Bullying the nettles: ludogogy of the oppressed.

(A reference to Paolo Freire’s book Pedagogy of the Oppressed)

Humberto Maturana has a thistles and child story.

He is walking with his young son through a thistle-infested field. He starts playfully scything the thistles, swinging his walking stick like it’s a sabre. His son asks him “Daddy, why do you hate the nettles?”. M was much chastened.

Children naturally respect the natural.
We don’t talk enough about oppression.

Children are an oppressed group.

We knew this in the 70s, the millennials feel it, but don’t fight it. Generational Learned Helplessness.

All oppressed things, like prey animals who quiver and dart and have huge eyes on the sides of their heads to see 360°, constantly observe, watch and listen. Children observe the predator adults for signs of threat and they conceal their own feelings. You know those smiling natives in gapyaa Trustafarian exotic photos? As the awesome Caitlin Moran pointed out, these are the smiles of rabbits as a fox approaches…

And if you are oppressed, you always wonder if you’ll be next. That’s why, when the brave zero tolerance of bullying moronic hero in their own brain leaps in to quash a bit of bullying*, all it does is frighten all the rabbits. There is a special  place in playwork hell for anti- bullying zealots.

Same thing happens when HR don the superhero suit and fight an ism.

*oi, asshat, it’s not bullying unless it is sustained, repeated, selective, hurt. Otherwise it’s just mean. You know that word ‘mean”? Kids use it a lot, adults less so. Pay attention, drongo.

Stop trying to save the world. Can we fix it?

I was approached by an NGO, which used to be called Intermediate Technology in the 1960s, a few years ago to speak at a conference.

One of their major private funders had read my book and was urging them to get me to speak. It became clear that the two organisers I spoke to by email had no idea why they should involve me. I, for my part could divine no coherent approach in their thinking. Practical Action they were called, ironically, and they were about encouraging micro enterprises using the standard capitalist concepts of business development, in Africa.

They were clearly addicted to funding, and expended enormous amounts of energy jumping through the hoops of complex metrics pushed down on them by increasingly dissatisfied funders. I got the impression that USAID, the main government funder was responsible for the complicated metrics; the usual government bureaucracy of accountability due diligence and valueformoney. They wouldn’t say boo to a goose; they just meekly complied.

I kept trying to make sense of what they wanted. I asked to be put in touch directly with the funder who had urged them to book me. They wouldn’t. They kept worretting on about economies being systems. But the people they were supposed to help had a goat and a mud hut. They were so poor they didn’t even have Microsoft Office!

Eventually I told them I didn’t have anything for them. I suppose I could have flown to Washington and taken their money but to be honest I didn’t want to go, I didn’t want to go through all the grief of security theatre and visa applications and all that.

In the 60s,  Victor Papanek designed a “remarkable transistor radio, made from ordinary metal food cans and powered by a burning candle, that was designed to actually be produced cheaply in developing countries.” It cost a few pence to produce. It was a fixed tuner, because there was only one radio station, and so on. The Americans through USAID were parachuting crates full of battery operated 2 band radios into rural areas. Each cost ten dollars. They could only receive the one government station despite being 2 band radios capable of tuning across the entire frequency band because their was only one station within range. When the batteries ran out there were no more batteries to be had and no money to buy them if there were. When Papanek’s candles ran out they burnt animal dung.

This would have been the mid 60s. Those that don’t learn from history are condemned to continue to waste tax dollars.


Meanwhile, day of light, someone at the New Republic had been paying attention. Their tale of inventive, innovative, creative, development unfolds like this (spoiler alert: it fails)…

“Stop Trying to Save the World: Big ideas are destroying international development

“It seemed like such a good idea at the time: A merry-go-round hooked up to a water pump. In rural sub-Saharan Africa, where children are plentiful but clean water is scarce, the PlayPump harnessed one to provide the other. Every time the kids spun around on the big colorful wheel, water filled an elevated tank a few yards away, providing fresh, clean water anyone in the village could use all day.

“PlayPump International, the NGO that came up with the idea and developed the technology, seemed to have thought of everything. To pay for maintenance, the elevated water tanks sold advertising, becoming billboards for companies seeking access to rural markets. If the ads didn’t sell, they would feature HIV/AIDS-prevention campaigns. The whole package cost just $7,000 to install in each village and could provide water for up to 2,500 people.

“The donations gushed in. In 2006, the U.S. government and two major foundations pledged $16.4 million in a public ceremony emceed by Bill Clinton and Laura Bush. The technology was touted by the World Bank and made a cameo in America’s 2007 Water for the Poor Act. Jay-Z personally pledged $400,000. PlayPump set the goal of installing 4,000 pumps in Africa by 2010…”

The sorry story unfolds here:

Yes, it features children playing. Woo. Some say using kids to pump water is exploitative. Matias Cordero will have an interesting take on that (Google him and ‘IPA 2011’).

