Tuesday, April 19, 2011

British Schools Becoming More Risk Averse

A person abseils down the crag.Image via WikipediaBritish bulldog 'vanishing from schools'

We played bulldog at school, and at cubs and scouts.  We went on long hikes up steep mountains, we did potholing, climbing, parascending and chess.  We read books and we went on cross country runs where we were out of sight of the teachers.  We built fires safely with the Scout leaders, and unsafely on our own.  We ran and vaulted walls and fences, and sometimes we fell and hurt ourselves but mostly we did not and we learned to judge what was safe and what was risky.

What we did though, through a process of trial and error, was to learn to understand and accept a certain level of risk in our lives.  As Scouts on a camp in the Lake District, we all understood that it was fairly dangerous to go scree bombing (running full tilt downhill on a loose scree slope), but at the same time it was all the more fun because of that edge of danger, and although Mike Lambert ended up in casualty getting stitches in a cut hand, the rest of us still did it again on the following day.

I have broken my hand by falling down a hill, I've injured my back and my knee when out hill walking, but I am 43 and in a lifetime of hiking these small hurts are far outweighed by the pleasure I have gained from day after day on the hills and peaks.  I solo walk, sometimes in weather conditions that some people would consider dangerous, but starting as a young child I was encouraged to learn the skills and gain the experiences that enable me now to judge the boundaries of what is safe for me and what is not.

Every time I go walking there is a risk that I could slip and injure myself, should this prevent me hiking ? Of course not.  There is a young girl in my town who is paralyzed from the neck down after falling from a climbing frame, should this mean that we ban climbing frames for children ? Absolutely not.  We need children to have a certain level of freedom and risk in their lives in order that they may make informed decisions for themselves as they grow up.

Of course it is painful for a parent to see their child hurt in any way, but the point of rearing children is that they eventually become adults, children mustn't become fearful and timid as adults, afraid of everything that contains a potential risk.  As adults you need to know that yes, breaking an arm is fairly painful, but 30 years on I cannot feel the pain, but I can remember that day we hiked up Whernside in the snow and slid and fell on our bums all the way down.  It was a risky and potentially dangerous day, but it was also great fun.
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  1. everything you say is very true - but as long as there are lawyers encouraging compensation culture to extend far beyond its original intended purposes (i.e. as long as there is money for them to make)... and a media constantly feeding us horror stories, it can only get worse.

  2. Lawyers, politicians and bankers aside. After all, all species have their parasites….. Most of this conceived risk is just that, conceived. Created by alarmist conclusions of what might have happened. I ran riot in my local park in the summer holidays and built the most unsafe structures which I called Tree Houses. I dug a den under the foundations of a disused garage and had a ‘pet magpie ‘ in my room – until discovered. Yes I broke the odd finger nail, hammered a nail through my foot and probably caused untold damage to the local sycamore and cherry trees, but generally I got away with it. Children need to be allowed to but just that. Adults also need to learn from their own youth and back off a bit.

  3. Paddy3:04 pm

    We have a BMX track at the top of our street and Josh has been half a dozen or so times. He's fallen off about 4 times (cuts to knees, elbows and lip) but it's all part of growing up and I'm not going to stop him.

    It's past the point of killing the lawyers now. The insurers have a risk averse culture so schools are in the position of implementing policy to enable them to afford insurance.

    Killing the lawyers is probably still a good idea though just the on general expectation they'll fuck something else up.