Free To Play

A New Zealand school has come up with a “novel” way to increase student focus, reduce bullying, and decrease vandalism: it has eliminated all of the silly rules and restrictions governing behavior during school recess. Because kids now get to do things like ride scooters and skateboards, they develop a better appreciation of risky behavior, too. And, the school has been able to reduce the number of teachers monitoring the playground and get rid of the dreaded “timeout” area.

This result shouldn’t be surprising — it’s just a return to the way things used to be in every American school. Kids are full of energy and need to burn it off. If they don’t get to do it during recess, they’ll find some other, probably less positive, outlet for release. I’m guessing that the New Zealand school will see other benefits that become apparent over time as well. Because kids can do what they want, they are more likely to be active and therefore less likely to join the ranks of the morbidly obese. Because kids won’t be constrained by adult notions of proper recess behavior, they’ll be more creative and more willing to work with their classmates in coming up with new games and contests to fill their recess time.

When I was young, recess was fun precisely because it was entirely unstructured: you got to do what you wanted, without having to follow dumb rules or sit quietly at a desk. We made up games, hung upside-down from monkey bars, swung on the swings as high as we could and jumped off, and ran around yelling for the sheer fun of it. We survived, and our playground chaos didn’t have any effect on our classroom performance. I wish more American schools would adopt the Kiwi’s “hands-off” approach to recess and let kids be kids.

Drifting Into Old Fartdom

Justin Bieber was arrested last week for drunken driving and resisting arrest. It was one of those pop cultural stories that dominate the headlines even though, in the grand scheme of things, Justin Bieber’s difficulties are of no significance whatsoever.

I’ve never listened to one of Justin Bieber’s songs or seen him perform. I know he is, or was, one of those child stars who had a carefully cultivated squeaky clean image. Now he seems to be rebelling against it and, like other child stars before him, wants desperately to establish an adult persona. It’s a familiar, downward path that typically includes public drunkenness, arrests, and an “edgy,” embarrassing, hypersexualized public performance. Before they know it, they are universally viewed as jackasses and their squeaky clean images are gone forever.

But I digress . . . or actually, I don’t. The kind of outburst above is a sure sign that I am sliding into Old Fartdom. For some reason, the Grammys seem to bring this out every year. Because I long ago stopped listening to on-air radio stations I don’t know most of the popular artists, and I’m fed up with the self-absorption and conspicuous consumption of many of those I do know. I don’t need to see people sticking their tongues out at me or “twerking,” thank you very much.

I think the long drift into Old Fartdom begins with music. You eagerly listen to new music through your college years, try to keep up with it when you start working, then finally quit listening to insipid on-air radio in disgust and really focus on music that you like. After a decade or two, the current hits and artists like Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus and interchangeable hip-hoppers are as alien to you as Rudy Vallee.

When that happens, you’ve taken your first step onto Old Fart Avenue, and you may as well embrace it. You’re not going back.