Out of sight, out of mind, out of the brain of Mr Chown, for your reading pleasure

Out of sight, out of mind.

Excellent blog by the wise Mr Chown. Sample quotes:

20 years on I still see signs of children playing out, unnoticed by adults. Surveys and questionnaires provide only a partial picture of children’s independent mobility. We need more direct observation and engagement with children and families in their own neighbourhoods, not just in schools, if we are to create policies to support children playing out and to measure their success.”

‘We have given up haunting the places where children play, we no longer have eyes for their games, and not noticing them suppose they have vanished’. Children’s Games in Street and Playground – Iona and Peter Opie.”

Out of sight, out of mind.

The Narcissistic Injury of Middle Age – Atlantic Mobile


Typical. You wait ages for an interesting piece on the gaze, and them two come along at once.

The first was that weird, deep Aeon piece about looking at naked people (stop that sniggering at the back);

and here’s the second one, about looking at old people, who are, like, really gross? Because, they are like, really old, and stuff? EU.

What our minds do when we see someone’s body – Matthew Hutson – Aeon


This is one of the most mind-bogglingly complex, provoking and provocative, challenging, obtuse and abstruse pieces of thinking and reporting that I have ever encountered.

And I have encountered a lot. I actually, really, don’t know what to make of it.

What I do know is that it is important, in some way, or several or many ways, to me, and to other thinkers and writers of my acquaintance.

It is published by Aeon, probably the finest web salon we have on this poxy little planet that we have chosen to call, what was it again? Dirt? Soil? Ah hold on, I’ve got it, EARTH!

I’m sort of suggesting that you might want to try reading it?

And if you succeed, please come back and explain it to me.



Designed to remind you of timeframe, a termframe is my neologism; an attempt to point to something inevitable and unfolding, like a leaf bud, or a butterfly de-pupating; the gestation period for a complex, emergent phenomenon within a living system.

Cicadas have a gestation period of 17 years, therefore their termframe cannot be less than than. Trees have a extending, indeterminate lifespan, once established, we don’t know how long a yew our redwood can live, thousands of years…

I’m trying to get a sense of a cycle period, an ambit, a purview, a chronological terrain, or domain…

Another definition: the termframe is the time it takes when it takes as long as it takes.

A comprehension of the termframe for something allows us a patience that comes from understanding the emergent inevitability of a phenomenon.

Porridge cools, not yet, you’ll burn yourself, plants grow, no use shouting hurry up or even I love you little seedlings, you can’t hurry love, and you don’t push the river.

What is the termframe for a human intervention in a community?

It depends, of course.

Children and pets

Competition time!

Once I have managed to upload this video, ask me what use I am making of it in a teaching/coaching/mentoring context.

It is nothing more than a wander around a back garden, featuring pets and their dwellings, bunnies and guinea pigs

Or guess, and tell me!

Only ‘followers’ of my blog can enter, (so click the follow button now)

Big prize: a free half-hour teaching/coaching/mentoring session.


A new and very occasional series entitled
‘Things that make it harder to do good playwork’:

Back in 2008, Coert Visser, in an important article entitled ‘What’s the deal with self esteem?’, said:
”Many people in education have long believed that, in order to improve performance of pupils at school, you have to first make them feel good about themselves. The idea behind this was: it is easier to function well, if you feel good about yourself. Many educators, psychologists and parents have tried this.“

Coert could’ve gone further and said that this idea – the idea that ‘focussing on getting kids to feel good about themselves is a good thing’ has become received wisdom in the UK and USA. It is part of the dreaded ‘common sense’ that everybody knows is true, unchallenged by anybody apart from a few extremist politicians and weirdos. Everybody knows. all mums, know, all politicians (well all except 3), all teachers know, OFSTED knows, even dads and your postman and even next door’s cat knows that it’s true. Coz it stands to reason, dunnit?

Coert then asked:

”But does it work?

Excellent question, sir, and he quoted from a very interesting article by Albert Mohler:

“Since the 1969 publication of ‘The Psychology of Self-Esteem’, in which Nathaniel Branden opined that self-esteem was the single most important facet of a person, the belief that one must do whatever he can to achieve positive self-esteem has become a movement with broad societal effects. Anything potentially damaging to kids’ self-esteem was axed. Competitions were frowned upon. Soccer coaches stopped counting goals and handed out trophies to everyone. Teachers threw out their red pencils. Criticism was replaced with ubiquitous, even undeserved, praise. In 2003 the Association for Psychological Science asked Dr. Roy Baumeister, then a leading proponent of self-esteem, to review this literature.

“His team concluded that self-esteem was polluted with flawed science.“
(read on by following the link)

I hope I have wetted your appetite; please READ ON, then follow the links to the rest of the articles.


This deeply flawed concept of self-esteem has had particularly pernicious effects on old-school playwork.

