Interestingly enough I followed a link on a tweet from one of our administrators this morning as she asked "is the danger in play or in the lack of it?" This link took me to a post called A Healthy Dose of Risk. Risk-takers is one of the attributes of the IB Learner Profile. We want our students to approach unfamiliar situations and uncertainty with courage and forethought, and have the independence of spirit to explore new roles, ideas and strategies. As children take risks, they face and conquer their fears. Research has shown that children today are increasingly anxious (and even depressed) and that this appears to coincide with a decrease in play, in particularly "risky" play. In our wish to protect children, we are changing our playgrounds into "tamer" spaces and decreasing the amount of "risky" play and this allows anxieties to grow - instead of protecting them, our attitudes may actually be harming our children by removing the opportunities for valuable play experiences. And although parents are now more aware of dangers of kidnapping and so on, playing outdoors is probably safer for today's children than it was for us during our own childhoods.
The move to "safer" playgrounds also coincides with the move from intrinsic to extrinsic motivation. Children play because of their internal sense of wonder and interest. Adult organized and directed play activities such as sports and clubs, which often give rewards and recognition, are linked with extrinsic motivation. Seth Godin argues that often what we are doing by this is "unteaching" bravery and creativity and initiative.
Getting back to Seth Godin's manifesto, he explains that he has written a series of provocations. and one of these is about fear and passion. Godin writes that passion can overcome fear - the fear of losing, of failing, of being ridiculed. He also writes that fear is something that is an easy option for educators - we get students to be compliant and obey because they are afraid of the consequences (poor grades etc). Because schools are oriented around the notion of uniformity, Seth says that fear is used to "ensure that no one stretches too far, questions the status quo or makes a ruckus ... there's no room for someone who wants to go faster, or someone who wants to do something else ... the message is simple: better fit in or else ... if you don't it'll go on your permanent record." What we need to do is replace fear with passion - so that students want to learn because they are passionate about something - they want more information, they want to get better at something and so on. He writes, "resorting to obedience to teach passion just isn't going to work." Fear and conformity simply destroy passion and dreams and the will to make these dreams come true.
Photo credit: In the Trees Again by Oakley Originals