I want in the article that follows, and the next one, to consider aspects of the resistance, current and developing, to what can be called the ‘pro-risk’ movement in respect of play and outdoor learning.
In this, I’m as interested in the subjective, internalised, self-oppression experienced by at least some – I hazard to suggest actually many – practitioners, a symptom of which is abiding by norms that they rationally disavow, as much as objective factors such as the hold Standards have on thought and action.
This piece, I’m afraid, ends in a minor key.
Progress and movement
I remember thinking myself rather bright – a momentary conceit – when, in some essay or other, upon which matter I cannot now recall, I drew a distinction between progress and mere movement, and the danger of mistaking the latter for the former. It is, I think, a not uncommon error which, unchecked, can restrict vision to that which one likes to see. The concomitant danger being threats, barriers and counter-currents come to occupy only one’s peripheral vision, or are pushed out of sight completely.
These musings once again tapped me on the shoulder as I enjoyed the splendid three day 5th International School Grounds Alliance (ISGA) conference in Lund, Sweden, hosted by the formidable City of Lund’s Naturskolan team. The programme included visits to some quite delicious school grounds and public spaces. Green, ‘natural’ spaces, needless to say. The taste reference, by the way, is not misplaced since the treats included first rate lunches grown and/or cooked by local schools. Continue reading
‘Bicycle helmets save lives’ a Guardian editorial pointed out today (27.09.2016) referrencing recent Australian research.
The editorial then posed the question: Should wearing cycle helmets be made compulsory? Now read on for the editorial’s succinct explication of a form of reasoning we have come to know as risk-benefit assessment.
‘From the point of view of accident reduction, the answer is entirely clear. Helmets do prevent some head injuries, and these can be very serious even when they are not immediately fatal. On the other hand, they are extremely rare. You would have to cycle tens of thousands of hours in Australia to get an injury requiring medical treatment. More than 10 times as many Americans were shot dead in 2014 as died cycling and, despite the headlines, most Americans are never going to be shot at in their lifetimes. The benefits of cycling can’t be translated into such striking figures but there’s no doubt that regular exercise prolongs and improves life in every way, and cycling is one of the best ways to make gentle exercise a daily routine….’
‘…Risk reduction cannot be the only grounds on which policy is decided. If that were the case, helmets would be compulsory for pedestrians as well, since it would reduce the seriousness of some injuries, and undoubtedly save lives too. The ultimate aim of public policy must be to enable and encourage human flourishing, and because we are complicated and contradictory creatures, that must involve a degree of self-contradiction and the balancing of some goods against others. The sense of freedom and spontaneity that cyclists enjoy is not an illusion and has real value.’
It is a salutory paragraph that members of the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) committee on play equipment and surfacing would do well to read. Continue reading
This is an alert. An alert to all those – across Europe and wider – where European play equipment and surfacing standards are held, or will be held, to apply. A new Standard is being proposed, one that will further undermine play provision.
The particular proposed change I focus on here (there are others) aims to introduce a requirement for onsite testing of playground surfaces, in particular, synthetic ones, for example, rubber.
The proposed changes – designated (prEN 1176-1:2016 (E)) – if implemented, will have an entirely negative effect on play provision, piling on significant additional costs or, in an effort to avoid additional costs, providers may well feel compelled to close or further dumb down existing provision.
To demonstrate the scale of the potential increase in costs, one local authority has calculated that an additional annual amount of £400,000 would be required if the proposed change to the Standard is implemented. Continue reading
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
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
I thought I’d give this blog an American slant since I’m here in the San Francisco area talking about, well, risk, standards, parks, (over) anxious parents – that sort of thing.
I’m here courtesy of the efforts of Lisa Howard and Sharon Danks, both of Bay Tree Design and the International School Grounds Alliance (ISGA), a grouping that is slowly extending its reach and gathering its strength. Long in the preparation, and cooked slow for added succulence, the developing international alliance draws on, and contributes to, the expanding knowledge-base – both theoretical and practical – of the benefits and challenges involved in greening school grounds. A key component of its belief system is that school grounds are for the community as a whole, and not to be treated as sequestered enclaves for school use alone. (PLAYLINK declares an interest here, it is one of the founder members, but credit for ISGA’s conception and its activities, belong elsewhere).
Public Playground Safety Handbook
In preparation for this trip, I took a look at the what appears to be the bible for American playgrounds, the ‘Public Playground Safety Handbook’, published by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Here in California it is effectively mandatory to adhere to its provisions for all projects involving public money – this effectively captures, for example, most schools, parks and public playgrounds.
Sophisticated readers, and adepts in the language of play and risk, will almost certainly have given an involuntary start on seeing the word ‘safety’ in the handbook’s title.
The limitations of training
I’m prompted to write about the limitations of training – a long held view – because I suspect we are about to see at least a minor surge in authorities and organisations commissioning ‘training’ in risk-benefit assessment. To the degree that this indicates a growing commitment to making judgments about provision for play from a risk-benefit perspective, this is to be welcomed.
It’s worth noting, however, that a risk-benefit assessment technique is itself neutral – it has no opinion; it can engender a range of decisions, ones that can contradict each other. But those promoting risk-benefit assessment – me included – are anything but neutral about what they wish to achieve from a risk-benefit approach to assessing play provision. A conundrum, then, and worth a few words to reflect on it. Continue reading