Could School Have Prevented Injury…by a Paintbrush?

Hi Readers! This is such a disturbing story. A Scottish boy who was 10 was painting scenery on the ground for a school play back in 2003 when one of the other painters got up, bumping into him. This caused him to fall on another student’s paintbrush, which — this is so horrible — pierced him through the eye, causing blindness in the eye and brain damage.

Now a court has ruled that the teachers at the school should have “foreseen” that such an event was, if not likely, at least POSSIBLE. Wrote the judge:

When one looks at the whole circumstances of the use of the brush, a real risk of injury emerges as foreseeable. A reasonable person in the position of the teachers would have taken steps to prevent that foreseeable risk of harm…”

According to the BBC report, the judge said the painting could have been done with “safer” brushes, and at the kids’ desks, rather than on the ground.

As if the ground is so darn dangerous.

Now, obviously, what’s extremely upsetting about this is not JUST that the school has since outlawed “long” paintbrushes, and now sees painting as a dangerous activity. It’s the notion of “reasonable” foresight and how this encourages a totally paranoid way of thinking. If we are all supposed to have the foresight to prevent all freak accidents that might someday, somehow happen under the most mundane of circumstances, we would have to get rid of every item in every place any child could ever be. Because — hey — a child COULD choke on a lemon, or slip on a slipper, or impale herself on a toothbrush. Let’s ban them all now, before we’re on the line for millions, as this school might be.

What happened to the boy is a tragedy. No need to compound it. — Lenore

The Fear That Crept ‘Round the World

Hi Readers — Here’s a letter from Korea (where my book was just published in translation!). What’s upsetting is how parental paranoia seems to be creeping around the world, like a virus. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’m an elementary/middle school English teacher in South Korea, arguably one of the safest countries in the world. Here, kids work very hard, spending almost all of their time studying in school and in private academies. However, what little free time they have is entirely their own. It’s not unusual to see older kids and young teens (10-16 year olds) out on their own, travelling to academies or out with their friends until quite late in the evening, often up until about 11pm. Here, children are pretty safe and adults would have no reservations about helping a child in need.

However, this is beginning to change. A couple of incidents over the past two years or so have made parents more wary about their children’s safety and the same paranoia that afflicts western society is gradually taking a grip. For teachers, more and more restrictions are being placed upon us, too.

Myself, I grew up in the Scottish glens. There, I had complete freedom and have very fond memories of dissapearing for entire days; leaving the house at 8 or 9 am with a packed lunch and returning in the evening, filthy dirty, tired, scratched, cut, bruised and utterly happy. My friends and I would cycle to town, a distance of 8 miles, on public roads. We were always aware of the dangers of traffic and strangers and acted accordingly.

These days, in the UK, children don’t get to be children. They are treated like fragile objects, like pets. Restricted to the garden or even kept indoors, supervised and monitored at all times, their friends are vetted and held in suspicion, and every opportunity for some good, mud-raking, knee-bruising fun is denied or restricted by health and safety paranoia.

I fail to see how the current generation of kids can grow up to be responsible, sensible, world-wise adults if they cannot learn the important lessons that sensibly unrestricted childhood and good old fashioned play bring. — T.B.

Put Down that Calculus Book & Come to the Bathroom with Mommy

Oh, Readers: Here’s one from Glasgow, Scotland: By law, any time anyone under the age of 16 is in a “licensed premise” — i.e., a pub, or a restaurant that serves liquor, it seems — he cannot be out of his parents’ sight. Even in the loo. Even if it’s a young man with his “mum,” or a lass with her dad.

As nutters as that sounds — don’t the Scots deal with enough under-the-kilt jokes already? — the bathroom angle isn’t even the most disturbing part of this story. No, I’m appalled by the way this local law treats 15-year-olds the same as toddlers simply because there are no legal provisions for distinguishing them.

So make some!

And yet, here in America, we have the same problem on a different front: The consumer protection laws passed after the lead-in-toys-from-China scandal insist that every item sold to children under 12 be tested for trace amounts of lead, in case the child puts it in his mouth.

Now, I can understand testing a doll or even a baby shoe. Kids’ll gum them. But my 11-year-old is not going to chew the buttons on his shirt. Nonetheless, those buttons have to be sent for testing same as a pacifier, as if they pose the exact same threat.

There is a huge difference between babies, school children and older kids. Lumping them together makes babies of them all. Come to think of it, it makes babies of us adults, too: too helpless to do anything when faced with legal overkill but roll over.  — Lenore