Can Britain make itself less complacent?

by on March 13, 2018 at 12:08 am in Current Affairs, Education, Law | Permalink

Educators in Britain, after decades spent in a collective effort to minimize risk, are now, cautiously, getting into the business of providing it.

Out went the plastic playhouses and in came the dicey stuff: stacks of two-by-fours, crates and loose bricks. The schoolyard got a mud pit, a tire swing, log stumps and workbenches with hammers and saws.

“We thought, how can we bring that element of risk into your everyday environment?” said Leah Morris, who manages the early-years program at the school in Shoeburyness in southeast Britain. “We were looking at, OK, so we’ve got a sand pit, what can we add to the sand pit to make it more risky?”

Now, Morris says, “we have fires, we use knives, saws, different tools,” all used under adult supervision. Indoors, scissors abound, and so do sharp-edged tape dispensers (“they normally only cut themselves once,” she says).

Limited risks are increasingly cast by experts as an experience essential to childhood development, useful in building resilience and grit.

I suppose I am skeptical of this approach, as it may lead to harm and furthermore the benefits of risk have to arise more organically.  It will in any case be interesting to see how the public digests these changes as they play out in the lives of children.

Here is the full story by Ellen Barry.  In any case, there is also a bingo revival in Britain, is that a sign of renewed passivity?

1 Ray Lopez March 13, 2018 at 12:19 am

No risk, no reward, but statistics say the dumber kids will cut themselves more than once.


2 Emergent One March 13, 2018 at 12:27 am

“… as it may lead to harm.” Furiously signaling yourself to be among the flacid, castrated effete again? Well, good luck. Not all people born with X and Y chromosomes can grow up to be men. The rest must make the best of it; even if it means devolving into inane virtue signaling in hopes of avoiding the BBQ pit. Not all calves can grow up to be bulls after all. You’ve wound up a steer. Good luck with that.


3 Ray Lopez March 13, 2018 at 1:48 am

Absurd projection by EO!

Bonus trivia: most dogs, and successful ones at that (they reproduce) are NOT alpha males. Being an alpha male has real costs and I would not be surprised if it shortens lifespans. No bull!


4 Ray Lopez March 13, 2018 at 8:44 am

Well a small correction, I did some research and found: most dogs (wolf, African wild dog) that are in packs do have an alpha male that is responsible for over 80% of the offspring. But dogs not people!


5 Jan March 13, 2018 at 4:46 am

This Huff Post article has some friendly advice.

Fellow Gay Men, Stop Glorifying Toxic Ideals Of Masculinity:


6 Aaron Luchko March 13, 2018 at 12:44 am

This sounds like the same essential philosophy as anti-fragility. If children have learned to successfully cope with a bunch of minor risks they’ll be much better equipped to handle large risks.

Though this assumes the schools were successfully eliminating risk already, for a child even walking comes with a degree of risk. An alternate view is the traditional approach of risk elimination becomes increasingly difficult and expensive over time. By deciding on an proper level of risk X the schools can avoid the most inefficient risk mitigation strategies.


7 carlospln March 13, 2018 at 12:44 am


No trampolines, swimming pool diving boards, chainsaws? Not to mention Flying Foxes* & chemistry sets with picric acid!

These Brit babes are wrapped in cotton wool!



8 Ray Lopez March 13, 2018 at 1:55 am

Good points, and as a kid I was disappointed when the mail order rock collection set (not records, but minerals) did not contain a sample for asbestos! Asbestosis is overrated!

Bonus trivia: (Internet screen scape:) “The Greeks initially wove asbestos into the clothing of slaves, but once its magical fire resistant powers were discovered, the asbestos was incorporated into the wicks of the “eternal” flames of the vestal virgins as well as for clothing for kings and queens, napkins and table cloths, and as insulation in building and ovens. Most asbestos used by the Greeks likely came from the first asbestos quarry located on the Greek island of Evvoia, and discovered in the first century by the Greek geographer Strabo. … As far back as 450 BC in Greece, the dangers of asbestos were wildly [sic] known. Although the Greeks and then later, the Romans, documented the indestructible, fire and heat resistant properties of asbestos, they also recognised the health problems experienced by workers mining the material from stone excavations. Famous Greek cartographer, Strabo, recorded slaves suffering from a “sickness of the lungs” after weaving asbestos into fabric. Likewise, Roman philosopher, Pliny the Elder, noted the “disease of slaves”, and documented the wide use of early respirators made from goat skins that would help safeguard the slaves from inhaling the poisonous asbestos fibres as they worked.”)


9 Anonymous March 13, 2018 at 1:57 am

Come on, you’re the reader, read the literature. Can’t you remember your own childhood? How can you be skeptical of all the history of humanity up until the last 20-30 years?


10 So Much For Subtlety March 13, 2018 at 3:52 am

Sounds like a return to a British norm to me. How does this differ than the routine brutalization of children you might – allegedly – find at Gordonstoun?

