Tag Archives: freedom

From values to counting: the apoliticisation of play (and much else)

One way of characterising the play sector, if indeed it constitutes a sector, is that it is apolitical and dependent, those two qualities interacting and exacerbating each other.

By apolitical, I mean that it has no obvious popular or voter support, nor is much attention directed towards securing it. Rather, the ‘sector’ concentrates its efforts on being persuasive within the established corridors of power. To gain leverage there the approach has been to follow the national and local state’s increasing reliance on reducing questions of value and principle into essentially technical matters, the clearest expression of this being the  reliance on suppositious ‘evidence’.

The other characteristic is dependency. By dependency I mean that the play sector is overwhelmingly reliant on national and local state funding, along with key charitable funders whose procedures and priorities so often mirror that of the state. There is a link between dependent status and the apolitical orientation of the play sector. Whilst it is the case that the sector can erupt in support of organisations and projects that are under threat, for the most part it is funded projects and organisations lobbying on behalf of projects and organisations that are structurally in the same position – dependent on external funding. A cynic might suggest that there is a strong sense of ‘there but for the grace of god go I’ pulsing beneath the surface of solidarity. However, that does not invalidate it. Continue reading

‘Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today’

To cut to the chase:  I hold that a society or culture entrapped by a perpetual need to achieve, to endlessly generate quantifiable outputs, to obsessively ‘progress’ – slippery term that – is a society most likely to exhaust and dispirit its members.  For rather too long, that’s pretty much the position that has been reached.

The emblem and motif of such a society is the treadmill, and the force that drives it, fear.  These afflictions affect adult and child alike, trapping both in a perpetual circle of unremitting striving. It continues without cease – no sooner has one goal or objective been achieved, than another looms into view demanding satisfaction.  Performance is all. Repose is nowhere allowed.  We are required to be strivers. Welcome to the club that should have no members.

The symptoms  of this malady are everywhere about us:  the child who from the earliest age must be made learning or school ‘ready’;  the sales assistant – most likely on a low or minimum wage – as well as the  classroom teacher, now both equally performance assessed; the parent frantic to get their child into a ‘good’ school, the better to ‘achieve’; the school shackled to anxiety about their place in the performance league tables; the voluntary organisation, now formally contracted to provide quantifiable outcomes that do not easily mesh with the substance and purpose  of their undertaking; the business executive tethered to work 24/7 via mobile phone or tablet and driven by targets.  And so on.  The list is long. 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

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

The limitations of compensatory provision

It’s that time of year.   More precisely, time of years.  That period which feels, for me at least, set apart from the year we have left;  but also semi-detached from the one we now notionally inhabit.  I have yet to press the ‘Go’ button for full throttle into 2014.

And in such circumstances, the mind idles.  Mine idles thus:

Working for a moment on the assumption there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing, imagine then a world replete with adventure playgrounds, walking buses (I confess I find it hard to include the walking bus as a good thing; it seems to me a thoroughly bad initiative.  However, I’m bound to mention it in the interests of feigned neutrality),  play streets, pop-up playgrounds, playworkers a-swarm in parks and open spaces,  after-school clubs,  privatised ‘public’ shopping malls and whatever other forms of bounded, supervised space or service you may care to include. Continue reading

Play, anxiety, moral learning, and a certain fragrance

I want to say a few words about aspects of play, and the hinterland of adult decision-making about it, that tend not to figure prominently in most of the  writings I see, or in the general discourse.

But before doing that, by way of lead in, I want to do an unashamed  promo for the International School Grounds Alliance (ISGA).   In its own words it is, ‘a global network of organisations working to enrich children’s learning and play through improving the way school grounds are designed and used’.  It is worth adding that it sees school grounds as integral to the local environment,  not as separate, sequestered spaces  solely in the control of schools.  In the UK at least, this represents a real challenge. (I’ve mentioned this before) 

The ‘International’ aspect is real and growing.   Delegates attending  the recent ISGA/Evergreen[1] conference in Toronto include those from Australia, Germany, Japan, Sweden, United Kingdom, the United States; and nascent links were formed with Pakistan and Nigeria.  There remains, however,  a whole world out there. Much yet to do.

The ISGA has, over the last few years, moved from what might be called the bare bones of an entity – a skeletal state – to fleshing itself out and, quietly, increasingly purposively, developing its musculature.  It may soon pack a punch, not least because it has to hand expertise and commitment, both broad and deep, from around the world.   There are certainly a number of issues  that require an international perspective, and international clout.  The ISGA has a growing chance of fulfilling a role here.   I encourage you to take a look at its web site, and perhaps join.

Now, it is the recent joint ISGA/Evergreen conference held in Toronto in September this year that prompts what follows for, if I have read it right, there were two aspects in particular of my little offering to the conference that seemed to resonate with people.

Moral learning

The first is an aspect of play that is obscured, pressed, we might say, beneath the weight of the current obsession – probably misplaced so far as creating a durable case for play is concerned – with obesity reduction.  This aspect is the understanding that through play a moral universe is formed, encountered and understood – children and teenagers  learning through experience how values, beliefs and traditions are transformed into ways of life.  This knowledge cannot simply be taught.  It is learning-through-doing that marks the difference between the ability to recite a moral code, and learning how to live by one. Continue reading