Back in the day, when teachers were like the PE teacher in ‘Kes’ bullying the weedy kid with the kestrel, or more recently when they were like Billy Eliot’s dad not wantin’ ‘im to do ‘owt puffy like dancin’, back when schools were grim and serious and hard work and fun-free, something odd happened on old abandoned bits of land in the inner-cities of the UK: a bunch of old hippies (well, actually, back then in the early 70s they were young hippies, obviously) invented a new fun thing for kids to do after school, called going to the adventure playground, also known as ‘goin’ up the Venture’ or ‘goin’ down the Addy’

Now then, playleaders, as they was called back then, dear reader – before they changed the name because we don’t lead and we don’t play, but we do do work and our work is children’s play, specifically its facilitation, so we called us selves ‘play-workers’, back then it wasn’t about self-esteem, it was about free play outside of school and the home.

Nobody knew anything about this fancy psykerlogical stuff, they just knew that kids needed somewhere to play, and they knew it was true because those nice posh folk like Lady Penny Wilson and the ex RAF chaps at the NPFA jolly well said so. So all the local mums and dads and the vicar and one or two teachers who didn’t think flicking wet towels at weedy kids was educational (I’m guessing the art teacher), went down the council and told them not to evict the hippies with their junk playground and instead told the council they should pay them to run the playground for their kids!

So soon all sorts of young idealistic folk sought employment on ‘adventure playgrounds’. Bob Hughes got a job running one, so did Perry Else ( I think) and even me, Arthur Battram, and Chris Taylor (a girl!) and Mo Palmer(another girl!) and Jess Milne(not a girl, despite having a girls name), and even Adrian Vole, OBE!

Let’s cut a long story short, because I’m already compressing a book of history into a few paragraphs.

Let’s just say that schools saw that kids like play, and because they were also being told to boost self-esteem, the schools grabbed the idea of play, as they fled from competition, as they embraced circle time and stickers and feeling good.

And then they sort of forgot to educate.

Everybody is playing now
Suddenly, by roughly the mid- 90s, everybody is doing play. Schools do play, maths teachers and evil PE teachers do play, all kids called Billy have to dance in backstreets to a song by The Jam because it is now part of the National Curriculum. Then later, these kids, these played-out, played to death kids, who have never actually done anything difficult at school, because it was all made easy in case it upset the little angels (hence ‘dumbing-down’), leaving us with these oddly unhappy kids turning up at ‘Ewni’ expecting to be entertained by the ‘Ewni’ lecturers and threatening to sue for non-delivery of learning and/or ‘hurt to my self-esteem’ if they weren’t entertained.

What a bloody shambles.

Now, this left playworkers with a bit of a problem, to wit: if everybody is doing play, what are playworkers for, exactly?

I think the consensus is now, in the aftermath of the Global Theft of 2007 (aka the Credit Crunch, the Recession), as a field, we are a bit confused.

What is playwork for, we asked at conferences, and as funding withered, we asked wither playwork? and we agonised, and we started to say anything that came into our heads if we thought it might make the men in suits give us some feckin’ money.

What was playwork? Well, it was once the groovy alternative.

In the 70s, it was cool and hip and groovy, even before it was called ‘alternative’. It was part of a movement, it was part of ‘the counter-culture’, alongside feminism and ecology (aka ‘the environment’) and organic food and ‘free schools’ (the original ones, like White Lion, not Michael Gove’s ones), and ‘progressive rock’ and dropping out and going to India, and living in the woods.

Playwork back then had an ethos which was, broadly and oversimplistically, : to be an alternative for children. That’s why they called it ‘the counter culture’.

And I also think there are some good signs: one young playwork blogger is talking about ‘the death of playwork’. Well if we can’t see what’s gone, we can hardly see what needs to be done to replace it, can we?

And know this – playwork is not about self-esteem, to paraphrase that footy bloke, it was Brian Clough I think, ‘its much more important than that, it’s about supporting the development of children. (No time or space to explain why I inisist on saying ‘children’ not ‘the child’, but it is to do with not being doctors or social workers, not being people who see kids as clients or patients to be fixed by nice men, like Chris Martin fixing Gwyneth. (No, not that Chris Martin, the other one.)


A lot more to say, I will come back to this another time.



click this link to read all of what Coert said:

and click on the link inside Coert’s article to read all of Albert’s article.

©© Arthur Battram Saturday, September 15, 2012


This is more of a second draft than a finished piece. Of course it is biased and opinionated, represents only one point of view (or 3 at best) and can be torn to pieces by any thinking person. Feel free. But the truth is still there, grinning like your reflection in the pond as you throw bricks in: playwork has lost its way.

©© Arthur Battram

This note added Tuesday, September 18, 2012


WordPress is misbehaving, so I am struggling to post…


My last piece on self-esteem, is a bit wack, because the links aren’t active and such. I’m having to revise my workflow, and abandon browser based blogging and Android smartphone blogging in favour of my blog app MacJournal.








the last entry before this is half of a draft, so hang on, and I should post the proper full finished version shortly.










