Shifting away from 'safety at all costs'

Monday, March 12, 2018

President Trump has backed off a proposal to raise the age limit for purchasing certain types of rifles to 21, but has put forth a plan to encourage some teachers to be armed.

Quite a change from recent years when students have been disciplined or expelled for biting a sandwich into the shape of a pistol, or pointing at a classmate, wiggling a thumb and saying, in a high-pitched voice, “pew-pew.”

That climate itself has changed dramatically from the times when many a rural school boy carried a shotgun in the window of his pickup truck, bagging a pheasant or two on his way to or from high school.

Tragic school shootings have had much to do with the climate change, but so has our legal system.

If you’ve put in a medical claim in recent years, you’ll notice one question: Did this claim result from an accident?

If it did, you can bet the insurance company’s lawyers will be going after someone to blame in order to avoid paying as much of the medical tab as possible.

That’s part of the reason for the “safety at all costs” attitude for society in general and children in particular on public and school playgrounds.

A New York Times article today (https://nyti.ms/2DeoaP1) explores how England is shifting from a shared “minimized risk” effort to one where children are taught to deal with some of the risk they will encounter as adults.

While McCook’s playgrounds are covered with rubber mulch to prevent skinned knees and elbows, a schoolyard in Shoeburyness, England, has added 2x4s, crates and loose bricks. There’s a mud pit, tire swing, log stumps and workbenches with hammers and saws.

Early years manager Leah Morris was quoted saying, proudly “we have fires, we use knives, saws, different tools,” all under adult supervision. There’s no shortage of scissors or sharp-edged tape dispensers (“they normally only cut themselves once,” she said.)

Now, Australia, Canada and Sweden are asking officials to consider the benefits, not just the risks of activities that could result in injuries.

Not surprisingly, British playgrounds with more exciting equipment like sand, grass, high swings and climbing structures, are getting more use and children and teenagers are more active.

What’s the difference between the United States and elsewhere?

European health insurance forms don’t have that “was this an accident” question, since they have socialized medicine.

Neither does Europe use the jury system for personal injury cases, and liability costs, as a percentage of gross domestic product, are half what they are in America.

Of course, skinning a knee on a playground is a far cry from ducking bullets from a mass-shooter intent on killing innocent children.

And, no one is advocating carelessness when it comes to responsibility for other people’s children.

But there is wisdom in a story about a white man who visited the teepee of a Native American family.

Gasping as a small Indian child started crawling toward a fire, the child’s mother reassured the visitor, not to worry.

“He will learn,” she said.

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