Lessons Learned on the Playground

A genuine swingset

When the recess bell would ring in 1967, thus would begin a mad dash by students weary of classwork out of the classroom and towards the most desirable piece of playground equipment: the swing set.

There are still many school swing sets like that which continues to exist at Nichols School in Miami, Oklahoma that many, many generations of school kids have enjoyed. When the one that I played on was erected in the 50’s, it was made of strong tubular steel set deeply into the ground in concrete. It has withstood tornadoes, floods, and steady use by thousands of children over more than fifty years.

However, what might bring it down one day is no force of nature, but rather the fear of liability.

In today’s litigious, politically correct, it-takes-a-village society, playground equipment that has the slightest chance of causing injury to a poor, innocent child is an abhorrent thing. Yellow-Pages-advertising lawyers are hungry to get their slimy hands on any case involving a kid who splits a lip falling off of a jungle gym. What a sad situation compared to when we Boomers were kids.

Genuine monkey bars

We Boomers tend to accept what we can’t change. Make no mistake, we knew no limits on what we could change when we participated in sit-ins, campus protests, and marches. But nowadays, we know that some things, like death and taxes, are certainties, and we deal with it.

Maybe one reason we do so is that we grew up on those playgrounds where you could take as many dares as you wished, but if you screwed up, the price was pain, and a possible chewing-out by our parents for not being more careful.

Our swing set looked exactly like the one pictured. Four sets of swings, and a big, tall slide on one end. Of course, one swing was too high, one too low. That left only two that we all fought over. But that was okay, because one wouldn’t swing for the full twenty minutes of recess. No, you would get up to a suitable altitude, then launch yourself. Your feet might get as high as six feet off of the ground before you plummeted to the slight cushion of the sand. Then it was the next guy’s turn.

Yes, a kid or two broke an ankle while I was in elementary school. And each time, their parents would pick him up from the nurse’s station, take him to the doctor, and make certain the child had learned a lesson about just how daring he could be without becoming foolish.

The slide, too, presented adventure tempered by the possibility of danger. At the top of the slide, you were perhaps seven feet off of the ground. The teacher forbade more than one kid at the top at a time, but that didn’t stop us from pushing the limits when she wasn’t looking. And yes, once in a while a kid would fall off and split his head open. That kid was much more careful the next time.

A sanitized, foam-rubber-lined safe playset

Today, of course, any pain that a child might come into contact with is taboo. In fact, any situation that might cause harm to ANYONE is to be avoided if at all possible. Hence the square feet of warning labels that adorn new ladders. Did you know that it’s possible to fall off of a ladder and hurt yourself? How horrible! We must warn the masses!

The result, I fear, is one generation after another of kids who grow up into adults who feel entitled. Sure, the world owes me a living. Of course, I have a right to party. Too much credit card debt? I’m entitled to blow it off by going bankrupt. Not getting along with that girl I just married? Divorce time!

Perhaps the lessons we learned by experiencing the dire consequences of misusing potentially dangerous playground equipment would have well served the succeeding generations that were village-raised.

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