Australian School Bans Cartwheels, Fun

Australian School Bans Cartwheels, Fun
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2008

My youngest daughter fell in love with Olympic gymnastics this year. The last two weeks have been a constant flurry of cartwheels, flip-overs, and handstands. Sometimes she cartwheels around as a mode of transportation.

Belgian Gardens elementary school of Towsnville, Queensland, Australia would have a hissy fit.

They recently banned students from doing cartwheels, handstands, somersaults, and any other form of gymnastic tumbling that kids love to do. They will also only give one serving of gruel at lunchtime, and you should never ask for more.

According to a recent news story in the Townsville Bulletin, Belgian Gardens had declared these types of gymnastics "a medium risk level 2," which ranks it right up there with soccer, tennis, cricket, and running with scissors, all of which are not banned by the school. Except the scissors thing.

Education Queensland, part of Australia's Department of Education, Training, and the Arts, issued a written statement on Wednesday, defending the ban. "The school's highest priority remains the safety and well-being of its students," they said.

Keep in mind, this is the same Education Queensland (EQ) that declared 2008 to be the Year of Physical Activity. You know, running, jumping, and – according to their website – "various types of dancing, handstands, somersaults, gym activities." In fact, students were encouraged to send in tips about "handstands, somersaults, gym activities." They even had the chance to win a $400 voucher for their school during April.

Not so fast, Belgian Gardens. EQ doesn't care if you miss out.

"The decision to restrict unsupervised cart wheels and hand stands was taken in the interests of the safety of all students as well as in recognition of the school's physical environment," said the EQ, contradicting itself.

Meanwhile, EQ's website also encouraged students to send in tips in June about throwing games, like "frisbee, boomerang, javelin."

Javelin? Hmm, isn't that the sport of throwing a long, pointy stick as far as you can? So it's okay – encouraged, in fact – to throw pointy sticks with your friends, but it's not okay to do a cartwheel or handstand in the grass?

There's more. EQ recommends skateboarding, indoor rock climbing, heaving medicine balls, and surfing for youngsters. (Australia is known for its Great White sharks that surround the continent, hunting for surfers to munch on.)

The whole mess started earlier this week when Belgian Gardens punished a student for doing a single cartwheel during recess.

"We had to practise for a play and she did one on the grass," 10-year-old Cali Buschgens, friend of the acrobatic ne'er-do-well, told the Townsville Bulletin. "Two teachers took her upstairs and she had to sit down for the rest of the day and not do anything."

Cali has ran afoul of the cartwheel cops herself.

"She came home from school a couple of times and said `I got in trouble for doing a cartwheel,'" Cali's mom, Kylie Buschgens, said. Kylie tried to reason with school principal Glenn Dickson, and was told that the gymnastics were a "medium risk level 2." Case closed. No fun for children ever. And no gruel either. Even an email to Dickson went unanswered

But the power of investigative journalism to affect social changes is alive and well. After the Townssville Bulletin contacted the school, Buschgens received an email from Dickson that said the issue would be reviewed.

On Wednesday, the school turned on a dime and did a complete 180 on their previous stance – a low risk level 1– and said they would sit down with parents and teachers to review its decision. People bringing unwanted attention to bureaucrats'' narrow-mindedness can have that effect.

Gymnastics Australia spokesperson Jane Allen thinks the school is being too draconian.

"We think it is a very harsh thing to do and we would encourage the school, rather than just banning it outright, to really look for some providers of developmental gymnastics programs – give the kids a real learning experience on how to do these things safely," Allen told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

While I understand the need for children's safety, banning certain kinds of activities – especially those your parent organization recommends in the name of physical fitness and health – sucks the fun out of childhood. Especially when said parent organization also recommends throwing pointy sticks, bent sticks, climbing cliffs, skateboarding, and surfing with sharks.

Belgian Gardens principal Glenn Dickson needs to remember that kids will always be kids, and this is the one time of their life they get to express joy and happiness through movement and activity.

Just let them have their fun. Pretty soon, they'll be beaten down by life, have their very soul sucked out by small-minded bureaucrats, and end up as school administrators.