"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Kids may be "safer" today but is it better?

Norman Rockwell captured the less-structured and probably more hazardous play activity of an earlier time. His brush would have done justice to a number of Morris kids I remember. ("Saturday Evening Post" image)

A couple friends and I once built a soap box derby type of contraption for an informal competition in town. It was probably a little dangerous.
Notice I didn't say "racer," I said "contraption."
Several race crews gathered at the downhill slope on the east side of the old school. It was the typical type of childhood activity where we were self-starters. One imagines a Norman Rockwell type of painting. Maybe I could suggest a Dennis the Menace strip panel too.
Boomers often did things like this. Our enterprise was admirable. The activity itself might cause the parents of today to shudder. We played sandlot baseball in the same spirit.
We mustn't become too nostalgic because there were defects. Bullying could sprout and be undeterred. This current push to eradicate bullying probably gives boomers pause. We grew up under the laws of the jungle. We'd leave the house and do things unsupervised.
We gathered at the school hill and sent our "racers" down, testing to see who had the best approach. The kids at the bottom of the hill had better look out for what was coming down. The same held true with sledding. It was a madhouse with no adults to be seen.
I was reminded of that romp years later when watching an episode of the Red Green show on Public TV. The determined but calamitous Mr. Green had advice on making a good soap box racer. "The key," he said, was "large wheels."
I laughed because this was an area where my little group (of three, including the late Skip Sherstad) went wrong. We used wheels off an old stroller. Make no mistake, we deserved credit for our effort. Our engineering judgment was nonexistent. We moved onward, learning from mistakes.
Today kids are steered toward organized activities. They grow up in a time where any parent caught not using a child car seat might be stoned to death. Children's activities are supervised and structured. Parents probably sign forms agreeing to certain terms.
There are "waivers" where a slight risk factor might be presented. I'm sure lawyers hover over anything. Even waivers don't provide an airtight protection from legal action.
Kids aren't treated as human beings, they are treated as rare collectibles. There's no Norman Rockwell painting for the type of things kids do today. We have certainly built facilities for them.
I recently wrote about the "sandlot" days of hockey in Morris. "Sandlot" is figurative and applies to the ragtag nature of kids' activities once, when we needed to come up with our own amenities like bases for baseball.
We'd gather at the old elementary playground for baseball. We were spoiled having such an expansive playground available. Today the buildings and grounds are totally idle. The community could come up with no fresh use. A part of town that was once abuzz with the activities of youth is now idle.
I remember it was a challenge to try to glide down that slope in winter as if you were skiing, only you were wearing shoes. Terry Rice was good at it. Many of us ended up on our rear end. We'd laugh.
Today it would all be considered dangerous. We'd probably be chased away.
We played baseball without uniforms. The hockey kids were off on their own, using whatever adequate outdoor ice they could find, undaunted in enjoying their sport. Today the kids don't even have to think about the basic resources for their sports. We have an "infrastructure."
Can you imagine a Morris without a Lee Community Center? That's the Morris I grew up in. Varsity basketball was still being played at the old elementary auditorium/gymnasium. We had what you would call a "neighborhood" school. These were once the norm but seem to have fallen out of favor.
The safety-obsessed parents of today seem to insist on some distance from the real world of neighborhoods and adults going about their business.
Instead we have these "prison" schools. That's not my term, as I picked it up from a Morris Area school board member. She noted that so many new schools of today look like prisons out on the outskirts of town.
This sure makes me look at them in a different light. I admire the analysis this term reflects. They certainly look like prisons.
I was always reminded of the quote when driving past the KMS school.
The Morris school has grown like a monstrosity on the southern edge of the community. We are to be commended because the school isn't totally out beyond the town. Federated Church is right across the street, for example. So I won't call it a prison school.
But our culture is definitely protective to the maximum, which is fine in principle. We want everyone to be safe. But I think sometimes we need to encourage more of a notion of kids looking out for themselves.
A recent "Friday Facts" email included a notice from our police chief on the proper caution when driving near a school bus. Some very responsible people have been ticketed for violations in this regard.
I suspect many such violations aren't egregious. The police chief would probably disagree with me. A law is a law and it reflects proper judgment, he'd say. He'd better think that way, I guess.
I should state here that I have never received such a citation. A former Morris mayor has gotten at least one.
I'm not sitting here arguing that what these people did was totally safe and should be disregarded.
My argument is that in an earlier time, we expected kids to try to be responsible and careful on their own, up to a degree. When you're getting on and off a school bus, you should know there are cars out and about around you, so just be careful and look around.
Applying this to the computers of today, kids should know, and I'm sure they have the intelligence to know, there are risks and dangers out there and one ought to be vigilant about communications from any stranger. Instead we go after any adult "crossing the line" as if the mistakes are totally theirs.
These guys caught on the Chris Hansen TV series are just "bozos," I have written before. They need some sort of sanction that will scare the heck out of them and be a deterrent, but I'm not sure we need to get out the orange jump suits.
Good grief, America already has a disproportionately large percentage of its population incarcerated. It's being noted throughout the world. I agree totally with Ron Paul and other libertarians on how we need to back off on drug offenses.
I read a while back about a law enforcement person in Minnesota seeking to pull over someone who had an outstanding warrant or some such thing. The suspect fled. There was a collision and people got killed including a young child. And what was the individual wanted for? "Drug charges," I read. I groaned.
Our Chief Beauregard is to be commended on thinking about safety and carrying out society's wishes on this. He knows his job. My task as an idle pundit or thinker (hopefully) is to give some historical perspective, to conjure up those Norman Rockwell images of kids on their own, with ragtag or nonexistent resources, being self-starters and learning about life's challenges.
No indoor ice for hockey. No major league facsimile uniforms for little league baseball. (We wore T-shirts at Wells Park.)
Today our little mob with the homemade soap box "racers" might be chased off. There might be liability issues with school property, of course.
I'm not the only one who sees things like this. We got to talking in church one morning over coffee about these societal trends. An acquaintance of mine who works at UMM commented: "The way we protect kids today, maybe we should just wrap them in Nerf until they're 18."
Maybe it's all for the better. Maybe I'm just showing misguided boomer bias.
In our teens we hardly set an example. We'd plead the Fifth answering questions about that.
Today we seem rather fat and content. Different generations will have their values.
History will judge.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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