Dear Arthur…

Arthur Batram kindly commented on my last piece, ‘On Evidence. On the Political’. (See the comments section after that article)  For reasons that I hope will become clear if you care to read on, I thought that his piece too rich simply to leave a short comment-type reply.  So, in a scatter-gun sort of way, I’ve tried to respond to his musings. 

But if you’re looking for sustained argument on one topic in what follows, turn away now, you will not find it here.

Arthur,

Thank you for what Word Press defines as a ‘comment’ (this on my piece  ‘On Evidence. On the Political’).

It is in fact not a ‘comment’, so much as a stream of consciousness laced with your customary erudition, tangential references, entertaining allusions, bewildering double-backs leading to what one assumed (hoped?) was the last – that is, final –  thought  only to find oneself in yet another wild flower meadow sown by your mind’s emissions.

Excellent!

For those readers who get to, say, word 505 of your ‘comment’, only to despair that there are another 1,090 to go (but who’s counting?) – read on!  Patience can – mostly – be rewarded, certainly if one takes a look at the links and references. So thank you for the link to Professor of Theology James P Carse.  Looks like  a rich theme to explore, not least because he puts training in its place:

To be prepared against surprise is to be trained.  To be prepared for surprise is to be educated. Education discovers an increasing richness in the past, because it sees what is unfinished there. Training regards the past as finished and the future as to be finished. Education leads to a continuing self-discovery; training leads to a final definition. Training repeats a completed past in the future. Education continues an unfinished past into the future (This from a paper about his work )

I think I have it right – no doubt you’ll correct me if required – when I say that your comments were a good deal to do with politics; in particular, the qualities – attitudes of mind – required to grapple with and oppose established configurations of power. Continue reading

On Evidence. On the Political

I want to pursue the discussion about ‘evidence’ as it affects, or is said to affect, policy and funding decisions about play.  I allow myself this indulgence in part because I suspect I am at least partially responsible for provoking comment on the subject; and of course Tim Gill is also thoroughly culpable in this regard.

Before proceeding, however, it’s necessary to dispose of straw man arguments that suggest I am opposed to the collection and dissemination of evidence in support of play. A position which, if held, would be absurd.

Nevertheless, the case for evidence deserves some scrutiny, especially when it tips over into wishful thinking.  But first the work of disposal. Continue reading

The Here and Now and related matters

I was flattered to be invited to speak at Play Wales’s SPIRIT conference last week where I ended up talking  about freedom, the here and now, and democratic space.  To my mind the three ideas are inextricably connected to each other.

Part of my talk took what might be called an ‘in principle’ critical stance towards Play Streets  (whilst at the same time, perhaps paradoxically, affirming that if one was started in my street, I would happily help out).  My comments about Play Streets did not meet with universal acclaim.

I have discussed Play Streets in an earlier article, and will return to the subject shortly.  For now, I do not pursue the issue in depth. 

In this article I emphasis again, or more precisely bang the drum for, valuing the here and now of immediate experience.  Since a drum is now involved, I mean of course the HERE AND NOW! an area on which, so far as I can see, public policy is locked into silence.

This piece is something of a mixed bag, being in part drawn from the SPIRIT talk, part from previous articles notably the one on democratic space, and part further embellishments on the key themes. Let’s hope it works.

 I began the conference talk thus:

I’ve had quite a bit of difficulty determining what to say today.  In part it’s because, increasingly, I feel myself engaged in a series of repetitions – for example, about risk, about nature and play, about the Yuk Stuff, rubber IAS, and about a (wished-for)  democratic public realm –  saying again what is already known.

But my difficulty also stems from what might be called the internal rationale of so many conferences.  That is, they aspire to inspire  – that word ‘inspire’ appears in the SPIRIT publicity – and so, for example, toolkits and ‘good practice’ are promoted, examples of exemplary projects pointed at.  And of course this can be very useful.  But  I fear I will be pointing the other way, sharing with you some of my discomforts, irritations and concerns.  I sometimes describe myself as a ‘dismalist’.  This means that where you see a silver lining, I see a cloud.  I am your conference wet blanket.

Continue reading

Democratic space

It’s not an accident that we attach the adjective ‘democratic’ to either describe actual  public spaces, or to mark our aspirations for them.  Indeed, there’s a flotilla of warm words – ‘shared’, ‘communal’, ‘inclusive’, ‘accessible’ – that together act as a collective nod towards the features and atmosphere we believe a truly public, ‘public space’ should evoke.

