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Parents at North Farmington High School in Michigan want the school to halt production of “Carrie” as this year’s musical, reports Aileen Wingblad in the Detroit Free Press. They say it is disturbing and insensitive. My favorite complaint from a parent at the Board of Ed meeting was this:

Lyrics refer to sex, alcohol, marijuana and violence, she noted, which “is making our job as worried parents even harder as we try to keep our children physically and emotionally safe. These lyrics throw all our efforts back in our faces.”

I love that she actually refers to her cohort as parents who have a job to do: worry! In this case, they are worried that a musical is somehow powerful enough to make children emotionally and even PHYSICALLY unsafe. …Does she think Carrie has REAL telekinetic powers?

Abandon hope, all ye who watch the musical based on the movie I was in!

Abandon hope, all ye who watch the musical based on the movie I was in!

But, as a lover of musicals —  and I must add, the lyricist of one that played Off Broadway, back in the day — I must admit part of me is thrilled that anyone would ascribe that much life-changing power to lyrics!

Meantime, here’s a comment on the Detroit Free Press piece I found spot on and inspiring:

I have known [North Farmington High School's theatrical director] Dean Cobb for over 25 years. I was fortunate to be the first person at NFHS to be in 4 musicals at North, having been a freshman when the musical theatre program began in 1990 (I played The Wizard in the Wizard of Oz). Dean not only taught me to love theatre, he taught me to believe in myself and he taught me to work hard to achieve my goals. At a time when I was having a hard time talking with my parents (as many teens do) Dean became a confidant and mentor. In the years I have known Dean, I have seen and heard him teach students about positive self worth, respect for one another and to celebrate diversity. Today, I am the artistic director of a theatre company in NYC (www.illuminart.org) that is dedicated to using theatre as a tool for change and inspiration of social justice. I owe my fulfilling career to the lessons and inspiration of Dean Cobb.

I encourage anyone who objects to the performance of Carrie at NFHS to take a good look at the story. It shows how young people suffer at the hands of bullies. It shows that mental illness differs from religious belief. It also shows what constant isolation and taunting can do to the mental health of young people. It is a story that bears repetition.

I applaud the administration of NFHS and the FPS for its continued support of the performing arts at North Farmington High School and I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Dean and Sue Cobb and Lucy Koviac for their years of guidance and support.

Randy B. Topper
Artistic Director,
IlluminArt Productions
NFHS Calss of 1993

Readers – -This is an amazing article from The New Republic by Jenny Jarvie about a phenom called “trigger warnings” — warnings written on blog posts and, increasingly, everywhere else, that tell folks that the material they’re about to read may “trigger” awful thoughts:

Initially, trigger warnings were used in self-help and feminist forums to help readers who might have post traumatic stress disorder to avoid graphic content that might cause painful memories, flashbacks, or panic attacks.

But they kept spreading, and now:

Last week, student leaders at the University of California, Santa Barbara, passed a resolution urging officials to institute mandatory trigger warnings on class syllabi. Professors who present “content that may trigger the onset of symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” would be required to issue advance alerts and allow students to skip those classes…. [Elsewhere]  Warnings have been proposed even for books long considered suitable material for high-schoolers: Last month, a Rutgers University sophomore suggested that an alert for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby say, “TW: suicide, domestic abuse and graphic violence.”

How does this have anything to do with Free-Range Kids?

We are constantly fighting the belief that kids are in danger from everything: “Creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure…”And yet, the assumption of fragility pervades our culture, from infrared monitors to watch baby at night — as if SLEEPING is dangerous — to now these warnings on college classes, as if THINKING, or even having a MISERABLE MOMENT is dangerous.

On this blog and in my speeches, I always try to explain that it’s not a million individuals who have suddenly decided to frantically helicopter parent, it’s a society TELLING us that if we DON’T supervise every afternoon at the park, our kids will be snatched, just as surely as if we don’t buy the latest educational toy, or serve exactly the right food, or enroll our kids in the very best program, they’ll end up stunted, illiterate, unloved and unemployable. But the real danger is this:

 By framing more public spaces, from the Internet to the college classroom, as full of infinite yet ill-defined hazards, trigger warnings encourage us to think of ourselves as more weak and fragile than we really are. 

Fight the assumption of fragility. Be strong!  - L.  

Now THIS lady could use a Trigger warning.

Now THIS lady could use a Trigger warning.

Folks, here’s a piece by me that’s slightly off topic in that it’s not about kids — per se. But it is about hyper-sensitivity, in this case, to the statue of a male sleepwalker on the Wellesley College campus.

