This is my column this week in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday…
It’s amazing how well-intentioned adults can get things profoundly wrong when they wade into a child’s world and fail to understand the nature of child’s play.
Even the most imaginative child understands the division between play and the real world; the difference between what is pretend and what is true, and from a surprisingly young age.
Most of the time adults get this too. We don’t get anxious that children don’t understand which end of the dragon is safe to approach, or require them to don an asbestos suit before they battle one. We don’t insist they go through rigorous pre-flight checks before taking off in an imaginary jet fighter.
And when children aged 3 and 4 play at driving we don’t worry about their later driving habits, anxiously trying to teach them safe following distances.
Nor should we engage children that age with the reality of real gun safety when they’re playing at shooting each other, or imaginary baddies.
In fact, when it comes to guns, many early childhood education centers take an even stronger stance actively discouraging gun play, and not having toy guns as part of the toys on session. But if guns do emerge through the child’s play it is accepted that it is just that: play.
But as revealed in the Herald yesterday, the Evolve Education Group, have taken a different approach, a very American approach.
As a group Evolve Education run 130 childcare centres around New Zealand, plus the Porse and Au Pair Link home-based companies. They have – strangely with the help of the NZ branch of an American PR company – introduced a gun safety kit for pre-schoolers.
Yes, you read that right. For pre-schoolers. Under the age of five.
And there are some really contradictory ideas floating around this by way of justification: That this action doesn’t promote guns. That gun play is an opportunity to teach kids about gun safety, and kids are going to play with guns so why not get them thinking about gun safety?
Again, remember, this is in pre-school.
Psychologically, this approach confuses the world of imaginative play with the real world in a way that is dangerous and unnecessary. From a young age children understand that play is not real. This programme confuses that play with real gun use in ways that may in fact lead to a desire to interact and play with real guns.
It also seems completely tone-deaf, insensitive and irresponsible to be introducing pro-gun education into New Zealand pre-schools at a time when the world is recoiling from the horrific school shootings and gun violence in the US.
The teaching of this course distorts shifts our own gun culture closer to that of a country that is now seriously considers arming teachers – in a perverse measure to keep children safe – from each other.
And that, to me, is the point. When we debate whether this is age appropriate, we are missing that point. Because this is not about gun safety, or playing with guns. This is about embracing gun culture.
*To sign my peition calling for the banning of pro-gun education in pre-schools click here
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