I need to alert readers to a real and present danger.
Before proceeding, however, I enter a plea. A plea that you stick with this article despite the fact that the subject may – until now – have been a turn-off. I say again: I am about to speak about a real and present danger.
The subject is play provision Standards, in this case a new Standard in respect of IAS (Impact Absorbing Surface) being proposed by ASTM’s (American Society for Testing and Materials) playground surfacing committee.
Do not imagine that any changes will affect only the USA. Eventually, the likelihood is that they will affect Standards across national boundaries. Continue reading
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
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
So far as social policy is concerned, I doubt that evidence alone will ever swing policy one way or the other, though the claim is that it should, perhaps that it does.
Belief in ‘evidence-based’ policy making has similarities with belief in myth. Myths, by definition, are not expressions of literal truths. Rather, they provide us with stories of origin, tales of titanic battles, of victor over vanquished, that are used to express and justify the values and beliefs now held, along with the practices said to flow from them. In that sense, myths are foundational; they provide the basis for justifying current decisions.
Our relationship with myth, then, is a combination of both a backward and a forward look. Its backward glance is tinged with a sort of nostalgia, a yearning for that mythical time when matters were clear. When there was black and there was white. Where one had to win. There was no grey.
And so, in the attempt to affect this messy, uncertain, unpredictable world of human comings and goings, a sort of nostalgia takes hold. In our case, a nostalgia for the sort of certainties and predictable patterns that the natural sciences can reveal. Sure the natural sciences proceed in part by way of an avid enthusiasm for doubt, for testing and often overturning existing assumptions. Nevertheless, they are quite hot on identifying how cause ‘x’ prompt effect ‘y’. Whereas in our messy human world, over millennia, individuals and societies remain undecided on matters as fundamental as child rearing. Is it, for example, better for future ‘outcomes’ to ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ or to affect a more liberal, permissive stance in child-rearing practice? It has not been, nor is it, nor will it be the evidence that decides the matter. The type of question posed here is connected by superhighway to fundamental questions about the nature of childhood, the purpose of life and so forth. There will be no final settlement of the question. Continue reading