Leave Them Kids Alone

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by Harry Goslin by Harry Goslin Previously by Harry Goslin: ‘Why Be Afraid of Government?': What Kind of Stupid Question Is That?


Ya gotta love the way the nanny-staters use words to conjure images designed to misinform and frighten. Sometimes deception is the only way to get us peons to listen.

In its last session, the Arizona Legislature passed Arizona Revised Statute 15-208, which requires school districts to conduct public meetings to consider the adoption of "structured recess" for students in grades K-5. Running around after lunch wouldn't count; that's "unstructured" activity. No, the kiddies must be marched onto the parade ground and made to do jumping jacks, run laps, or some other sweat-breaking activity under the supervision of a teacher. That makes it "structured."

In consulting my copy of the American Heritage Dictionary, I found no definition for the word "recess" that referred to an activity engaged in by children, whether structured or unstructured, during the course of a school day. The most applicable definition I could find was "a temporary cessation of the customary activities of an engagement, occupation, or pursuit."

Wow. I didn't realize that when I take my lunch break I was participating in a "temporary cessation of the customary activities of an engagement, occupation, or pursuit." All I do is eat, then read a little. Then I brush my teeth and read some more. Then I go back to work. I didn't know I was really supposed to run around the room or do jumping jacks. I guess my childhood never really benefited from enough unsolicited intrusions by perfect strangers.

Thank a retired P.E. teacher named Steve Gall for the adoption of this law. He was quoted in the Arizona Daily Star back in May as saying, "It isn't what I wanted." No, Steve wanted the legislature to make it mandatory. Too many fat kids in Arizona for Steve's liking. Since he has lots of time on his hands, Steve volunteers to help K-5 kids in the Tucson Unified School District get fit. That's great. Schools should actively recruit people like Steve who are willing to give their time and life experiences to help kids in need.

But this goes deeper than that. Steve, and others who might agree with him, make it sound as if once a teacher lets the kids loose on the playground a mini version of Lord of the Flies breaks out among the students. Yes, there is "chaos," but it's completely organized in a way that most adults cannot understand; maybe they could if they were children again.

Recess might be the only time during the day that most children get out of a "structured" environment. That's what school is all about: regimentation and structure. How about letting the kids just have their own fun without adults telling them what to do or how to do it? As long as they are not killing each other or destroying property, leave them kids alone. If some students choose to sit under a tree and read a book, or on a swing and feel the warm sun on their face, so be it.

Nanny-staters always seem to have a Puritanical view of children who might be "idle" during the day; keep them busy, or in the jargon of the educational "profession," make sure that students are "on task." That's just a fancy way of saying "keep them busy." For God's sake, don't let their minds rest or worse, think freely. If allowed too much personal reflection time a student could become dangerous in the future. Thinking creates boat-rockers.

Given that Steve is only 66 and a man with a mission it's likely he will keep pushing until the Arizona Legislature caves to pressure from him and other groups on board with his idea for "healthier" kids in Arizona. And with Michelle Obama crusading against childhood obesity from the White House, national nanny-staters will use the iron heel to crush resistance to this cause at the state level.

Steve Gall is also alarmist about the future, saying if "we" don't get this under control now, "it's going to bite us." Why would mandating healthier kids' programs now be so important? Well, once the government starts paying for everyone's health care, it's going to dictate eating habits and exercise routines. Bet on it.

As part of the fight against "childhood obesity," the Board of Supervisors of San Francisco just voted to set strict guidelines for children's meals at restaurants like MacDonald's that will effectively kill the Happy Meal. “It’s astronomical how much it’s going to cost if we don’t address it,” said Supervisor Eric Mar. Thanks, Eric. No toy for you.

Unlike private insurers who might charge higher premiums for "unhealthy" choices, the government will employ the only resource it knows to ensure compliance: coercion. With only so much money allocated to health care costs, cost determinants will have to be enforced. The process for determining which unacceptable behaviors will be exempt will be politicized, of course, but the basic premise of limiting what everyone gets will be the same. If the state determines there are ways of preventing certain ailments, you can be sure they will be enforced on the population at large. You don't make the "right" choices, then you get punished.

Giving districts the choice to adopt some sort of "structured" recess is voluntary right now. But if enough districts choose the "wrong" course of action, you can bet it won't be voluntary next time around. Nanny-staters will only tolerate incrementalism for so long. If they think that the people, when given the choice, are not moving forward into "enlightened" policies fast enough, they will force the people to move how they want, irrespective of the consequences for society at large. It is their modus operandi.

Here's a novel idea for any parents who might wish to foist "structured recess" on K-5 children in the state of Arizona: when your kids get home from school, you march them to the practice field, or into the yard, or to the park, and you run them ragged for about 30 minutes. Leave everyone else's kids alone.

Harry Goslin [send him mail] lives in Arizona.

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