Over the weekend, David Elkind wrote an editorial for the New York Times offering his perspective on the recent trend for schools to hire “play coaches” as a way to encourage children to play at recess.
At the end of his editorial, though, Elkind ended with this declaration:
￼We have to adapt to childhood as it is today, not as we knew it or would like it to be. The question isn’t whether recess coaches are good or bad — they seem to be with us to stay — but whether they help students form the age-old bonds of childhood. To the extent that the coaches focus on play, give children freedom of choice about what they want to do, and stay out of the way as much as possible, they are likely a good influence.
One must wonder, is this somehow a signal of defeat? From a man who’s spent his life arguing for free, child-led play?
Mike Lanza counters Elkind, arguing that “adaptation” simply isn’t the right answer:
It seems to me that Elkind is giving up, appeasing the adults who have been fighting for decades to dominate children’s lives under all sorts of banners like “safety,” “children’s fitness,” “education,” and “moral development.” I don’t think Elkind sympathizes with these folks, but he’s joining with them because he’s given up on trying to beat them.
In 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain made a similar gesture to Adolph Hitler when he appeased Nazi Germany, acquiescing to their takeover of the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia in return for Hitler’s worthless promise to stay out of Poland.
Now, of course, no one, including me, would put recess coaches or anyone else who wants to exert more control over children’s lives on a moral plane anywhere near the Nazis. These people have a sincere and valid concern for the welfare of children, and they are doing what they believe is best for them. However, they believe that children need to be under more adult control to develop best. Advocates of “free play” or “unstructured play”* like myself believe that children need to be under less adult control. This is a fundamental disagreement. The stakes are extremely high. The quality of lives of our children today, the course of their future lives, and ultimately, the future of our civilization rests on this issue.
I’ll leave you to read the rest of Lanza's piece for yourself, but don’t miss it. It’s an eloquent manifesto-of-sorts to free play, and a great encouragement and reminder for the free play advocates in the trenches to stay the course. There’s too much at stake; too much to lose to give up now. As Mike argues, “This is no time for appeasement.”