The connection here is this: Free-Range fights the spread of excessive fear. And fear grows on the assumption of fragility, the assumption that  mere EXPOSURE to anything upsetting or imperfect  – an idea, a germ, a disappointment, a scrape, a statue — is potentially devastating.

Free-Range Kids says we are stronger than that. We demean kids and adults when we assume they can’t handle everyday life, be it walking to school, playing on a merry-go-round, or encountering an odd statue. – L. 

Fear and Loathing at Wellesley

A life-like statue of a guy sleepwalking in his underwear awakens a protest by campus feminists.


A realistic-looking statue of a sleepwalking schlub in his underpants has caused an outrage at Wellesley, a women’s college in Massachusetts near Boston. The students are so disturbed that they want him—I mean, it—gone.

Grab the smelling salts, ladies. This is not a prowler, it’s a piece of art.

That distinction doesn’t seem to matter to the 700 angry and aggrieved students, alumni and others who in recent days have signed a petition demanding the removal of artist Tony Matelli’s “Sleepwalker.” They say that, while inanimate, the male image is nonetheless a “trigger”—a catalyst capable of stirring up anything from memories of sexual assault to fear of strangers.

“Sleepwalker” on the campus of Wellesley College.Getty Images

“Wellesley should be a safe place for their students, not a triggering one,” wrote one petition-signer, as if the statue actually made the campus dangerous. That’s a brand-new way of looking at—and trying to legislate—the world. So I checked in with Robert Shibley, senior vice president at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, about the Wellesley panic. “It’s the idea that any kind of discomfort is a form of assault,” he noted.

Once we equate making people feel bad with actually attacking them, free expression is basically obsolete, since anything a person does, makes or says could be interpreted as abuse.


Hi Readers! I hope you will run and hide any copies you might have of “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” a poem that has apparently been corrupting young minds — and lungs — sinc3 1822.  You’ll recall that in the poem, St. Nick is not without his vices:  ”The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, and the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath.” 

That’s right — Santa’s a smoker. Thank goodness a new version is coming out this year that will stem the tide of children drawn, zombie like, to that ever-more-popular hobby, pipe-smoking, because that’s the kind of pull this poem has on them! According to the website Market Watch:

Canadian publisher Pamela McColl was compelled to edit the most famous poem in the English language in the interest of protecting young readers. “Exposure to the depiction of Santa smoking a pipe cannot be good,” says the single title small press publisher. Santa has been smoking in Clement C. Moore’s holiday poem New York Times Bestselling Twas The Night Before Christmas for 189 years and McColl says it’s time readers had an alternate version. Parents agree and are opting for a smoke-free Santa for Christmas 2012.

McColl adds that the intent of this edit was to secure the future of this popular poem and not to see it cast aside for being at odds with the needs of children. Parents tell of children worrying about Santa’s health due to smoking and of ripping out specific pages to avoid children being exposed to the tobacco imagery and verse.

Yes, it so much healthier for children’s psyches to see their frantic parents tearing pages out of beloved books. But apparently that’s what this publisher — who does sound pretty minor — believes we must do. And I guess she expects to find a market because OUR kids (versus all the other generations since 1822) are THE most vulnerable in history. One two-line glimpse of Santa’s wicked ways   and their future is a dark one indeed.

And we haven’t even TALKED about Santa’s obesity problem. – L.

McCall Magazine, Night Before Xmas by George Eastman House

I’ll bet that girl ended up a pipe fiend!

Heads up! You will LOVE this Pearls Before Swine comic featuring Humpty Dumpty (and his lawyers) today! This is not just some wacky notion of where our world is going. Recall that in 2009, we noted that a British  TV program was actually assuring children that, “All the kings horses and all the kings men MADE HUMPTY HAPPY AGAIN!” Yes, because it’s too much to expect kids to recover from the emotional blow of hearing that sometimes an egg actually cracks open. The truth? Our kids can’t handle the truth!

And if that’s not enough, tomorrow I will post about the updated, newly “safe” children’s poem that will drive you mad!! Mwa ha ha ha!!! – L

These things are tough as golf balls, right?


Hi Folks! Got this letter in response to the post about “Fannie” and “Dick” becoming Frannie and Rick in the updated Enid Blyton oeuvre. (Hardest thing  to spell since “hors d’oeuvres.” Which, come to think of it, is the same word.)   Anyway, this note comes to us from Sarah Thompson, who describes herself as a 35-year-old stay-at-home mom of two boys, ages 2 and 4.  – L

Dear Free- Range Kids: Since Enid Blyton has passed away, it does not seem fair to tamper with her work.  I would hate to think that if I’m ever fortunate enough to be published someday, someone would “update” my work after my death.  It doesn’t seem respectful to the writer.  Yes, times change, but can’t we just explain to our kids that these stories were written in a different time?  Why not give our children the perspective of times past?