Sand pits? Come on. You have to take them half way up K2 and leave them there with nothing but their underwear, a Swiss Army knife and a wet herring. That is how the British Empire became great.


11 Alistair March 13, 2018 at 6:04 am

You left them with a herring? Wuss. In my day it was a small sardine about 18,000ft, or nothing.


12 Anonymous Bosch March 13, 2018 at 6:14 am

Also, to give the lads Swiss Army knifes is to coddle them. In my day we had to make our own flint knifes.


13 IVV March 13, 2018 at 9:23 am

Well, in my day they dropped us from aircraft at 30,000 feet along with stones and grass clippings. We had to fashion a parachute from the detritus and upon landing, fend the waiting crocodiles off for our dear lives. That’s how you make a man.

You can’t wish for too much luck, neither. Bloody Nigel thought he’d won first prize when one of the falling boulders cracked the skull of his crocodile. It just made him soft. Panicked and lost his life in the war, he did.


14 Anonymous Bosch March 13, 2018 at 10:53 am

> “We had to fashion a parachute”

Count yourself lucky; at least you got to use a chute. We specialized in the HANO technique (High Altitude, No Opening). Upon landing, you had to assemble your own wheelchair and then roll towards the enemy as fast as your broken arms could turn those wheels.

PS – Now that we’re telling crocodile stories … back in the 1980s, there was a sergeant major in the South African army who went by the name of Koos Krokodil. He earned his name by drowning a crocodile that attacked him during a river crossing. Apparently the trick is to get your arm far enough down its throat to grab the flap that prevents water from flowing into its lungs. I saw the scars on his leg. The story is mentioned in Colonel Jan Breytenbach’s book “They live by the sword”.

15 Yancey Ward March 13, 2018 at 1:00 pm

At least you were able to land without being strapped to the ordinance being dropped on the enemy.

16 Yancey Ward March 13, 2018 at 1:01 pm

Shit. Even knowing it was spelled differently, I misspelled it anyway.

17 Jan March 13, 2018 at 4:13 am

“We were looking at, OK, so we’ve got a sand pit, what can we add to the sand pit to make it more risky?” Easy: Rusty nails, lighters, couple cans of lacquer.

This approach is appealing on a gut level (we all grew up running wild and turned out fine), but I think it’s a waste of time. You don’t have to modify your soft playground and inject artificial risk. If you just give kids some freedom, they will find the risk, regardless of the environment.

Also, why do the benefits of risk have to arise organically? What in a kid’s world these days even qualifies as organic, aside from the overpriced kale?


18 Borjigid March 13, 2018 at 8:44 am

Yeah, I’d prefer giving the kids a safe environment with minimal supervision over a risky environment with constant adult supervision.


19 Pearl Y March 14, 2018 at 12:05 am

Agreed, but there is a real difference between plastic playground equipment, which just sits there and doesn’t really do anything, and bricks & sticks & tools to build stuff. The changes referenced in this article sound like an application of “maker” culture, which is very trendy in the US right now. I think it’s a good thing.


20 Logan Rhyne March 13, 2018 at 4:34 am

An Auckland-area school took this quite far a few years back by removing all rules from the playground and allowing kids to bring in whatever they wanted. Reported here in some depth with interviews with the principle, and usefully, with the father of a child who broke his arm during “no-rules recess”:


21 Alistair March 13, 2018 at 6:03 am

My children’s school has brought back the school tiger. It is very exciting. Many children disappear from too much excitement.


22 Ed March 13, 2018 at 6:30 am

Sounds like a good balance. We encourage ours to use tools like tenon saws and small hatchets. Like the tape dispenser, they teach respect for sharp edges. The circular saw remains off limits.

We haven’t taken things quite so far as the naval officer father of the Swallows in “Swallows and Amazons” who telegrammed his wife thusly when asked about the risk to the offspring of allowing them to sail unsupervised: “If not duffers, won’t drown. If duffers, best drowned.”


23 Nigel March 13, 2018 at 8:06 am

“Can Britain make itself less complacent?”

Yes, but why bother?


24 Joseph Teicher March 13, 2018 at 8:07 am

The picture in the article is funny. It makes England look like the most miserable place in the world. Those kids have to have recess in a dirty, cramped junk yard! How about some grass and trees to climb? Little kids don’t need to hurl bricks at each other to have some risk. They can hurt each other just fine by running into each other at full speed during a game of tag, or falling backwards off of normal playground equipment. But hey, maybe if you make their playground look like the post-apocalypse they’ll become better knowledge workers somehow.


25 Melmoth March 13, 2018 at 11:29 am

I suspect England is the most miserable place in the world. I have over the years regularly met UK citizens overseas who have decided to permanently flee the country in disgust, due to some mixture of politics, weather, society and cultural change, general miserableness. It seems to be the only developed country which suffers from this. Some Liberal Americans left the US because of Republican administrations, some Aussies and New Zealanders flee their countries because of boredom, but I’ve never found any other country which can generate such general abhorrence.


