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June 03, 2007

DOES THE DANGEROUS BOOK FOR BOYS MARK A CULTURAL MOMENT? Consider this piece from The New York Times:

I remember we called it “play.” It occurred on weekends and after school, when the grown-ups weren’t around. Sometimes it hurt. It hurt when the ball struck someone in the face. It hurt when the thing we were climbing — the tree, the fire escape, the face of the sandstone cliff beside the river — suddenly grew slippery or broke. But those were mere physical injuries. They healed, often after trips to the emergency room. The injuries that lingered were the emotional ones, incurred when someone came in last in one of the contests we dreamed up. And, being boys (girls were simply not part of our thinking), we made contests out of everything, from walking, balance-beam style, down the railroad tracks to collecting crawfish from the creek.

Who knew at the time (not we children, certainly, growing up more than 30 years ago in small-town Minnesota) that playing and getting hurt would come to be regarded later on as exotic, threatened activities sorely in need of a cultural revival led by concerned adults?

Read on and you'll find some pushback, along with what appears to be a bit of wilful misunderstanding, but that itself is more evidence for the cultural-moment theory. (As Chris Nolan emails: "The politically correct, multicultural 'it's all about nurture' set are getting defensive. Must be a cultural moment indeed.") And I think that he's got it all wrong. There's nothing contrived, or expert-driven, about saying "Go outside and play." It's what parents do. The real problem is that the kind of nannyism that leads to the criminalization of napping has gotten in the way.

UPDATE: More thoughts here.

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