Years ago, more years than I care to calculate or remember, I read a science fiction story in which steps were taken to ensure equality. The very beautiful had to wear masks so that they did not outshine more ordinary-looking folk. The fleet of foot had weights attached to their ankles to slow them down to the speed of the majority. I cannot remember what was done to make the very clever appear dull. And I remember no details of events in the story, just the general social set-up in which equality really meant uniformity. On reflection it sounds like the scenario for a Black Mirror story, except that the Black Mirror stories always involve the dangers of modern technology.
How dull life would be if we were really all the same.
Equality (in other words, uniformity) of outcome is not the same as equality of opportunity.
Much is made of the fact that children nowadays have less freedom than those of previous generations. Many of my generation rabbit on nostalgically about being turned out to play first thing in the morning and not returning home until tea-time. They recall how they walked to and from school on our own from an early age. They tell you how good this freedom was for them.
And now experts are backing them up. This article makes a correlation between overprotection in early childhood and the prevalence of mental problems in teenagers.
Steps are being taken to remedy the situation. Nursery schools have to let their small charges spend part of the day playing outdoors. The kind of “Forest School” playgroup that our smallest grandchild has attended encourage children to explore their environment and grub about in the dirt looking for interesting stuff. Schemes are set up to get older children out on bikes more frequently. Physical challenges!
But is it enough? Only time will tell.
It must be hard to strike a balance between giving freedom and protecting. There is no denying that the world is a more dangerous place than it used to be. It’s not just the dangers that lurk behind the screens of the electronic media today’s youngsters are exposed to. The outdoor physical environment is less safe too.
Nobody can deny that there are simply more and bigger and faster cars on the roads. When my friends and I used to play out in the street - hopscotch, skipping, football games, whip and top, go-carts, just running around - the streets were emptier and the air was cleaner. And although we may have roamed a fair bit, mostly we stayed within our own districts, where there were enough stay-at-home mums to be on the lookout for which kids were doing what. And when we walked to and from school there were always mums, and occasionally dads, taking smaller children to school and keeping an informal eye on the bigger ones, even those who didn’t belong to them I don’t think we can replicate that today.
I grew up in a system where there were school exams a couple of times a year, for just about all kids from junior school age upwards. We used to keep a running total of our exam marksaverage them out and work out who was top of the class, and what position everyone else held. Pupils moved up and down from one class to another accordingly. A bit of healthy competition and some challenges to overcome. And yes, some people were always low down in the pecking order but most could reassure themselves that did well at maybe one or two things at least. And we learnt to deal with exam stress in a more routine way than seems to happen with SATs nowadays.
Sports worked the same way. Everyone had to take part in sports day, even those who were never selected for football, netball, cricket, rounders teams. Then suddenly competition was wrong and everyone had to succeed. Even those who came last got certificates.
Cooperative sporting activity is great but competition builds up resilience.
The article doesn’t mention this aspect of changes in the way our children are brought up and educated. But I have long held that spoon-feeding youngsters through GCSE exams does not prepare them for A-Levels. And spoon-feeding them through A-Levels does not prepare them for university. And giving put more and more first class degrees every year raises unrealistic expectations. It’s no wonder some of them crack under the newfound strain of thinking for themselves and organising themselves. It’s no bad thing to learn to deal with a bit of failure and disappointment before you get too far on in life.
Oh dear! I recognise that I am beginning to sound rather like those who say, “I used to get a good smacking and it did me no harm!” That is a different question altogether.
But maybe the millennials, born between 1982 and 1994, and “iGen”, aka “Gen-Z”, born after 1994, could have done with some of the challenges baby-boomers faced.
Once again, I find myself grateful to have been born at the right time.