No cartwheels for you!


I’ve written before about dangerous sports and gender and I’ve been thinking about it again recently in the context of the “play gap.” Women get less activity than men but the gender gap in sports participation and in time for active play begins when children are young.

Insofar as cartwheels are more of a girl thing the latest move to ban them on the schoolyard won’t help girls keep up with the boys in terms of amount of time for play.

This fall Runnymede Junior and Senior Public School in Toronto caused a controversy by banning cartwheels.

In the Globe and Mail Naomi Buck writes: “Following umbrellas, hard balls and patches of ice, yet another hazard has presented itself on the playground of an elementary school in midtown Toronto. The cartwheel, not generally considered a thing of peril, has been banned, together with the entire family of activities it belongs to, commonly known as gymnastics. The powers that be have determined that these risky contortions of young bodies and outright defiance of the laws of gravity have no place on the school playground.” See What’s the point of recess with no fun?

But it wasn’t just cartwheels, the ban also included somersaults, handstands and gymnastics of any sort, including backflips. Or none of those things. According to the Toronto Star piece on the new policies it was only “advanced gymnastics moves” that were forbidden. It’s not clear what this means. I don’t know about you but it’s not clear to me what counts as an advanced gymnastics or cheerleading move.

Lest you think this is just a North American phenomena, a British school also banned cartwheels and handstands this summer.

I’m not going to argue there’s no danger in cartwheels. I hurt my own shoulder a couple of years ago doing a badly executed Aikido roll. I will argue that the kinds of injuries children sustain doing cartwheels mostly heal quickly. Also, I think, there’s value in doing dangerous things.

Better cartwheels than other kinds of risktaking, no?

If you’re interested in the value of dangerous sports for children, read “Children and Dangerous Sport and Recreation” in the Journal of the Philosophy of Sport Volume 34, Issue 2, 2007 by J.S. Russell.

It’s behind a journal pay wall so you won’t be able to read it unless you have access to a university library. (Insert rant about the need for open access publishing here.) But here’s a sample of Russell’s exploration of a view he dubs the “uncommon sense view.”

The uncommon sense view “asserts that at a certain point in child development physical risks should be tolerated, and children’s choices (and adults’ choices on their behalf) to engage them should frequently be respected, even if the risks of such activities are greater than necessary to promote the developmental goods sought by the common sense view—and thus represent unnecessary threats to the goods that the common sense view aims at securing. I call this “the uncommon sense view” because although I think it is pretty obviously correct, it would appear to take uncommon philosophical sense to recognize it, for the most prominent official and philosophical positions about obligations to raise and care for children oppose it in principle. The uncommon sense view, however, is reflected widely in our institutions and practices of children’s sport and recreation. Consider popular but risky young persons’ sports and recreations such as American football, rugby, horse jumping, gymnastics, cheerleading, freestyle skiing, skateboarding, wakeboarding, hockey, diving, motocross, and the like.”

Here’s an advanced and a basic cartwheel:





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