September 27th 2008

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Malcolm Turnbull topples Brendan Nelson

EDITORIAL: Defence: new situations demand new policies

GLOBAL WAR ON TERRORISM: Landmark terrorist trials in Melbourne and London

FINANCIAL AFFAIRS: Why Wall Street imploded

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Australia facing external economic pressures

SCIENCE: Global-warming - myth, threat or opportunity?

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: Breaking the truce on abortion

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The undeserving poor / The bolt from the blue / Sarah Palin / Ladder-kickers / Peter Costello

UNITED STATES: Sarah Palin appointment leaves Left apoplectic

ASIA: Rocky road ahead for Malaysia

HUMAN-TRAFFICKING: Vietnamese slave-labourers in Malaysia

COLD WAR: The spy who teetered on the edge

EDUCATION: Co-educational secondary schooling's drawbacks

SCHOOLS: Queensland school bans cartwheels

Water resources (letter)

Hearing the arguments (letter)

Palin for president? (letter)

Bio-fuels (letter)

BOOKS: 10 BOOKS THAT SCREWED UP THE WORLD: And 5 Others That Didn't Help, by Benjamin Wiker

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Queensland school bans cartwheels

by Kevin Donnelly

News Weekly, September 27, 2008
Playing games where you put yourself at risk, overcome fear and learn about teamwork should be encouraged, writes Dr Kevin Donnelly.

If banning primary school kids doing cartwheels is justified as it's classified as a medium risk level 2 - as has happened in a Queensland school in August in line with education department guidelines - then British Bulldog and touch-chasey must be off the scale.

Remember those games we once played as kids at recess and lunchtime? That was when a scraped knee was a badge of courage. Boys weren't supposed to cry, and winning and losing helped you get ready for the real world.

Not any longer. Both here and overseas, the fun police ban super-hero costumes like Spiderman and Batman and rough-and-tumble games like poison-ball. In the US, some schools have even changed the rules of games like soccer so that the scores are not recorded, so everyone wins.

According to the PC brigade, old-fashioned games promote violence and send a message that physical strength is admired (especially bad for boys). Children who don't make the grade feel depressed and lose self-esteem.

Risk management

Check out the Queensland Department of Education's curriculum activity risk management webpage and it is obvious how far things have changed.

While safety in areas like woodwork, cookery and sport has always been there, teachers are now faced with reams of documents, including legislation, regulations, policy and related procedures, guaranteed to stop any activities or excursions with an element of risk.

Of course, education department rules aren't the only reason children are now risk-adverse and wrapped in cotton-wool. Helicopter parents, always hovering around, are also to blame.

Overprotective parents refuse to let their children walk or ride the bike to school, climb trees or spend time on risky playground equipment. Research in the UK revealed that, whereas 80 per cent of 8-year-olds walked to schools in 1971, by 1990 the figure had dropped to only 9 per cent.

Mothers stop their sons playing with guns, and children spend most of their time indoors on computers and the internet or in front of video games.

There is an alternative. As argued by a UK headmaster, Dr Anthony Seldon, children need a daily dose of fear and to be placed in risky situations if they are to learn resilience and how to overcome adversity.

Dr Seldon argues, "We don't give our young people nearly enough physical fear and the triumph of overcoming that physical fear, whether on a football field or whether on a long all-night trek."

Playing games where you put yourself at risk, vent energy and frustration, learn about teamwork and how to overcome the fear of failure and experience the exhilaration of success might not be a magic bullet, but it certainly beats the alternative.

A 2007 survey of Australian students found that one-third are stressed and struggling to cope with bullying and the pressures of school. Many admitted they had a problem with losing their temper and bullying others and that they found it difficult getting along with other students.

- Dr Kevin Donnelly is director of Melbourne-based Education Strategies and author of Dumbing Down (available for $24.95 from News Weekly Books).

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