In the background, no doubt, lurk images and ideas drawn from the Agora of classical Greece and the Athenian City-State, though its democracy was, by our proclaimed modern democratic standards, somewhat lacking in reach, in inclusivity.  Basically, if you were an Athenian bloke you were in the club; if not, then not.

It is however useful to notice that whilst by our ‘modern’ standards fifth century BCE Athenian democracy does not pass muster, its limitations were an overt, explicit, ‘in-your-face’ articulation of the very fabric of the political, social and economic structure of that society.  By way of contrast, visiting and sitting around in what can broadly be described as ‘public spaces’, I’m struck by just how difficult it is to create democratic spaces, how difficult it is to counter the forces and  influences that limit fulfilment of our democratic and inclusive aspirations.   These can include, often in potent negative mix:  forms of land ownership; demographics; socio-economic class; race, age and gender; forms of decision-making;  confused objectives; inappropriate design; mad, thought-neutering timescales; and the allure of fad and fashion . Continue reading

York College Nursery Prosecution – cause for concern?

Preamble, 28 March 2014

This is a corrected version of the article first posted on the 9 February 2014. In that post I erroneously said that the HSE was the prosecuting authority in the York College nursery case. That was wrong, they were not. I apologise for my error, now corrected.  However, the general points raised in the article seem to me to still hold. They therefore remain intact in the piece below.

Since the date of the initial post, there has been an interesting post from Robin Sutcliffe on New Zealand’s approach to compensation and litigation. I urge you to read it. The New Zealand approach is certainly one we should look into to see if it, or some variation of it, might be relevant in the UK. 

The York College case

Some readers will be aware of the York College Nursery case in which, sadly and tragically, a three year old child died as a result of becoming entangled in a rope that was attached to the top of a slide.

Prosecutions were launched: the nursery worker was charged with manslaughter and also, under health and safety legislation, of failing to take ‘reasonable care’.   She was cleared of all charges, which is a relief.

In addition, York College, owners of the nursery, were charged with failing to secure the health and safety of children.  The college was found guilty and will be sentenced on February 2014.  They are liable for unlimited fines. (Update: the fine was £175,000. Judge’s sentencing remarks here.)

I want to tread cautiously in commenting at this stage.   I will not comment at this time  on the findings against  the  college.   Nevertheless some initial thoughts arising from the charge against the nursery worker and another case, can be shared. Continue reading

Holding fast: It’s not the evidence that does it

It is not a minor matter that those of us at the forefront of thinking about, developing, and promoting risk-benefit assessment have been particularly attentive to language, to the meaning of words and the order in which they are placed.  Thus we have taken HAZARD’s hand, twirled it round a bit, and shown its positive, sunny side.  Similarly, we have suggested to CONTROL MEASURES that it should stand in the corner, reflect upon its past errors,  and not rejoin us until it has developed a more sophisticated, nuanced approach to its purposes.  And we have welcomed, and made permanent guest of honour, BENEFITS.  She sits at the head of the table, gets served first and, so to speak, frames the rest of the proceedings.

This is not about risk-benefit assessment

But this piece is not about risk-benefit assessment.  It’s about the importance of saying certain things, of not losing one’s voice, of holding fast to key ideas and values, even when they seem to have no immediate purchase.

The evidential hunt

I make no complaint that once again ‘play’ is on the evidential hunt, apparently to demonstrate to Government just how functional it is in helping to meet the objectives of, for example, improving school performance, enlivening the public realm, contributing to community safety, countering ‘anti-social behaviour’ (in quotes because it is a despicable too wide-ranging term that should be avoided), and preparing children to be economically productive when they enter adulthood.  And no doubt much else.

As I’ve mentioned before, such evidence that is adduced will not persuade Government one way or the other.  Though it may say it has been persuaded, and we may wish to believe it. Continue reading

School playtime: fears, anxieties, and a more optimistic take

Over the years I’ve done a fair amount of work with schools, the focus being on ‘playtime’, a designation that could be found guilty of offending the Trades Description Act, were it applicable to some, perhaps many, schools.

Too often ‘play’ or ‘breaktime’ represents an unwanted lacunae within the school day, a day otherwise devoted to more worthy and directly educational purposes.

Conceptually, too, play or break time presents a difficulty for schools.  Schools are highly ordered, hierarchical institutions, their governing motif the timetable that slices up and controls time and purpose, breaking the day into predictable and repetitive chunks.  Order is all. Continue reading