It occurred to me recently that I seem to still be on the ‘wrong’ side of the child-adult dichotomy.
Just beside my block of flats, there’s this huge, open longkang (drain). As I was walking out from my block one, I was just in time to see a wet soccer ball being rolled pass some children, as a small sized boy climbed over the green railing, coming out from the longkang after having retrieved the ball.
What I imagine a typical (Singaporean) adult would think; oh dear, how dangerous. and go on to imagine a million ways in which the scenario could have gone horribly wrong for the child, and a million ways to ‘rectify’ the problem like covering up the longkang, building more appropriate play/soccer areas, banning playing of balls at inappropriate areas etc.
What I thought, instead, was awww how fun and had fuzzy, nostalgic thoughts about the past, being in tuned with and a part of your environment, and how play should be unrestricted and unscripted. In contrast to the overprotective and sterile play environments of today…
Not to far from that longkang, just across the small street and in front of the supermart ShengSiong, there’s a huge raintree, growing out from a hole in the tiled ground. I love rain trees, I love looking up at its branches from underneath, I love the texture of its bark and the inevitable army of bird’s nest ferns adorning it. And I love that they’ve saved the tree, building around it instead of chopping it down.
More recently however, a circular metal bar has been built around it. A barrier, a separation. This is nature (it’s dangerous, don’t get too close) and this is civilisation. At least, that’s what it seemed to say to me.
I lamented to a friend– just imagine in our parents and grandparents days, kids played by running through fields of grass as tall as them; by climbing trees and any other structures they could climb; by catching spiders and making toy guns and catapults out of whatever they could find lying around.
If they step on a nail while running barefoot through the field, that was their own fault; of course if you’re going to be barefoot you have to watch where you put your feet! If branches or things fell from trees onto them then that was their fault too– well, also the tree’s, I guess, but what’s the use in blaming the tree? branches have to fall sometimes, it’s natural.
Whereas nowadays? People would demand that the management protect them from trees! from insects! from monkeys! It is the management’s fault when these things happen. No wonder the management has to cover their own asses and fence up trees… if a silly person climbs up the tree and gets hurt, it’s their fault. Why take the risk for the sake of caring about ideals and abstractions?
Then again, do I really disagree with that? Safety first, after all. If someone is killed by a falling branch, you wouldn’t dare to say to his family, ‘Branches fall, it’s natural! It’s no one’s fault, get over it.’
It’s hard to pin point exactly where necessary precaution transforms into suffocating over-protection. I thought our culture and education has been trying its best to move away from rigidity and sterility towards creativity and vibrancy…
True creativity and vibrancy can’t be categorized and classified– this is the time to be creative, when I say so during certain lessons, and these are all the other times you have to obey my rules exactly. Really? Think about it!
There’s this small playground in my school where each station is accompanied by a write ups with a science/physic slant. It’s usually filled with kids each recess, but of course, the kids ignore these write ups and ignore the ‘proper’ ways of playing.
The seesaw, meant for just two, is usually piled with kids–two groups challenging each other to see who can force the other group into the air. Otherwise, they will try to get off the seesaw as quickly and suddenly as possible to cause the friend(s) on the other end to come crashing down with a bang.
A ‘clown’s nose’– a red hemisphere surrounded by a ring on which you can sit– is meant for maximum four. You’re to lean your weight a certain way, and you can spin yourself. Instead, kids pile up again, with one or two trying to spin their friends as fast as possible, seeing who can last the longest without giving up or falling off.
Maybe something more serious happened one day than the usual harmless falls to the padded ground. Or maybe their children’s debatably rough play just came to the attention of the wrong (or right) person. Either way, one day a briefing was given to the entire school about the proper use of the stations in the play ground.
ONLY two on the seesaw, and DON’T bang your friend down. ONLY four on the clown’s nose and NO ONE should be pushing. THIS is the EXACT way and ONLY way you should be playing with these, and nothing else. Oh, one last thing, you are ONLY allowed there during recess WHEN THERE IS A TEACHER WATCHING AT ALL TIMES.
The next time I walked by the playground, it was practically empty and the few kids that were there looked pretty bored. I guess they’re ‘safe’ but that empty playground look for the world to be the saddest, least creative and least vibrant thing.
Can you blame the management, though? If something were to happen to the kid in school, how much noise (and blame) would the parents make…