If you can’t beat it, ban it

Sara Martin
Sara Martin

In the eyes of my seven-year-old self, my primary school’s decision to ban the Tamagotchi amounted to nothing less than murder.

My mother, protesting that she was “too busy raising actual living creatures” to bother herself with fake ones, refused to tend to my virtual dinosaur during school hours. The result was a lonely death for Dinah, and a deep sense of grief that overwhelmed me for all of 15 minutes until I noticed the ‘hatch a new egg’ button.

Today, I can appreciate why my teacher may not have relished the presence of 30 electronic pets in an already high-maintenance class. But in recent weeks I’ve stumbled across some slightly less predictable contenders for the ‘banned from schools’ list. I’ve picked out three of my favourites below.

1Erasers

According to the Daily Telegraph, cognitive scientist Guy Claxton has branded the eraser an ‘instrument of the devil’ and thinks they should be banned from classrooms.

His reasoning, apparently, is that their use creates a “culture of shame about error”. This can be detrimental to learning, since acknowledging our mistakes is an essential part of the learning process. (Erasers: those tiny tools of deceit. Don’t do pupils any favours by allowing them to pretend they got it right first time.)

I’ve worked with pupils whose faith in the corrective powers of Tippex was such that they’d probably have tried to apply it to broken bones, given half a chance. And a few would definitely rather have burned their exercise books than handed me anything with a fault in it.

However, it seems to me that if we want to foster a culture in which children feel safe to learn from their slip-ups, we first need to give teachers the space to do so, too (the RSA’s Tom Gilliford wrote about this on Key insights back in April). Until this happens, I’m not sure that demonising stationery is the solution.

2Handstands

I would have paid good money to have had handstands banned when I was at school. It would have saved an awful lot of time wondering why the laws of physics applied so aggressively to me when my friends could spend whole lunch breaks the wrong way up.

I was therefore rather pleased to hear about one school that has reportedly forbidden this most torturous of pastimes and all other gymnastics activities, following a number of minor injuries. (The school in question still provides opportunities for gymnastics in PE lessons, where the children can be carefully supported – or, if they’re anything like me, winched into place – by an adult.)

The temporary veto on playground gymnastics has apparently been dubbed “silly” by some parents, but I claim it as a victory for those of us whose skill set lies in other things. Like sitting down.

3Wi-Fi

Earlier this year, France passed a law banning Wi-Fi from nursery and day care settings and restricting access to it in primary schools.

As someone who spends a good chunk of the day hunting a decent Wi-Fi signal, this news caught my attention. I wondered what my colleague would discover when she began researching the issue, following a question about wi-fi safety from a school leader. (Members of The Key for School Leaders can log in to read the finished article.)

What she found is that there is currently no scientific evidence to suggest that Wi-Fi is bad for your health.

Nevertheless, part of me admires France for the zero-risk approach it has taken to the health and safety of its pupils. Another part wishes it had been even more creative and introduced tin foil hats as a uniform requirement instead.

So what’s your take on the issue? Are bans the only way to ease the pressure put on schools by the health and safety police? Is it possible – or even desirable – for a learning environment to be entirely risk-free? Or do school leaders have a duty to protect pupils from the merest hint of harm that may be lurking in their pencil cases?

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