a time when kids got to school every morning by, imagine this, themselves, but when the doors were always open to parents, especially for events like its annual Fun Fair.

Long after I left that little Canadian school, aptly named Maple Crest, in summer holiday months I’d often return with a basketball in hand to shoot hoops. The place always felt that inviting.

Yesterday I went to register my kids in their Hamilton school, the neighbourhood school they attend for two months a year.

They had to buzz me in.

This is a school where they actually remove the outdoor basketball nets  — not just the mesh, the entire nets – in the summer months so nobody can use them, the school where in 12 years of spring and summer months here in Hamilton, I’ve never once seen any kid playing anything as innocent as even tag in the school yard during off hours.

Not that it’s a bad school. I’ve been told it’s one of the district’s best, that teachers line up to get the chance to teach there. It’s in a well-to-do part of Hamilton that’s safe and comfortable.

Which is why it’s all the stranger to see the new norm, even during the school day, is that the place is locked.

“I see the school now has controlled access,” I said to the principal when I spoke to him of other things.

He said the province had made money available for the new system and he didn’t know why schools across Ontario wouldn’t take advantage of it. If the money is free, spend it.

In the next breath, he then said it likely all resulted from the murder of kids at Sandy Hook, CT some time ago, but he felt the new system didn’t make a difference anyway – “if someone wants to get in to do something like that, they will.”

Huh. Sad.

Sad because of such unfounded fears.

This school really does have the potential to be a fine neighbourhood hub, a bit of a throwback to yesteryear when children lived far more emotionally healthy lives, the sort of place that could be like Maple Crest, a meeting place for children of the community where memories could go far beyond just books and classwork.

My own kids can walk out our front door and be in the playground in a few minutes (unlike our 8-month-a-year African experience where we’re up before the sun and on the road by 7 to get the kids in their school seats by 8).

But it’s not a playground. It’s just where you go to wait to get into a building that locks the world out and locks you in until the end of the day when the bell rings and you leave with relief, happy you don’t have to return, that you can get as far away as possible, at least until the next day.

Because this, after all, is what the school is telling the kids to do. Run. Run. Run far away.

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May 2, 2014 • Posted in
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6 thoughts on “Hey, let’s lock the fun out of school!”

  1. “Let not your heart be troubled . . . ”

    Yet we do. Repeatedly. And the nature of the fear changes with our own aging and development !

    Fear may be rational. Lots of little kids in the world on prosthetics, or sticks or crutches from amputations . . . from “left over” landmines, or from machetes from evil genocidal people taking hands and feet and limbs . . . even from children.

    Lasting fear is developed over time and seldom comes from only a single event; it often starts with “drama” to novel social situations in children . . . and they look to their parent to protect and interpret the situation for them. Fearful parents make for anxious fearful children ! So if we are locking our children ” in ” to protect them at school . . . the message is clear when we don’t lock them in at home, or at the mall, or at the playground ? School is a dangerous place ? REALLY ? And what about repeated fears ” within “, like bullying . . . to the point of suicides and fatalities in adolescents ! Schools have been singularly unsuccessfull in preventing bullying in spite of plays and ‘assemblies’ ?

    We cannot lock our children “in” to protect them from the evils in this world . . . As the cartoon character POGO said “We have seen the enemy . . . and He is US !”

    Fear is cross cultural and may be grounded in reality for small children . . . hence common phobias of spiders or snakes ! Guessing this might be more of a reality in Africa . . . but there WERE two fatalities in children in the Canadian Maritimes who lost their lives this past year, because at least some adults forgot their fear of large constrictors (saw them as pets rather than predators).

    Toddlers fear strangers or separation from parents. Children fear specific objects (animals, insects) and environments like fear of the dark, or loud noises or thunder.

    In adolescence, fears center on social experience; bullying, humiliation with their friends and peers. Adults are more abstract, like failing to achieve a promotion . . . common amongst University types on a “tenure tract” where they overvalue the “titles” bestowed by academia ?

    You might expect patients with anxiety disorders or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to have unreasonable high fear responses to all scenarios. But my experience with women with poor birth experiences or stillborns or neonatal loss is that they have normal fear responses to pregnancy (near term) labour and sometimes sex ( a substitute conceptional fear of birthing). Few folks are afraid of ALL situations, rather most show elevated amounts of fear to specific situations.

    Locking the gates to lock “danger” out is both ineffective and does not address the real issues ?

    Childhood angst is normal. Most children learn to be intuitive, flexible and emotionally strong and likely outgrow many / most / all of their childhood fears. They are outwardly even OVER confident (look at late teen males who behave as though they are immortal !). As we mature . . . most childhood fears extinguish.

    It is we adults who fail to distinguish between anxious children who will mature (when we were children, we behaved as children . . . ) and those children who will develop into phobic adults ?

    Stress and steroid hormones enhance fear extinction. These hormones are involved (amongst many other things) in integrating memory of new situations and experiences and people. Social hormones like oxytocin cement emotional attachments and relationships. We have those hormones in surges with growth and development . . . and with experience. When we master a situation . . . it becomes less fearful. So we (and our children) need practice under the watchful eye of our ‘Father’ . . . where we can practice in safety !

    It is not that bad things will never happen; or than courageous people never fear. “The only thing you have to fear, is fear itself” !

    And as always, it is the parents who should be making decisions about safety, growth and development; nurturing and strengthening morality, decision making and behavior amongst their children . . . . rather than treating our children to lifelong expectations of coddling, or being treated like glass (with a constant fear that they will shatter) ! We live in this world . . . right ? Then LIVE in it !

    Teach our children to face their fears, finding & remembering the deep and quiet inner places. . . . “Let not your heart be troubled . . . . “

  2. Too true, Thom.
    Fortunately, you also don’t have a TV in Uganda, so they don’t have to see the news that magnifies the fears ’til they escalate into locked doors, and, in parts of the US, even having to go through weapon detectors to get into school.

  3. As a child, the school playground or field was a meeting place after school to play baseball, touch football or just socialize with friends until mom called your name to let you know that supper was ready (assuming you lived that close to the school). They try to make school more inclusive and engaging but do everything to discourage it beyond regular school hours. No wonder school is seen as a chore and not an adventure.

  4. Thank you Rick — “Teach our children to face their fears, finding and remembering the deep and inner places … Let not your heart be troubled.” Very well put.

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