Friday, January 31, 2014

A lesson from the schoolyard

Helicopter moms, look out! There's a counteroffensive being launched.

None too soon in my opinion. The current propensity for protecting youngsters from every form of risk has reached ridiculous levels, much to the detriment of kids who don't learn, until it's too late, that the world is a risky place and they'd better be prepared for it.

That trend was a spinoff of the self esteem movement that deemed competition to be bad, and rewarded kids for just showing up. The real world isn't like that either, despite their mommies' and daddies' wishes that it were otherwise. University degrees, athletic and academic distinction, promotions, raises, will all need to be earned.

Parents that try to grease the skids for their progeny undeservedly are doing those children no favours. What kind of message is sent when Mommy tries to pressure the teacher into awarding a higher, unearned, grade?

These ruminations were occasioned by the news that an Auckland school has reintroduced the kind of bedlam into playtime that used to be typical in earlier generations.

Going against the advice of many teachers, principal Bruce McLachlan tore up the rules that controlled recess. "We want kids to be safe and to look after them, but we end up wrapping them in cotton wool when in fact they should be able to fall over," said McLachlan.

The results were amazing. "Mudslides, skateboarding, bullrush and tree climbing kept the children so occupied the school no longer needed a timeout area or as many teachers on patrol. Instead of a playground, children used their imagination to play in a 'loose parts pit' which contained junk such as wood, tyres and an old fire hose."

They were motivated, busy and engaged, got into less trouble, didn't bully other kids, or wreck things around the school, according to the Principal.

Funny how that works.

The bonus is that a scraped knee is a small price to pay for life lessons that prepare children for the vicissitudes of life.

I know I sound like an old fart when I hearken back to a time when it was not considered cause for a lawsuit if a couple of boys had a disagreement and settled it with their fists in the schoolyard.

Look, I don't support bullying. Bullies need to be shut down, pronto. But kids also need to be taught to stand up for themselves, to not expect that their parents will take care of every problem that arises, and that actions have consequences.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A rite of passage

Francie, who blogs at North End Journal, mentioned haircuts the other day, which brought back some childhood memories.

At some point, Dad decides that Son needs to graduate from Mom's trims in the 1940s farmhouse kitchen, and takes Son into town for the professional treatment. For Son, whose circle has mostly contained other children and women, this is an introduction to the world of men.

A room full of gents awaits, everyone seems to know each other, and greetings are exchanged all around. Seats are found, and the new arrivals note who is ahead of them for the barber's services. Standing up out of turn would be a mildly embarrassing breach of etiquette, and would result in some good-natured banter.

Son admires the big, ornate, leather-upholstered chair with footrest, headrest, lever and pedal, as it rises, swivels, and reclines, providing optimum angles for scissors, clippers, and razor work. Tall glass jars containing colourful liquids are reflected in the wall-to-wall mirror. Calendars with illustrations of comely young ladies advertising motor oil hang on the walls. Pipe, cigar and cigarette smoke fill the air, and the talk is about the smelt run, the spring weather, local politics, and Charlie's new Allis-Chalmers tractor.

While Dad's in the chair, Son peruses the reading material provided for patrons --- True Crime, Police Gazette, Field and Stream, as well as several well-thumbed publications aimed at students of the female form. All quite educational.

The barber gives the straight razor a few quick strokes on the heavy leather strop before finishing Dad's trim with a neck shave.

Dad gets a splash of bay rum, and now it's Son's turn. He feels very grown up, even as the barber whips out a padded board, places it over the arms of the chair, and hoists him up to a comfortable height.

"First haircut," says Dad, and the barber says something about Son being a big fellow now as he drapes him with a cloth and wraps his neck with a paper tape to catch the cuttings.

Electric clippers are suddenly buzzing at the back of the neck, scissors are snipping around the ears and above the eyes, and falling hair is tickling the nose.

Then, with a few flicks of a soft whisk to remove any stray bits from the face, it's done.

A milestone passed.