Friday, 25 November 2011

Closing Down the Wilderness

I have been going in to Z's school once a week to help the older students set up a blog. One of the students wanted to take a photo of his classmates in the giant tree that they look out onto through their classroom window.

Just before recess their teacher said yes they could all go outside, but they were only allowed to climb the bottom two limbs.

How has it come to this: that needs of litigators are defining our school curricula not the needs of children? It reminded me of this excerpt from Michael Chabon's Manhood for Amateurs:

What is the impact of the closing down of the Wilderness on the development of children's imaginations? This is what I worry about the most. I grew up with a freedom, a liberty that now seems breathtaking and almost impossible. Recently, my younger daughter, after the usual struggle and exhilaration, learned to ride her bicycle. Her joy at her achievement was rapidly followed by a creeping sense of puzzlement and disappointment as it became clear to both of us that there was nowhere for her to ride it—nowhere that I was willing to let her go. Should I send my children out to play?

There is a small grocery store around the corner, not over two hundred yards from our front door. Can I let her ride there alone to experience the singular pleasure of buying herself an ice cream on a hot summer day and eating it on the sidewalk, alone with her thoughts? Soon after she learned to ride, we went out together after dinner, she on her bike, with me following along at a safe distance behind. What struck me at once on that lovely summer evening, as we wandered the streets of our lovely residential neighborhood at that after-dinner hour that had once represented the peak moment, the magic hour of my own childhood, was that we didn't encounter a single other child.

Even if I do send them out, will there be anyone to play with?

Art is a form of exploration, of sailing off into the unknown alone, heading for those unmarked places on the map. If children are not permitted–not taught–to be adventurers and explorers as children, what will become of the world of adventure, of stories, of literature itself?

1 comment:

TC said...

Thanks for this post.
I agree it's stupidly restrictive and I believe there's a fair bit of recent research about the importance of children taking risks..