26 cjcjc March 13, 2018 at 8:20 am
27 mike davis March 13, 2018 at 9:12 am

We can now state with absolute certainty that Tyler was not raised as a Catholic in a working class midwestern city. No one with that upbringing would ever ask whether the rival of bingo is a sign of renewed passivity. Church basement bingo is an intensely social activity. It involves drinking (usually beer but sometimes wine), eating (in more civilized parishes whatever dish is typical of the dominant ethnic group) and gossiping.

..Oh, and the kids run around unsupervised–I don’t remember building fires and playing with knives but we must have done some kind of risk activity.


28 Thiago Ribeiro March 13, 2018 at 10:15 am

I like bingos, but I think they corrupt a person’s soul. They are explored by bad people, who prey on the old and weak.


29 IVV March 13, 2018 at 10:46 am

The thing that bothers me about bingo is that there’s no need for the human interaction. It’s one of the purest numbers games there is. So, have everyone show up, drink, gossip, whatever, but don’t bother with the calling of numbers or marking of sheets. Run all that by app, and maybe with a screen or two set up so that you can see and compare how you’re doing vs. others. Then, someone wins. It can be as rowdy or sedate as you like, but you get rid of the part that requires people to take the focus off each other to tend to their sheets. Just check your phone to see how you’re doing. A minute of downtime compressed to a second.


30 Peter March 13, 2018 at 9:37 am

“I suppose I am skeptical of this approach, as it may lead to harm”

I too prefer my risk to have no downsides.


31 gunther March 13, 2018 at 10:15 am

: ) Nice rejoinder!


32 Thiago Ribeiro March 13, 2018 at 10:26 am
33 Melmoth March 13, 2018 at 11:23 am

Isn’t this a bit back to the future, the UK had its infamously dangerous Adventure Playgrounds in the 1960s, apparently later used for training by the SAS.


34 Yancey Ward March 13, 2018 at 12:50 pm

We were looking at, OK, so we’ve got a sand pit, what can we add to the sand pit to make it more risky?



35 Epictetus March 13, 2018 at 12:50 pm

Rifle shooting, fencing, parachute jiumps, using bandsaws, metal lathes and oxy-acetylene welding gear were all part of my English school edunercation 35 years sgo. And — most dangerous of all — being bombarded by hard high-speed balls, which was a torture known as “cricket”. But I was at a public school, most of which still allow reall world levels of risk into the curriculum. Tyler’s story might be about the state sector, which unfortunately and most unfaily is infested by communists and other deviant ideologues, although a minority of heroically normal teachers havr remained.


36 Thiago Ribeiro March 13, 2018 at 1:13 pm
37 jb March 13, 2018 at 8:13 pm

While watching a Japanese program featuring archetectural remodels last week I was surprised to hear the archetect of a remodeled children’s playground express a similar idea, purposefully building in risk.

A teacher at the school asked about the instability of a bunch of tires stacked up for climbing upon. The achetect replied the tires were unstable, but that was OK because it was unlikely any child would be seriously hurt from a fall. The playground also included a stream and a wading pool made of rocks and concrete that is certain to result in bumps and bruises.

In the end, the children had the time of their lives playing in the new playground. The more dangerous playthings appeared to be most popular.


38 peri March 14, 2018 at 10:59 am

I agree with the commenter above. How depressing. Those brutalist postwar UK playgrounds have nothing on that. Actually, it’s at once contrived and stupid. My tiny niece actually had her little finger nearly severed by her brick-wielding playmate.

It makes me think of that lovely scene in “1984” where the clearing with flowers and birds represents, transiently, freedom. There is obviously no real appetite for risk if the kids are to be confined in 4 walls all day. If they’re smart they’ll pile up the bricks and climb over the fence, and make their way to a pleasant stream or a grove of trees, where the rewards of playing will equal the risk.

I’m also reminded of the wild “risks” undertaken by an unconventional, “anti-fragile” old folks’ home, that got lengthy treatment in the New Yorker a few years ago. One of the risks (here, I think, the risks must have referred more to predatory lawyers) was letting people sleep in rather than be propped up to eat a breakfast they didn’t want early in the morning.

Harvey causing great mayhem in my hometown and indeed weeks’ worth of flooding where my family still lives, recalled to me walking a half-mile home from a friend’s house through a similar flood nearly 40 years go. “Plastic” shoes were then the rage among little girls. To my dismay, my shoe came off and floated away to the bayou. I learned nothing from being allowed to walk in floodwaters. The great thing, which I would never trade for a more disciplined or enriched childhood, was all those years of freedom, and being left alone to think my own thoughts, and set my own agenda, as it were.

But if this trend brings back those tall metal slides, I’m all for it!


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