Thursday, July 10, 2014

Is fear constraining our language and activities?

As we prepared for the "Fizz, Boom, Read" Maker-style national summer reading program, we received reactions that we found surprising and a bit disturbing. When advertising our weekly Middle School hands on program, Backyard Ballistics (limited to air and water propulsion - no, we decided gun powder was off limits), we advertised on our teen web page and in the local newspaper: "Making stuff that moves, propels, explodes, and causes other stuff to happen." Teens and their parents quickly signed up and we currently have a waiting list. Our first activity was Stomp Rockets and we played a bit with rocket design to see what shape would travel the furthest.

An older couple read the newspaper blurb and asked to speak to the director. She found out that, although they were completely clear that our intentions were benign, they felt others might think that we were promoting terrorism and bomb-making. Hm.

Over the winter our resident knitters did a program called "Yarn-
bombing" which involved wrapping trees, railings, edges, static objects with whimsical knitted pieces. The effect was eye-catching and prompted an interest in knitting as a hobby among a slightly younger demographic. While researching the concept, we found out that another library in the metro Boston area had to change the wording of their similar project to Yarn Storm . Hm.

This same library is not allowed to host any activity that involves projectiles of any kind - no matter how safety conscious. Hm.

Here at the Duxbury Free Library we allow children and teens to wield knitting needles. We have soldering programs at the library. We play cardboard tube wars. We plug things in and turn them on. We allow kids, teens and adults to carefully explore potentially dangerous equipment and materials with the understanding that, although we provide a safe environment and plenty of supervision, responsible behavior is fundamentally an individual choice. We reserve the right to deny flagrant safety abusers the privilege of using our equipment and attending our programs but rarely need to enforce this dictum.

We ask people to sign waivers and permission slips when it seems appropriate. We don't take careless chances with safety, but we also don't let the remote possibility of an accident keep us from providing opportunities for youth and adults to learn new skills and competencies.

My questions are these:
  • Are we abdicating control of both our language and our playful activities to a Master called FEAR? These are not issues of political correctness. No one's feelings are in jeopardy. No ethnic or religious group is insulted. 
  • Is it really off limits to use the words "explode" or "bomb" when we are referring to yarn and water balloons? Really?

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