In a recent article in The Freeman (“The Abolition of the Playground”), Jeffrey Tucker decries public regulation of elementary school playgrounds. He makes a good point, especially in his criticism of the makers of silly rules, but misses one important aspect of freedom.
A disclaimer: I can’t remember a time I had fun on a playground. In elementary school, while my classmates played kickball on the acre plot allotted our school, I liked to sit by a tree with bulbous roots and read. I begged my teachers to let me stay inside, and some did. I dreaded the period of “play” after lunch every day. I found sunlight oppressive and physical activity nauseating. I went to a private school, played in “a good private playground, with clear rules and maximum choice within the rules” and had “an early experience of freedom itself.” It was bleak, mostly because “freedom itself” did not include the choice to opt out of playground time.
Children exercise very little autonomy. Such is the nature of childhood, and it can be a joyfully ignorant period of life. I take umbrage, though, at adults advocating for “liberty” from state imposed regulation for the sake of children’s happiness and free-spirited play. And a playground is, by definition, prey to “regimentation and central dictate” because the definitions of play are so limited.
Tucker notes that, “the point of the playground is the teeming activity of many individuals that somehow emerges into a micro social order without direction from above.” Yes, play time can help children learn about cooperation. But a true education of what freedom entails requires the choice to opt out of the faux-social order. Adults trying to reform our top-down state education system should consider what freedom could actually look like for students.