Taking the tag out of Armatage

Armatage School must have a very rowdy student body. Or, at least, as defined by its administration.

In an effort to “soften” the children’s recess time three years ago, Armatage invested in new playground trees, a new fence, games stenciled onto the blacktop, and educational toys and equipment, all intended to reduce bullying and injuries incurred during recess, while increasing motor skills and group play.

So, did this $80,000 investment work?  

Seemingly not. Despite several more options at hand, the kids still chose to run around, play tag, and whack a slower-running someone on the back, declaring them to be “it.” In other words, despite best efforts, the kids remained kids. And so, in recognition of the students’ childish stubbornness, Armatage school officials have instituted a “no-touch” policy, one which bans aggressive forms of child-to-child contact, such as pushing, shoving, roughhousing, tag, and, presumably, duck-duck-grey-duck.

In an e-mail sent to all parents earlier this month, school administrators said that “touching in any form is no longer acceptable while in school.” Now, had an edict such as this been handed down by an ivory-towered think-tank comprised of octogenarians who had not seen a child in 20-some years, I might understand the “say-it-and-it-will-be-so” quality of an order such as this. But given the fact that this came from administrators who work with children on a daily basis, I can’t help but think that someone has fallen down the rabbit hole.

I am the father of two rambunctious, physically active, and — as any one of my neighbors will quickly attest — loud middle school boys. One of my favorite times of the day with these angels is when they have just woken up. It’s then that they are still quite malleable and compliant. Within, typically, three-and-a-half minutes, however, with the sandman’s fairy dust firmly wiped from their eyes, the battle between the two boys is undeniably on. I can post as many written edicts around the house as I want — no sticking a fork in your brother, no tackling your brother as he’s walking down the stairs, no throwing a baseball at your brother’s head “just to see how good my aim was,” no slapping your brother on his sunburned shoulders — but it will do me absolutely no good. I find that the more rules I put in place only bring about more punishments, which must be enacted. Armatage certainly has the right to create a no-touch policy. However, if it’s a rule they intend to enforce, they’d best prepare a very large holding pen for the miscreants. If they intend to enforce it by sending children home, they may have hit upon a very effective solution to Minneapolis’s bulging class sizes.

Recess was created because children — especially boys — need to run and work off pent-up energy. It’s simply the way they are wired. Tag and touch football were games invented on playgrounds to create some structure around the children’s physical needs of running combined with physical contact. It would be very easy to monitor the children if they were all forced to sit quietly in chairs out on the playground, but then, that’s not quite the point, is it? I suspect time would be better spent teaching children how to responsibly touch one another rather than enforcing a rule which, arguably, is unrealistic amongst children.

The Armatage administration is trying to solve an issue the best way they can, being stuck between active children on the schoolyard and involved parents on the sidelines.  Either way, the coming summer recess will be a welcome relief for all involved. Perhaps, following a good romp around our summer playground, cooler heads will prevail come fall.

Glenn Miller and Jocelyn Hale share this column. They, and their two energetic boys, live in the Fulton neighborhood.