The hand is the cutting edge of the mind … The most powerful drive in the ascent of man is pleasure in his own skill

From the Guardian:

The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski – review

Tim Radford finds Bronowski’s history of humanity, The Ascent of Man – reissued with a foreword by Richard Dawkins – as compelling as ever


“But the enduring freshness stems from something else. Bronowski had a gift for identifying the themes and advances that would seem just as vital 40 years on. He also had a gift for sentences minted with precision, and Dawkins picks out two of them in his foreword: “The hand is the cutting edge of the mind … The most powerful drive in the ascent of man is pleasure in his own skill.””

There you go.

The embodied mind and the function of play in a sentence.

“Wow. Oh wow.”


Tim Radford says:

“…The Ascent of Man is as compelling as ever. The brain, he understands, is not just an instrument for action. It is an instrument for preparation; it both drives the human hand and is driven by it; it is an instrument wired to learn, control speech, plan and make decisions.

“In the course of the last chapter, he reminds us that from the printed book comes “the democracy of the intellect” and that humans are primarily ethical creatures. These are the words of a man who studied the devastation of Nagasaki.

”All our science, all our endeavour, is for something. “We are nature’s unique experiment to make the rational intelligence prove itself sounder than the reflex. Knowledge is our destiny.” This is not just a book about science. It is a book about why science matters, and what it really tells us. That is not a message likely to go out of date in a few decades.“




” animals have social lives rich beyond our…

”…animals have social lives rich beyond our imagining, and that cooperation and caring have shaped the course of evolution every bit as much as competition and ruthlessness have.“

That comes from this excellent article
(thanks to Morgan for alerting me to it via her blog)

”Moral in Tooth and Claw“
by Jessica Pierce and Marc Bekoff


The recently deceased Lyn Margulis might well have said that, around 20 or 30 years ago. Until she came along, biology was dominated by men who believed that the story of evolution was their story; a manly story of competition, a manly story of manly fighting and war and competition and conflict and did you spill my pint. The story of evolution, according to the people who chose to misunderstand and misinterpret Darwin, is the story of ‘nature red in tooth and claw’. The first person to challenge that notion was Margulis. Initially burnt at the stake by angry men, and thrown out of the boy’s science club for being a girl and wrong, she has, in recent times, been acknowledged as the brilliant scientist what she is/was.

That is a terrible paragraph, and I’m embarrassed, I’m being as vague as 4th former who left his biology textbook on the bus.

I’m just saying that the legacy of her work is clear in this article. Anyone in biology who studies cooperation owes a debt to her. I’m such a fanboy.

“…for many nonhuman primates, more than 90 percent of their social interactions are affiliative rather than competitive or divisive…”

And in this summers riots, more than 90 percent of our feral young people, didn’t.

Isn’t it time that we stood up to the right-wing idiots who tell us that our children are behaving like animals?

(oh, and thank you Barnardo’s – here’s that link: http://plexity.wordpress.com/2011/11/04/terence-blacker-alarmism-thats-no-help-to-children-terence-blacker-commentators-the-independent/)

And isn’t it time, to stretch a point, to point out that if we really meant that children were behaving like animals, then we would, like, actually be saying that “more than 90 percent of their social interactions are affiliative rather than competitive or divisive” and that “as animals they have social lives rich beyond our imagining, and that cooperation and caring have shaped the course of their evolution every bit as much as competition and ruthlessness have?

So to labour the point and sum up:

If you tell me I’m behaving like an animal, I’ll take it as compliment, and no I didn’t threw up behind the sofa, that was the cat.

Ariel Dorfman and John Sutherland rejecting the texist pomo piffle of 50 years of lit crit (and plugging JS’ book)

Dorfman’s play ‘Death and the Maiden’ (filmed starring Ben Kingsley and Ripley out of ‘Alien’) might be read as pomo in that it leaves open the question of what do you when you met your torturer; yet pleasingly, Dorfman feels that the text is not king and that a ‘fuller appreciation’ of the work of art comes with knowledge of the author’s biography.

Gratuitous link to playwork: to criticise the pomo trappings of the idealistic and autistic towers of ivory is to elevate them absurdly. Simply put, you can’t do pomo until you have mo, and much of what we call ‘Modern’ is essentially (continued in a GCSE sociology class near you…) out of date pseudo-science, at best*.  The solution is to junk it all and only allow back in the stuff that playworkers attest actually really honestly helps them do their job. Can we afford intellectual affordances which do not afford?

Affordances – yet another new play type?

Playwork theory, if it grows up, will start to aspire to the condition of bad alchemy. Or if it wises up it may become the hedge-magic (see Pratchett) of the old witch healer.

There are signs that this is happening: I dubbed it ‘barefoot playwork’ earlier this year. There seem to be more witches abroad…



*As is some Nursing theory –   Rogerian nursing Science exposed as pseudoscience:


the original Raskin article is lost because his site has been hijacked.