If you persevere, towards the very end, there is a brief mention of complex adaptive systems. Yay.

Ludic Instrumentalism2: The Revenge…….Through ‘self-initiated cognitive activity’ we become human.

“Such is the context for understanding well-meaning folks (like me) whose lamentations about diminishing opportunities for play tend to include a defensive list of its practical benefits.  Play is “children’s work!”  Play teaches academic skills, advances language development, promotes perspective taking, conflict resolution, the capacity for planning, and so on.  To drive the point home, Deborah Meier wryly suggested that we stop using the word play altogether and declare that children need time for “self-initiated cognitive activity.””

“Kids need careful adult guidance and instruction before they are able to play in a productive way.”


“The point of play is that it has no point.  I didn’t know whether to laugh or shudder when I read this sentence in a national magazine:  “Kids need careful adult guidance and instruction before they are able to play in a productive way.”[5]  But I will admit that I, too, sometimes catch myself trying to justify play in terms of its usefulness.”



Through ‘self-initiated cognitive activity’ we become human.

Reinventing science? From open source to open science | Integration and Implementation Insights


To all my chums in universities, read this.

And anyone else who likes thinking.

Memeset [mémsît] n, neologism

A ‘memeset’ is a structured, related, group of words or phrases, developed to crisply express and communicate an idea or ideas in the context of an interaction between one or more people. The term tends to be applied to the task of persuasion in a teaching or selling context.

This neologism was coined by Arthur Battram in conversation with Rory Heap in 2015, as part of the development of Navcom2: consensual communication.


“Increasingly, I find myself bristling when I hear folks talk about “risky play,” even when it’s framed positively. From my experience, this sort of play is objectively not risky, in the sense that those activities like swinging or climbing or playing with long sticks, those things that tend to wear the label of “risky” are more properly viewed as “safety play,” because that’s exactly what the kids are doing: practicing keeping themselves and others safe. It’s almost as if they are engaging in their own, self-correcting safety drills.”

I’ve recently been trying, futilely, to promote the term ‘CHALLENGING’ rather than ‘risky’. You’ll appreciate that the the c-word has a double meaning, children are challenging themselves, and adult frettiness is being challenged.

They ARE engaging in their own self correcting activity. I teach playworkers about the ‘edge-of-chaos’ I’ve taken to using hyphens because people confuse it with ‘nearly chaos’. It’s not: edge-of-chaos is an entirely different thing. When I used to do mountain biking it was about finding my personal edge-of-chaos, my ‘flow state’. We tune to it. Too much and it’s scary, not enough and its boring.

Edge-of-chaos exists in all complex systems, like a group of kids on a playground for example, both as a group and for each child.

I loved “catastrophic imaginations.”

Spot on.

Jessica Garner in Alberta said, brilliantly: “”a sense that the world is full of unperceived dangers that only the all-knowing adults can see”

Are you familiar with the His Dark Materials series? This reminds me of the spectres… creatures of fear that only adults can see. Children are completely unaware and unaffected. They only perceive the danger of spectres if adults are around.””


“creatures of fear that only adults can see“.


Coydogs&pizzlies: the librarians are worried

You see, the thing is, shit happens. All over the woods. Bears shit in the woods, both polar bears heading south and grizzlies heading north, and they also have sex in the bushes. Hence Pizzlies (rubbish name, why not Grey bears?)

“Hybridization is one of the overlooked but clearly very, very important causes of species’ going extinct,” says Stuart Pimm, professor of conservation ecology at Duke University. “Hybridization is a major problem. It comes from our moving species around, it comes from our changing habitat.” 

Or not. This is the librarians approach to ecology. Conserve everything. Why? Even smallpox?

I’d rather accept that we aren’t in control and trust that “life will find a way”.

Many of the species that went extinct were a bit crap. Best example is pandas. Useless beasts. Any creature that decides to live entirely off one stupid tree with almost no nutrient value is basically committing very slow suicide. Millions have between wasted on these cuddly vegetarian idiots when there are other less cute, much more deserving, downright ugly critters that don’t convert easily to soft toys, so they get ignored.

It’s all part of the lackwit treehugging view of cuddly nature. Watch The Grey, starring Liam Neeson. This time it was the very big and seriously bad wulluff that had the unusual set of special skills that, even though it didn’t know what he wanted, enabled it to find him and kill him. And the ending wouldn’t have been any different if he was wearing a David Attenborough fan club hoodie and carrying his lifetime Friends of the Earth membership card.