More and more elementary schools are banning the game of tag from playgrounds. Why? To prevent accidents (read: lawsuits) and to keep kids' self-esteem intact. But if physical harm and psychological harassment can be hidden in a simple game of tag, surely educational experts must be on alert for other forms of abusive playground games.
While patty-cake may seem innocent enough, who knows what's actually happening with all that slapping. And those rhymes! Why was Miss Mary Mack dressed in black, and what's up with this 50 cents to see an elephant jump so high it doesn't come back until the Fourth of July? Sounds like a drug-influenced song to me – something more likely heard at a Pink Floyd concert than at a playground.
The next to go, of course, would have to be duck-duck-goose. Frankly, I'm surprised it is still being played, what with the running around chairs and the touching of people's hair. And what about the hazards of running around a circle of chairs? Children could trip and get seriously injured or, at the very least, get their feelings hurt.
Musical chairs? Outta here. Talk about exclusionary. Scrambling for a seat is not only dangerous, it implies competition which, as we all know, is not what American schools are about.
Hopscotch? Are you kidding? Throwing stones? Forget it. Seesaw? Come on. I still have a bruised tailbone from the third grade. Monkey bars? If I climb, is the school district calling me a monkey? Swings? Ever see how high these kids go?
If we keep taking away children's games, what's left but acting grownup?
I feel very sorry for elementary school teachers if the kids don't run around the playground chasing one another. All that energy is going to come out one way or the other – better outside than in.
I remember playing tag or chase or just running around for no good reason on the school playground when I was little. Sure, sometimes some of us fell. In fact, I fell from the top of the jungle gym once and split open my lip. My mom picked me up from the nurse's office. Back then, you were lucky if a scrape was all you got. The real danger was when you walked home and your mother saw gravel- stained paints.
Kids like to play, and sometimes, they get hurt. There is a lesson in getting up, brushing yourself off, and getting back in the game. And if teachers are watching the kids and not yapping to each other in little clusters about the latest episode of "Desperate Housewives," they would be able to see if a child is being bullied and intervene.
If we ban tag, we are sending the wrong message: "Kids, we live in fear. We are afraid that your game may cause injuries. We are afraid that some children are being chased more than others, and that this game is a form of bullying. But we are mostly afraid of the price tag of lawsuits."
It's vital to let kids be kids – in an environment free from fear. Letting them chase one another in a game of tag may prevent problems down the road. Children who aren't afraid of a skinned knee or a bruised ego or of being tagged "it" are more likely to chase rainbows as adolescents, and dreams as young adults. They're the ones who won't be afraid of going for "it" in life.
• Dean P. Johnson teaches English at Camden Academy Charter High School and is an adjunct professor of writing at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J.