by Dr Keith J. White
Posted on February 1 2015
In this article I want to describe the nature of two completely different, indeed antithetical cultures that affect the lives of children. Because culture is the air that children breathe, it infiltrates every aspect of their lives, their relationships, the space, the environment in which they grow up. This means that they will and must take this culture for granted for much of their early childhood. Far from being an esoteric or abstract matter, when we think of culture we are probing to the heart of things.
The first of these two cultures is that of the elimination of risk. It has been argued that for the first time in history contemporary western countries can be characterised as Risk Societies (Ulrich Beck: Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, 1992). So if we focus on children we find that every institution in society is seeking to eliminate risk (and attendant harm) from their lives. Phrases such as “child protection” or “safeguarding children” give voice to this culture, but it permeates their lives day and night. If they go to school, there will be substantial fences around them and locked gates. Visitors will be vetted. A risk assessment of materials and procedures must be in place covering things in quite extraordinary detail.
The classroom and playground will have been constructed and vetted to identify and where possible eradicate risk. So equipment is standardised. Where fingers might be caught in a door there is a finger guard; there may well be notices warning them that stinging nettles sting, and brambles prick the skin. The professionals responsible for the children in these places must process every action, every space with risk assessment in mind. Should a child be lost (i.e. wander out of a …