My son is a Thomas the Tank Engine fan, and when he first took interest in the train series I searched for the corresponding books.  The difference between the older ones and the newer ones is pretty striking.  In the old stories, the engines get grumpy and snap at each other, and any misbehaving engine is punished, perhaps in ways that might seem harsh.  (One engine is sealed into a tunnel with brick walls when he refuses to run in the rain.  He is eventually let out.)  The engines actually haul coal and things you would expect trains to transport.

In the newer stories, they are all cheerful and happy all of the time.  No one ever seems to get punished.  Indeed, there isn’t much need, since everyone is always so eager to please.  The trains haul cargo like jelly, toys, and party supplies.

I read both the newer and older stories to my son, and he enjoys them both.  I don’t know why they felt the need to sanitize the characters, though.  It’s just not realistic.  No one is happy all of the time, and sometimes (gasp!) real work has to be done.  I think a balance of older and newer perspectives is important in helping to show our kids that times change, but we can still learn something from the past. – Sarah

Happy all the time!

Hi Readers! I’d never yeard of Enid Blyton, but I’m sure a lot of you have. So enjoy this essay by Kate Browne, a journalist based in Sydney, Australia. Kate is the mother of two little girls and hopes to cure them of their Disney Princess obsessions one day. She can also be found blogging, occasionally, at tigersandteapots.blogspot.com! – L

When Dick & Fannie Became Rick & Frannie, by Kate Browne

When I was a kid one of my favourite writers was Enid Blyton, the much loved British children’s author. Her books featured terribly English children having terribly marvelous adventures in the 1940s and ’50s and have sold over 600 million copies worldwide.

As a youngster in Australia I devoured her books, and the ones I loved best were The Faraway Tree series, where three young children (Fannie, Bessie and Jo) move to the country and discover an enchanted wood, including a magical tree. The kids, and sometimes their cousin Dick, regularly headed off to the woods for adventures.

If that wasn’t cool enough, at the top of the tree magical lands came to visit. Some were nice, such as the Land of Take What You Want, and the Land of Treats, while others struck a delicious fear into my 5-year-old heart, particularly the land of fearsome Dame Slap, who wasn’t averse to doling out corporal punishment to anyone naughty.

Another thing I loved about these books was the almost entire absence of adults. While the children’s mother popped up occasionally to demand that they do some household chores, they were often then rewarded entire days in the deep, dark woods, unsupervised.

Now I’m a grown up with a 5-year-old daughter.  Keen to share the Enid Blyton love, I took her to the local bookstore to buy a new copy of the Faraway Tree, as my childhood copy had fallen apart. At bedtime we opened the book, so excited, but from the first page I knew something was horribly wrong. In this new version Jo had become Joe, Bessie had become Beth, and worst of all Fanny was now Frannie and cousin Dick had been turned into some kid called Rick.

It seems that an overly politically correct publisher somewhere down the line had decided that the names Dick and Fannie (giggle, giggle) were far too rude for today’s small children. Outraged, I head to the internet for more info.

Thanks to Wikipedia, the picture becomes clearer. Sometime in the ‘90s the names were changed by the publisher because of their “unfortunate connotations.” For good measure Jo became Joe because that’s a more common spelling these days, and Bessie became Beth because it’s more contemporary. What’s even worse is when I read that the fearsome Dame Slap is now the totally lame Dame Snap who instead of smacking children, she just shouts at them.

I take the book and chuck it in the recycling. While I can manage to change the names back to the original ones as I read to my daughter, I don’t think I’m up for revising an entire chapter of Dame Snap back into Dame Slap. And who knows what other overly PC touches I might find further into the book –- would the land of treats now be the “Land of ‘Sometimes Food,’” or even “The Land of Fruits and Vegetables”?

Of course, as I’m ranting and raving, my daughter wonders, “Mummy, what’s wrong being called Dick and Fannie? I think they sound nice.” And that’s why I realize I’m so mad. Apart from messing with a childhood classic thanks to an adult’s perspective on these names, suddenly it’s an “issue.” I’d never thought twice about the names when I was a kid, either. It’s only when I became an adult that they became funny and or rude. So now I have to have a conversation about dicks and fannies. Great.

And that’s just the problem. When we start projecting our adult perspectives onto the world that kids live in things can get more confused than if we’d just left them alone. And where do we draw the line? Should Jane Austen’s “Emma” become “Britney” to make it more “contemporary”? How about Tom, RICK and Harry?

And as for Dame Slap turning into Dame Snap, my daughter sums it up perfectly: “That’s dumb.” So now I’m off to search eBay for some old editions of Enid Blyton tales — Dicks and Fannies and all.