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Has Political Correctness Run Amok in Elementary Schools?

The value of having a ‘Recess Consultant’

Sometimes I read a story and just shake my head. Why are they doing this? What are they thinking? What are they trying to accomplish? And, in the case of my opinion piece below, is this a case of political correctness run amok?

I’m talking about two elementary schools in Minnesota that just hired Playworks, a recess consulting organization, to develop a pilot program where kids are given an option to take part in organized games and activities at recess.

The reason for the consultant is, apparently, some parents have complained about damaging things that go on during recess. What is a damaging thing? Assume a game of tag is played and a child is caught. Saying to them “you’re out” can be damaging to the kids’ psyche. Instead, the pilot program would change it to “good job” or “nice try.”

Now, if we weren’t leaving in a world of political correctness circa 2015 I would not have believed this was possible. However, today if you do not react the way a certain segment of society wants you to react, then the offended group(s) clamor for change and they may want you to be sanctioned or even fired.

As I reflect on the need for a recess consultant I am drawn to the famous line in Star Trek uttered by Spock: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” (or “the one”). It seems Spock’s logic has been turned on its head and now it is: “The needs of the few (or the one) outweigh the needs of the many.”

I find it hard to believe that a majority of the parents whose kids attend the elementary school in Minnesota support the need to come up with a way to ensure a kid’s feelings are not hurt by being tagged out or not chosen for a playground game. Are our kids’ egos that fragile that being out or not being picked somehow damages them?

One parent gets it. According to Kathy Sandven.: “The philosophy of Playworks does not fit [the school]. “It is a structured philosophy — an intervention philosophy — not allowing kids for free play.” Others like the idea. Chris Holden, principal at Normandale Elementary, has seen the Playworks benefits in the first few weeks of school. He’s noticed fewer student visits to the principal’s office and the nurse’s office after recess. “Every school is looking for a way to increase student activity and engagement and decrease conflict,” he said. The aim is to build skills that would make kids “incredibly successful adults,” said Shauna McDonald, executive director of Playworks Minnesota. “It’s about creating opportunity.”

So let me get this right. The rationalization for the new playground policy is to “create opportunity” by forcing it upon kids. The purpose is to cut down on conflict. Well I say, welcome to the real world.

I believe you make your own opportunities in life through what you achieve, the kinds of skills you have worked hard to develop, learning from your mistakes, and learning to deal with conflicts when they develop. You also learn personal responsibility and how to handle rejection when it inevitably occurs. In other words you learn how to be a functioning member of society.

Shielding kids from what goes on in the real world is not the answer to potential conflicts that may occur whether in the playground, classrooms, or the hallways of the school. The answer is better supervision of kids while they play. Recess is not the time for all teachers to take a break and leave kids to their own devices.

I think the real problem here is parents have become disconnected from their kids with respect to discipline and teaching them the life skills essential to success and being well-adjusted members of society. They act as though it is easier to let your kids do what they want rather than argue with them on contentious issues – rather than setting a good example of just how to handle conflict. News flash: The kids won’t always get their way in the real world.

Now, I understand the playground can a rough neighborhood in some cases. When I went to school it is was common for some kids to be picked on; not to be chosen for a game; or just ignored because they were geeks. I also understand that the likelihood of bullying is much greater today than years ago and that can do real damage to kids. But, we need to find a more realistic way to handle it that builds character.

The ancient Greeks knew that we become virtuous through practice and the wisdom gained from our experiences. It requires developing good habits. The four cardinal virtues, from ancient Greek philosophy, are prudence, justice, temperance (meaning restriction or restraint), and courage. We learn these virtues through our experiences, not being told they are virtues and to memorize them.

Courage is the essence of ethical behavior because it provides us the inner strength to ward off those who try to push us to do things we don’t want to do (shouldn’t do) and gives us the ability to live in accordance with our core values. Life is tough with many choices and many ‘forks in the road.’ Kids need to develop the courage to ‘just say no’ when another kid pushes them to engage in potentially harmful action, as may occur in the business world.

What with bullying on the rise even in grades 4-11 and social media being used as a punching bag against kids who are not liked, it is true that kids face many more situations where damaging things might occur on the playground or elsewhere. However, I don’t think we need to bring in consultants to handle these matters. What ever happened to good old common sense?

Recess needs to be adequately supervised or schools should do away with it all together and just give kids the hour to do something productive; perhaps a constructive social-media driven activity. They love using their gizmos and since they should be verboten during the school day, other than for educational purposes, perhaps a fun, learning assignment during the hour might work.

My concern is decisions are increasingly being made in society because a small group of people feel offended by some practice or overly-sensitive about certain remarks. We all need to develop a thicker skin. Criticisms occur more frequently now than ever before and kids need to develop the skills to adequately handle them. The underlying cause of the problem is parents have once again left it to the schools to be the primary provider of social and emotional development of their kids rather than reinforcing what parents teach at home and how they model their own behavior to their kids.

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on October 13, 2015. Professor Mintz is on the faculty of the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at:

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