In the middle ages in Europe, animals were held accountable for human laws, and many animals were put on trial. The most common punishment was hanging, but there are records of more brutal versions of animal capital punishment. For example, the man who robbed a bank and was burned alive for the crime alongside his co-conspirator, the mule.
I thought of this medieval practice when I was reading about the new recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Because the doctors are talking about how important it is for kids to be outside. And even though kids are in school for the majority of their day, the doctors are telling parents to have kids spend more time playing outside.
Specifically, doctors are telling parents the kids need to be in nature. The research to show kids need to be in nature is very old; the pediatricians waited until this advice was mainstream and uncontroversial before they started giving it. Nature is far enough away from where most kids live that doctors are now using the Internet to find the closest park for the kids to play at, and writing the name of the park on the prescription.
I can’t help thinking the doctors trying to control time in nature is like medieval courts trying to reform feral pigs. In both cases, the government is letting down the citizens: the medieval courts would not want to go against the king, or they’d lose their power; the pediatricians would not want to go against schools or they’d lose power.
To me, the obvious thing for pediatricians to say is that kids should not spend eight hours a day in a school that has no connection to nature. Start with paved playgrounds and school rules against climbing trees. Pediatricians could declare it a health hazard to bus kids away from nature near their house to a school that offers no access to nature.
In an effort to stay relevant, pediatricians don’t stop with nature. They also tell parents that kids need lots of time as self-directed learners. “What parents need to do is be there to help their children with scaffolding. That means you don’t control the play for your child, but when you see they’re ready to go to the next step, support that.”
The pediatricians go on to say this: “Playful learning means supporting young children’s intrinsic motivation to learn and discover instead of imposing extrinsic motivations like test scores.” So pediatricians are saying what’s going on in elementary schools is not okay.
But what pediatricians don’t do is encourage parents to take kids out of school. Clearly the pediatricians don’t think kids should be sitting in classrooms all day. But they are too cowardly to say that.
I am shocked by how little leadership the AAP shows given all the people who listen to them. The pediatricians are most able to protect kids from being pawns in a political game of school funding and politics. But pediatricians do not lead the way in the realm of the health of children.
Instead, politicians chip away at the medical profession, and pediatricians feel only precarious power in a world where health care costs are unpopular and doctors make a lot of money. More money than most people think they should make.
The result is that pediatricians are abandoning the kids in favor of their own self-interest. Doctors frequently have a conflict of interest when treating patients. And even the American Medical Association says, doctors “display a consistent preoccupation with their economic security.”
Doctors are in the best position to talk about the physical detriments of not letting kids run around at school. Doctors are in the best position to talk about the psychologically detrimental tactics adults have to use when there are 30 kids and one teacher. It’s not just nature. It’s everything. But doctors focus on issues they can put onto parents, because parents don’t fight back.
The AAP’s most recent announcement said, “a fundamental job in pediatric primary care is to strengthen the parent-child relationship.” But more than that, I think the pediatricians are protecting their own relationship with the government, and the government is overly invested in school, so the pediatricians follow suit.
The thing is, if pediatricians are willing to tell parents they are responsible for making sure their kids have play time in nature and self-directed learning, then maybe it’s time for doctors to prescribe homeschooling.