Readers! My friend and inspiration, Gever Tulley, just got this GREAT write up in The New York Times by the lyrical Lawrence Downes. Allow me to lift it in full:
Playing With Fire
By LAWRENCE DOWNES
Rearing a child is already a journey through self-doubt and guilt, and now here comes Gever Tulley to say we’re doing it wrong, and that what we really need to do is hand our young ones power tools and let them lick nine-volt batteries.
Mr. Tulley is a pedagogical theorist, though not an academic one. He wrote a book, soon to be out from Penguin, and founded the Tinkering School, near San Francisco, whose students do their work with PVC pipe and two-by-fours.
His argument: Children should get out more. They should learn to work with their hands, not just their Nintendo thumbs. Because if they don’t, they risk stunting their independence, ingenuity, curiosity and competence.
Mr. Tulley’s book, “Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do),” is a rebuke to a world of blunt-edged scissors, insipid molded-plastic playground equipment and perpetual parental anxiety. He believes parents don’t recognize what is most likely to endanger children (car trips, corn syrup). And he says that by engaging in seemingly (or mildly) risky exploration and play, children can become better problem-solvers and judges of risk. Children who don’t get acquainted with trivial danger (No. 5: Stick Your Hand Out the Window; No. 28: Climb a Tree), he says, don’t recognize real danger or can’t handle it when it comes.
Mr. Tulley has no children. His theories probably make more sense in edenic suburbs than in cities with crime. I would not endorse all his 50 things, some of which — like No. 36: Poison Your Friends (with super-salty cookies) and No. 1: Lick a Nine-Volt Battery — are inexplicable or gross. But it’s easy enough to think of good replacements: Dig a hole, roll down a hill, row a boat.
His book reminded me of David Samwell, ship’s surgeon to Capt. James Cook, the British explorer. In 1779, transfixed by the sight of Hawaiian children on surfboards, Samwell wrote: “We saw with astonishment young boys & Girls about 9 or ten years of age playing amid such tempestuous Waves that the hardiest of our seamen would have trembled to face. So true it is that many seeming difficulties are easily overcome by dexterity & Perseverance.”
Mr. Samwell, meet Mr. Tulley, today’s keeper of your nice insight. Some danger can dissolve into fun, if you know what you’re doing.