The AntiFun

Brook Lawder, in her essay "Playgrounds and Classrooms," (Haverford College 2002), writes: "Before elementary school, I reveled in playing outside. I rarely watched television. I loved to read. Most importantly, however, I loved to invent. Creativity enthralled me. Everyday I had a new game invented. These games were not like hide-and-go-seek or freeze tag. They were much less ephemeral. My games lasted days, weeks even. They contained elaborate plot twists and super powers. Everyone on the playground played my games..."

Which reminded me of a 4th grade girl I observed, in a classroom in Philadelphia, about 35 years ago. She was this kind of game-creating, game-leading genius that Ms. Lawder describes herself as being. She used just about every technique I currently teach to the future playleaders of the world. She seemed to know exactly when to change the game, exactly how to keep everyone involved, exactly where to lead people so they'd have the most fun.

Being old enough to know the misfortunes that can befall such young geniuses of play, I read on, self-fulfillingly:

"I can pinpoint the exact moment when I stopped playing, stopped creating and inventing on my own schedule. It all started with homework. Homework was the destroyer of my childhood imagination. Melodramatic, I know, but so are most childhood memories. After pre-kindergarten, I began attending school fulltime. School began at eight in the morning and ended at three o'clock in the afternoon. Upon arriving home, the homework began. Dinner promptly concluded or interrupted homework. After dinner, if the homework was not complete, I sat down to finish the work. Bedtime arrived shortly afterwards. Everyday was like this. Even if I finished my homework early, it was usually dark and I was unable to play..."

My question is: who would actually want kids to stop playing? who would even think it possible? who could possibly think that it's better for kids to do homework than it is for them to be outside playing? The neighbors, maybe?

I quote on: "...One shining light continued to shine: recess. As long as I had recess I could continue my play and exercise my imagination. The older I grew, however, the more the time allotted for recess diminished. Recess became physical education. Such a scientific name for something that should be fun. The teachers were once again able to convert play into a set of rules associated with education. "

No, I think it's something else. Not education. (not even spelled the same way: "Capital-A-small-n-small-t-small-i-capital-F-small-un" vs. "Education"). A force. A perverse, childhood-denying, fuddy-duddy of a force. Not homework. Not educators, even. Something different. Something which I here-with and -by name "The AntiFun - the irrational repression of happiness."

Yes. Yes. A great wrong has been wrung. Less and less time for play. Less and less time for recess. And then recess became PE. And all play vanished. But no, no, Ms. Lawder, it isn't the teacher's doing. Or the parents or neighbors. It's a world held in sway by the AntiFun. And that's what it is.

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