Opinion: We learned in class, but playtime also taught us a lot…

Last week, it emerged that school breaks are shorter. So where do we pick up life lessons?

Will nobody think of the swots? The news that schools, in the tortuous attempts to fill children’s heads with enough learning to cope with a barrage of tests, have been steadily helping themselves to precious minutes of playtime, has been greeted with dismay.

Little ones, apparently, have 45 minutes less running about time a week than they did 20-odd years ago; at secondary school, it’s more than an hour. What iron-faced, killjoy madness is this? “Let the children lose it/ Let the children use it/ Let all the children boogie”, as a great man once wrote.

Which is all very well, but it’s never all the children who boogie, as those who cowered at the edge of the tarmac, ignored throughout a game of Forty Forty (do kids still play It?) and desperate for lessons to resume pronto, will tell you in the breaks between therapy sessions.

I jest (sort of). While it’s entirely true that the school playground, whatever its location in place or time, immediately divides along Molesworth lines, a constant rerun of aesthete and all-around weed Fotherington-Thomas (“Hullo clouds, hullo sky”) being terrorised by bully-boy “captane of everything” Grabber, with Nigel snarking from the sidelines, time spent away from the classroom has its value.

Nearly 40 years on, for example, I still recall learning of a sex act so outre that, the teller assured us little girls with saucer eyes, “even married people didn’t do it”. But do I remember the basic principles of the Bessemer process? I do not. If the purpose of going to school, aside from giving your domestic guardians enough time to go to work and procure more grub for your ravening maw, is to equip you for the dizzying pinball machine of adult life, then break-time is an integral part of it.

For here you learn the core skills of, inter alia, camouflaging your personality for the purposes of herd assimilation, evading detection by enemy forces (the popular, the aggressive, the teacher) and affecting nonchalance in the face of the indifference and cruelty of others. So very much more useful than being able to quote Kubla Khan or operate a Bunsen burner.

But, I hear you cry, what if you are one of the popular ones? Well, good for you, but I can’t imagine what you’re doing reading this on a Sunday morning. Shouldn’t you be polishing your yacht or culling your less beautiful Instagram followers?

Perhaps my vision of what goes in playgrounds is too heavily shaped by my 1970s and 80s experiences. A friend who grew up in north London in the 1960s, for instance, recalls his recreation times as largely aerial: a shortage of space meant that playgrounds were frequently positioned on the flat asphalt roofs of Victorian schools.

He also remembers, being of Catholic immigrant background, that the only way to sensibly form opposing football teams was to play Ireland v Italy, over and over again (with the occasional transfer of a Cavalli to the green side to even up the numbers).

But the constant is this: adults can never really understand what goes on in the secret world of children. It might be attritional and atavistic; it might also be tender and mutually supportive. It’s a swirling, multidimensional kaleidoscope of alliances and obsessions, whose codes are purposely hidden from the view of others. What chance do adults, once the shades of the prison house have started to close upon them, have of understanding such complexity?

We threaten such ecosystems at our peril, for they are as much a part of education as oxbow lakes and the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Even the swots such as me, who successfully parlayed her way out of the playground by volunteering in the library (I know: unbearable), understand that.

While we hold sway in the world of SATs and square sets, we know that there are moments when we must yield to someone who’s got a particularly fascinating titbit of gossip or rare Panini card to share. Way of the world.

So, teachers: leave those kids alone. And for the incorrigibly prurient among you, I must relate that the learning process goes on over a lifetime.

That outre sex act? So tame that it’s virtually compulsory for the maintenance of any happy household. Who knew?

By: Alex Clark

Check Also

Iraqi PM addresses negligence and promises care for Al-Hamdaniyah incident victims

The Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia Al-Sudani has made a statement regarding the tragic Al-Hamdaniyah …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *