It’s Superbowl Sunday (Go Saints!) and I just saw the first of what will undoubtedly be many public service announcements for Play 60, the NFL’s campaign to encourage play.
Are there children averse to play? Seems to me that play is the natural state of children.
So, who stole play? Is a play-eating virus ravishing our nation?
The real enemies of play are the folks who set school policy from the President of the United States down to some local school principals. That’s who is responsible for turning classrooms into joyless test-prep sweatshops free of recess, blocks, dress-up corners and increasingly, even physical education.
For too many American public school students, playing 60 minutes per day is as big of fantasy as a Detroit Lions Superbowl threepeat.
Consider my nephews, named “94th Percentile” and “Exceeds Expectations.” They live in a community 40 miles from New York City. There has NEVER been recess in their elementary or middle schools. After a rushed 20-minute silent lunch ( school is about socialization, right?), the kids are forced to participate in some forced march, called “Walk/Run.”
Due to a 45-minute commute. 94th and Exceeds board the school bus at 7 AM and return home at dusk. They then rush through a meal with their parents, followed by an hour or two of their parents yelling at them to complete their meaningless homework and then bedtime. Sometimes, there’s even time for a shower.
What there isn’t time for is play – or trumpet practice, bike riding, answering their uncle’s email, reading a book, karate or Scouts.
Playing for 60 minutes per day is a swell idea. I think kids should play as much as possible – all sorts of play, not just sports. That’s how kids learn, create, develop interpersonal skills and become productive citizens. The NFL Play60 campaign targets childhood obesity. Could school violence and the epidemic of attention deficit disorders possibly be rooted in a lack of play?
It’s also ironic that the NFL is combatting childhood obesity while simultaneously encouraging teenagers to weigh 300 pounds and sign 13 year-olds to USC football.
In Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, John Taylor Gatto reminds us that one of the lessons of school is surveillance:
I teach children that they are being watched. I keep each student under constant surveillance and so do my colleagues. There are no private spaces for children; there is no private time. Class change lasts 300 seconds to keep promiscuous fraternization at low levels. Students are encouraged to tattle on each other, even to tattle on their parents. Of course I encourage parents to file their own child’s waywardness, too.
I assign “homework” so that this surveillance extends into the household, where students might otherwise use the time to learn something unauthorized, perhaps from a father or mother, or by apprenticing to some wiser person in the neighborhood. (Gatto, 1991)
We would not have to “Save the Music” or create a charity advocating childhood play if we adults did the right thing and cared for children! Why don’t we try that at least 60 minutes per day?
- Read the February 1, 2010 New York Times Op-Ed article. Playing to Learn
- Read Susan Ohanian’s book, What Happened to Recess and Why are Our Children Struggling at Kindergarten?
Veteran educator Gary Stager, Ph.D. is co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, publisher at Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools thirty years ago and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Gary is also the curator of The Seymour Papert archives at DailyPapert.com. Learn more about Gary here.