In Defense of Danger

I was reading an article this morning and it struck a chord with me. I am a parent, and as such of course want my child to be safe. I think every parent wants that, but at the same time, that desire for safety is balanced with the reality that I want my child to be dangerous too. I want him to explore the unknown, to learn that which he has not, to see those things he has not seen…and with all exploration comes some risk of danger. The article I was reading was about a headmaster forbidding children to so much as touch snow for some inane reasons, but the chord it struck went far deeper than that.
NASA, in explaining why they explore, said the following: “Humanity’s interest in the heavens has been universal and enduring. Humans are driven to explore the unknown, discover new worlds, push the boundaries of our scientific and technical limits, and then push further. The intangible desire to explore and challenge the boundaries of what we know and where we have been has provided benefits to our society for centuries.” There is something in us that drives us to explore, and to the dangers that come with it, indeed, it is a part of the wondrous nature that the Creator breathed into us. We spend a great deal of time talking about how we need to keep our children safe, and these are important conversations to have, but are we taking into account the ways in which we need to allow them to be dangerous, and even encourage them to be so? In the interests of safety, what damage are we doing to our children and the world that they are to inherit? Allow me to list some of the school rules, a reported by the students who experienced them, all in the name of safety, that prevent the type of danger our children need to be exposed to in order to function as human beings and explore all of the great unknown in the world to them. Perhaps these things will give you an idea of what I am talking about.
  • In the 6th grade two girls were caught arguing with each other in the bathroom. They were literally just arguing about which Backstreet Boy was hotter or something. So the logical course of action was for the school to ban all “arguing” and if you got caught disagreeing with another student it was automatic detention.
  • I wasn’t allowed to wear a yellow raincoat because it ‘reminded people of Columbine’. It reminded me of Paddington Bear.
  • Around the time Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ came out, students were forbidden from playing ‘Another Brick In The Wall pt 2’ on school grounds. Students got a letter to give to their parents from the School Superintendent. He felt the lyrics, ‘We don’t need no education’ & ‘Hey! Teacher! Leave those kids alone’ were ‘revolutionist’ & anybody playing the song was considered a ‘dissident’ by the School Superintendent.
  • No reading during lunch. Lunch is for friends so you can talking during lunch and not class. We would have to take books away from students who were reading.
  • All boys had to have short hair. No hair below the ear lobe. If it is then you had to go to the headmaster to get your head shaved completely. No exceptions, not even religion. This was an area with a high Sikh population (it is against their religion to cut their hair). The headmaster was racist and implemented the rule to try and drive Sikh pupils to another school.
  • It was the pokemon craze of 1997. Teachers were sick of students being so distracted by pokemon. They banned cards and anything related to pokemon at our school. If we utteered the word ‘Pokemon’ we’d be suspended.
  • Our school had a uniform with a shirt as part of it. One year they switched the color to white shirts (from navy), but because they had a cheap supplier, they were pretty see-through. As a result, every female student’s bra was visible. Instead of acknowledging their mistake and changing the color back or just switching to a uniform manufacturer that didn’t use fabric as thin as tissue paper, they implemented a bunch of rules about what color underwear girls were allowed to wear. It was only for girls, too. A boy with a blue undershirt was fine, but a girl with a blue bra–heavens no! Everyone thought it was stupid, including many parents, but the official line was, ‘If you wore tasteful clothes, this wouldn’t be an issue’. Having a rule that forces male teachers to comment on the bras of girls as young as 13 is pretty messed up, IMO. Especially when many of these children didn’t even get to buy their own clothes, but relied on their parents.
  • We could not sit on the ground, the reason for this was that ‘people would have sex’ because that’s exactly what happens when children sit on the ground.
  • No socks with logos on them because they could distract other people’s learning environments
  • At my elementary school during lunch time, we had the 5 minutes of silence. After everyone sat down to eat, the teachers would call 5 minutes of silence and if as much as noisily crunched on a cracker, they sent you to detention.
  • My elementary school took the safety first rule to mean that anything where someone got hurt became banned. This meant that any popular game inevitably got banned after a few days. After the conventional games like basketball, soccer, tag, etc. got banned we were left with safe games. Then they banned yo-yoing after a kid got hit with one, invisible sword fights, jump ropes. Once they banned all physical activities, things started to be banned for causing emotional harm. TCGs (Magic, pokemon), slumber party games (Mafia, detective). It became a game in itself to see how quickly you could get something banned. They wondered why kids couldn’t pay attention in class.
  • ‘Zero tolerance’ Any fight (or schoolyard scuffle) resulted in both parties being suspended regardless of the circumstance. One kid could walk up to another kid and punch him in the face without warning or explanation and both get suspended.
  • You can only write with one hand. Doesn’t matter which one left or right, but it only can be one. If you are ambidextrous and write with both, that was against the school rules. You had to pick a hand, and the hand that you didn’t pick would be tied to the chair for the rest of the day. Oh, you can only use scissors with the hand that is tied down? Too bad. That sounds like something that would happen in the 1950s, except this was 1995, in the UK.
  • Guys with long hair had to have their hair up in a ponytail at all times. Girls could have their hair whatever way they wanted. Most of the teachers would let this slide but my art teacher in early high school, when I forgot my hair tie, forced me to sit holding my hair in a ponytail with my left hand while drawing with my right.
  • And, of course, the popularized pop tart in the shape of a gun, finger guns, etc…
  • Then there is my experience with my son. In first grade the children were given good behavior slips to do with as they pleased. They could turn them in for bonus activities, etc. but there were no rules about how many they could turn in or how else they could use them. So my boy, being the budding young Libertarian that he is, as well as being a well behaved young man for the most part, collected his slips…lots of them. He never turned them in. He did however talk to the children who were not so well behaved and barter his slips for such things as a Pokemon lunch box he liked, some trinkets, etc. The slips were eliminated after this was discovered.

However well meaning these rules may have been, all of them, and more I am sure, limit the ability of students to explore, and to experience all the dangers that go with it. I’m not saying that all safety rules, and not even necessarily all the rules above, need to be abolished. I am saying that safety, as a singular focus, ultimately has the end point of eliminating danger. A life with out danger or risk is no life at all. I’m sure that we can all agree that there is danger in the world (though not so much as many imagine). Wouldn’t our children, and the world we are leaving them, be much better off if we focused more on teaching them how to handle the danger of exploration, and less about trying to craft rules to avoid it? Any exploration, no matter how simple or small, carries with it danger to the explorer. If we eliminate all danger, we eliminate all exploration. When we are crafting rules about safety, we need to be certain that we allow for danger to creep in. For the sake of our children, and all children to come, we ned a world that still has danger.

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2 Replies to “In Defense of Danger”

  1. On a similar note, at a men’s retreat, our resource speaker presented a similar theme of danger/risk. Your post centered on children while our speaker focused on the dad of the family. This wasn’t promoting crazy behavior like an Evil Kenevil-type of lifestyle devoid of common sense, but it was reframing what faith might need to look like–as in, being a danger to our spiritual enemy and taking risks for the kingdom. Kids learn from parents…and at times may need to transfer to a different school, apparently.

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