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Dumb and Dumber

It has been troubling me as years have gone by, and I finally have to write about it. It is my contention that we are making our kids dumb and dumber.

"What are you talking about?" might be your reply. Our kids are showing great progress in school. Kids are learning to read at an earlier age, graduation rates are increasing, achievement test scores are getting higher. Our kids are getting smarter, not dumber.

Well, I'm not talking about that kind of learning. It's great that our kids are learning how to split atoms at the age of twelve. What they aren't learning, though, is how to make good decisions about daily living.

A few years ago I saw a film strip of a factory plant that was operational in the 1950's. There were belts, chains, pulleys and all sorts of moving parts. The workers were walking right next to those  machines, and there were no fences, walls, guards of any sort to protect them from getting injured by the machinery. They knew not to get too close. They anticipated the danger and made decisions not to walk into the machinery. Enter OSHA in the 70's to protect us from danger, because we're not smart enough to do it for ourselves.

There was a news story today about a young woman who was mauled by a jaguar in a zoo enclosure. She climbed into the enclosure to get a selfie with the jaguar. She will be okay, due to the quick thinking of another onlooker who distracted the jaguar from the woman. But in the aftermath, the news reporter noted that the zoo officials were going to check on the adequacy of the animal enclosure. 

It would appear that it was not the enclosure that was faulty, but rather the judgment of the young woman. Think of this. Let's build animal enclosures for the purpose of making sure that people don't get in rather than for the purpose of keeping animals enclosed. Doesn't it sound like we're saying that people are too dumb to stay out of those enclosures, so we have to protect them from themselves?

And in Severance, Colorado there was an ordinance against throwing any kind of projectile, including snowballs. That is, until a nine-year-old boy presented his case before the town council and got the ban overturned. Throwing snowballs was illegal, because it could potentially cause someone harm. We more and more try to legislate ourselves out of harm's way because we're too dumb to know what to do to keep ourselves safe.

Did you have snowball fights as a kid? Do your kids throw snowballs? My wife and I allowed our kids to throw snowballs, but there were rules to follow: no throwing at faces, no ice balls, stop when the opposition called a halt. If a kid didn't follow the rules, his fun time outside was over. Consequence of not following the rules is that you can no longer play the game.

I heard another one yesterday. Igloo, a maker of ice chests used by millions of beach goers and campers announced a voluntary recall Monday, after a little boy was briefly trapped in one of its coolers. Now 25,000 coolers are being recalled to replace latches because a five-year-old boy decided to climb into one of the coolers and the lid closed, trapping him inside. (He's okay, by the way.)

I'm not heartless and uncaring about the potential harm to the child. But where is the parent who leaves a cooler around for a five-year-old child to play with and climb into? Not very smart. And where is the instruction that a parent should give a child about the purpose of a cooler and the potential danger of climbing into one? With information such as that, perhaps the child wouldn't have chosen to play with and climb into the cooler. Dumb and dumber.

As much as we might try to protect ourselves from anything harmful that might befall us, it is an impossible task. And we're not doing our kids any favors by trying to protect them from any potential suffering or injury. Instead, we're preventing them from learning from their life experiences. Better, I think, to instruct our children in safety precautions and trust their decision-making ability than to try to prevent any potential harm or injury from occurring.

I have an image in my mind of a parent racing just ahead of a child who is running down an uneven sidewalk. The parent has a pillow ready to absorb the results of the child's fall, so that the child does not skin a knee. Too bad, because if a child runs down an uneven sidewalk and trips, the results of a skinned knee will help that child learn to think about whether to run down an uneven sidewalk the next time. If the pillow is always there to catch him, nothing is ever learned.

I plead my case. We're dumb and getting dumber! And our children are getting dumber as a result.


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