April 08, 2009

New book advocates freedom to take risks in play

Philip K. Howard's Life Without Lawyers: Liberating Americans from Too Much Law advocates "protecting an open field of freedom," including on the playground. In chapter two, he talks about how fear of risk has made today's playgrounds too boring to hold children's interest, thus contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic.

Playgrounds are so boring, according to some experts, that no child over the age of four wants to go to them. Jungle gyms, merry-go-rounds, high slides, large swings, climbing ropes, even seesaws are, as they say, history. Recess in school is also not what it used to be. About 40 percent of elementary schools have eliminated or sharply curtailed recess. Dodgeball is gone. Tag has been banned in many schools.

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The headlong drive for safety has resulted in a generation of obese children who bear not only the risk, but the near certainty, of terrible health problems.

To remedy this situation, Howard recommends that "Law...reclaim its authority to draw enforceable boundaries of reasonable risk" and "'Risk Commissions' [be created] to offer guidance on where to draw the lines."

In addition to advising national leaders on reform initiatives, Howard is the founder and chair of Common Good, a non-profit, non-partisan legal reform coalition dedicated to "restoring common sense to America."