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Why risk it?

| Monday, Nov. 26, 2012, 8:56 p.m.

Remember the military-industrial complex? You should because it's still around.

But now it's time to consider a new one: the hysteria-bureaucracy complex, whereby any- and everything triggers hysteria and bureaucratic intervention, especially when the potential “danger” has to do with children.

Allow me to introduce an article from the Courier Mail in Australia. The article says that schools Down Under are now required to conduct a safety assessment of all potentially dangerous activities. But, as there are so few truly dangerous activities at school, bureaucrats seem to have cast around for incredibly safe activities they could pretend to consider dangerous, including tag and ice skating and ... art.

“Teachers are told the use of toxic material in painting and drawing activities, including glues, pigments and solvents, require them to document controls or complete a curriculum activity risk assessment,” according to the paper. “'Consider obtaining parental permission,' teachers are told.”

Parental permission for art class? Maybe teachers should obtain permission for letting kids use dangerously sharp implements, too — like pencils!

And how about the risk posed by notebook paper? Do you realize how easily a paper cut can get infected and how easily an infection can lead to amputation?

And let's not even talk about those pink erasers. How do you erase choking hazard? You can't!

It's not like a totally safe classroom is so hard to create. Kids could just come in, sit on the floor (so they don't fall off their chairs), listen to their teacher (who should probably wear a mask, so she doesn't spread germs) and record their lessons on a slab of wet organic clay (thus avoiding toxic inks and such).

When it's time for gym, they can roll around on the ground for exercise so no one trips. As for recess, they can slither outside (a belly to the ground prevents running, which prevents falling) and take turns on the jungle gym: one at a time with an adult holding them by the middle. (And another adult making sure the first adult isn't molesting them. And a third adult making sure the first two aren't in cahoots.)

Of course, if it's raining the students should stay inside. And if it's sunny, you'd want them to avoid the threat of skin cancer. And if it's cold, there's hypothermia. Heat: Hyperthermia. But they can always go out if it's 66 to 75 degrees and overcast.

After school, they can even stay for enrichment classes like music. They just can't play the violin. (Who needs a bow in the eye?) And of course piano's a no-go: They could get locked inside if it's a grand. And uprights tip over.

By the time kids get to high school, they should be soft, sweet blobs of absolute safety, the human equivalent of marshmallows. Which reminds me: If your kid wants to toast one of those, the Canadian Girl Scouts consider this a somewhat risky activity and ask troop leaders to submit an activity plan, including the list of participants and supervisors with the appropriate child-adult ratio, as well as an emergency response plan, two weeks in advance.

And I wish that was part of my snarky, made-up list of precautions, but it's not. Those are the real rules.

Welcome to the hysteria-bureaucracy complex!

Lenore Skenazy is the author of “Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry).”

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