No Splinters, but a Generation of Pansies

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Good evening, space cadets. This is a little bit off-topic from the usual fare, but just roll with it.

As I was walking through my neighbourhood earlier today, I noticed for probably the hundredth time the "Wood free neighbourhood" sign in that "Luddite's Unite!" guy's window, and it got me thinking again. The photo depicts a sign outside a playground saying it is "wood free", and honestly this makes me really sad. Let me back up a bit here.

Years and years and years ago, when I first moved to Georgia, I went to Barnett Shoals Elementary School (go barnett bears yay!). Barnett Shoals—and in fact all of the other public elementary schools in Athens-Clarke County, GA—had an amazing playscape. That's right. A playscape, not a playground. Let me explain. Nowadays when you go to a playground, you go to a rectangular space, filled with rubber strips scrapped from old tires, with a plastic, splinter-free, multicoloured structure on it with no surface higher than safe falling distance for kids. All of this so they don't get hurt, right? But these playscapes are booooring and laaaaaame. The one at Barnett Shoals was beautifully architected and made out of wood, old and weather-worn and full of splinters! I loved it. There were so many little places to jump around and hide and squirm around, and so much space to just run around. The playscape was taken down and replaced by a boring, run-of-the-mill plastic and steel affair. I was so sad.

One of my frequent soapboxes is the systematic dumbing-down of the American child, as many of you will know. These new-style playscapes are just one more part of that. Rather than an amorphous, angle-ridden, rickety wooden structure kids can use their imaginations with, they're given linear play structures with specific paths through them for the kids to follow. Run up the ladder, scamper across the bridge, traverse the improbably-low monkey bars, slide down the slide. Over and over and over again. I realize that my adult mind gets bored with a lot of things that used to be utterly enchanting to me as a child. But does that mean we shouldn't ever build anything or do anything or say anything that will challenge kids? Oh and about the splinters: a little splinter never hurt nobody and kids just need to be tough.

Alright. I'm done ranting about this right now. Later, space cadets.