Posted by: laughs4dads | July 9, 2010

Children Behind Bars

Here’s a typical New York story:

It seems that, for the past six years or so, there has been a playground in a Brooklyn housing project that was designed to look like a jail.

The reason it’s a typical New York story is not because New York has a high crime rate. It’s typical because New York has highly stupid government officials.

The New York Daily News reported that “the bright orange ‘JAIL’ in the jungle gym at the preschoolers’ playground at the Tompkins Houses in Bedford-Stuyvesant has upset residents for years.” Whereas The New York Post said that the park “had been installed in 2004, and no one had complained until a photo of it appeared on a blog.” (The Post is owned by the same company that owns Fox News, and clearly believes that this is much ado about nothing.)

Bedford-Stuyvesant does have one of the highest crime rates in the city, so people are wondering if the city, which installed the park (and has since painted over it) exercised bad judgement. They are wondering what message it is sending to the (mostly African American) children in the neighborhood. “It’s like they’re getting ready to send them to jail,” The Daily News quotes one resident as saying.

What a pessimist! Why are people taking such a “glass-half-empty” view of this? After all, you can’t play “Cops and Robbers” without robbers and cops. For every kid that is, perhaps, learning that being in jail is part of a game, there’s another kid who is learning that putting someone in jail is also fun.

Therefore, this playground would have turned out criminals and policemen in equal measure, and the world would have been in perfect balance.

Okay, I’ll admit it, the playground was in bad taste, but only because similar designs happened not to pop up on, say, the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I’d have to assume that there was someone in the New York City Parks Department who thought the playground jail would have some sort of “scared straight” effect: once a kid’s been jailed on the monkey bars, he’ll be careful not to ever experience the real thing.

If that’s true, then there’s something I can tell you about that Parks Department person: He or she does not have children.

Little kids do not learn life lessons while playing pretend games. I mean, how many people in my generation grew up to be cowboys? And I’ll tell you this: even fewer of the Jewish and Italian kids I played with grew up to be Indians.

My daughter, Casey, used to have a pretend game that she played by herself. I don’t know what the rules were, but the game involved moving very tiny people up the stairs to the second floor of her dollhouse and throwing them out the window. To my knowledge, Casey has yet to shove somebody out of a building in real life.

Neither has she aspired to owning a ranch full of magical, multi-colored ponies.

I mean, jeez, people, it’s pretend! It’s playing. It’s been happening forever! Cowboys and Indians. Cops and Robbers. Huns and Visigoths.

Kids have always shot each other with pretend weapons. They may even have had toy guns before real guns were invented. That didn’t make them more or less prone to violence.

Do you think kids who build forts are more likely to become soldiers if they have a professionally-painted sign that says “FORT?”

Let the kids play, will you?

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