Guest Post: Toothpicks Too Terrifying for Tots?

Hi Readers! Here’s a lovely little essay from Bree Ervin, author of the blog Think Banned Thoughts (which, apparently, she does).  — L.

Making a Point about Toothpicks by Bree Ervin

My husband and I are very picky about the preschools we chose for our children.

The preschool our daughter attends has a merry-go-round which they had to fight the state to keep, a ridiculously tall slide, and a science room with real animal skeletons, bird’s nests, owl pellets and some safe chemicals like baking soda and vinegar for the kids to do science “spearmints” with.

We knew when we enrolled her that she could come home with skinned knees, bruises and epic tales of adventure and learning!

But then, something happened. They got soft. They got scared. They stopped letting the kids go out in bad weather and made them have quiet time inside instead. They made them wash their hands so many times a day that my daughter’s hands started to crack. And I have yet to hear about them conducting a single experiment in the science room.

I was coping with all of this and writing it off as “the sad, new, child-proofed America” when the latest assault on my child’s development came home with her.

They made sculptures at school. The materials they were given were marshmallows and… Q-tips.

Seriously.

Not toothpicks, like back in the day. Nope, Q-tips. Because we wouldn’t want anyone to poke their finger or get a splinter, right!?!

I can only imagine the frustration of trying to stab a marshmallow with a Q-tip and run it through. At least they didn’t do away with the potentially teeth-rotting marshmallows as building materials! I’m glad there is at least one truly dangerous item left in the school. But ridding the school of toothpicks is ridiculous. Our kids need to be learning how to navigate a world that is filled with sharp edges, pokey things, splinters, objects that will trip them up, make them fall, skin their knees and break the occasional bone.

Life is not all padded edges and air-bags. Life is tough, and if we keep taking away things like toothpicks, our kids are going to become soft mushy little teens who become soft mushy little adults who wither at the slightest hint of danger or discomfort.

If toothpicks are so dangerous, how are we ever going to convince my daughter to pick up a scalpel and become a surgeon?

What Is The LEAST Dangerous, Cutest Thing We Can Outlaw Next?

Hi Readers: Here we go again. For the sake of the children (somehow), schools are looking at whether they should banish class pets. After all, they could spread DISEASE! And they are (somehow) a liability! And ________________!  (Fill in the blank with something else bad they do. I know that’s kind of hard, but if you’re a pencil-pushing killjoy, keep trying. You can do it.) According to The Herald, in Everett, Washington:

…school districts have begun adopting policies that in many cases limit or even ban animals in the classroom unless they’re part of science projects.

Animals may be cute and fun to be around. But they can spread disease and cause allergic reactions in students. And students are exposed to animal wastes.

With these and potential liability concerns, the state is asking school districts to draw up policies on what animals, other than service animals, should be allowed in schools.

How about those scary animals that have clipboards and dream up worst case scenarios for every aspect of childhood? Let’s ban THOSE! But no, first we must worry more about The Children:

“You have to be very cautious about the environment in which they learn,” [Dept. of Health spokesman] Moyer said.

Students can be infected with bacteria, such as E. coli, MRSA or salmonella, after touching pets and not washing their hands, said Nickol Finch, who heads the exotic and wildlife services at Washington State University.

Students can get ringworm from guinea pigs, she said. And turtles, snakes and lizards can spread salmonella.

Germs can be passed when a child shares lunch with an animal, allowing it to take a bite of a carrot, for example, and then the child eats the rest of the vegetable.

Influenza, including H1N1, can be passed from humans to ferrets, or from ferrets to humans, she said.

No one’s saying we live in a disease-free world.  But to suddenly worry that pets are spreading MRSA is to imagine a Michael Crichton-esque scenario, at best. My son had a bunny in his kindergarten classroom and the only thing it spread was joy.

So here’s my (usual) plea: Instead of looking at life through the lens of “What if?” and Worst-First Thinking (A bunny? What if it spreads the PLAGUE?), let us step back, take a deep breath and chill. Like a lizard. — L

Okay, this is ONE animal I might ban from school. (It was filed in Flickr under "hamster"!!!)

Dumbfounded, File This Under

Hi Readers! Here’s a note from a North Carolina farm mom/ EMT-technician-in-training Stevie Taylor who blogs at ruffledfeathersandspilledmilk.com. She’s taking night school classes with the leaders of tomorrow. Such as they are. –L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I was pleased to teach one of the college kids in class a lesson last week.  He was asking fellow students for money to buy bottled water (which is $1.25 out of the vending machine!!!).  I pointed to the sink that is in the classroom — we are in a medical class together — and the plastic cups that were stacked on top of the paper towel dispenser next tot he sink.  “Why don’t you just get some water from the sink?”

“Out of the tap?!”  he exclaimed, “I thought that was just for washing our hands.”

“Yes,” I assured him, “But it is all city water and you can drink it, too.”

“Well,” he worried, “no one said we could drink that water.  Do you think it’s allowed?”

To answer him, I got up, got myself a cup out of the stack, filled it at the sink, sat down at my desk, and drank it.  I didn’t get arrested and no alarms went off.  So he got a cup of water and ever since then, more people in the class have been drinking tap water in cups instead of buying bottled water from the vending machine.  Imagine a 24-year-old that has no concept of drinking water unless it’s packaged in plastic, and afraid to use a sink in a public classroom as if it were undrinkable or off-limits (even with cups stacked next to it!).  This is what becomes of the kids that are not raised Free-Range!!!! — Stevie

Outrage of the Morn’: High School Students Not Allowed to Light Bunsen Burners?

Hi Readers ! This just in. Read it and…give your kids some matches! (Yes, yes, properly supervised, of course.) — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am a high school science teacher, parent, and grandparent and a former cubmaster, and I couldn’t agree with you more!  This summer I taught a workshop on building model rockets for 12 to 14 year-olds. None of the 17 kids in the workshop had ever sprayed spray paint, most had never used a utility knife, and two did not know how to tie a knot.

Many of my high school students light their first match in my class when lighting a Bunsen burner ( a task many teachers will no longer allow students to perform). If we deny kids the ability to use tools, we make them crippled.  If we deny kids any risk, they will make their own through risky behavior. — CDB

My question: How did they make it to middle school without ever tying a KNOT? — L.

P.S. This post goes really well with this cartoon!

Can You Please Come Talk to My Class…But Not Look at Anyone?

Hi Readers — Here’s a note from puzzlemeister Eric Berlin, author of The Puzzling World of Winston Breen. Read it and peep. Er…weep:

I’m an author of middle-grade novels, and as such I have a lot of interaction with elementary school kids. I’m glad to say I haven’t often come in contact with the kind of paranoia you document on your blog, but today that changed: 
  
I was setting up a phone call with a 4th-grade teacher and her class — they live a good thousand miles across the country from me. I let her know that I have Skype, so nobody needs incur any long-distance charges. Her response via e-mail just now: “Is there a way to Skype with us being able to see you, but you not being able to see us? Due to confidentiality and other school district guidelines, I am hoping this is a possibility.”

Truly, I am speechless. I’m just glad this won’t be an in-person school visit, because it would be really awkward wearing a blindfold all day, lest I actually lay eyes on these kids.

Hey Eric: Children are our most precious resource. If we don’t protect them from technology-assisted remote-site author visits, who will? — Lenore