recess radio program

12/18/06
"We All Fall Down"
    by Kevin Shortsleeve

Have you ever stopped to consider how many times you fell down as a child? When you're a kid, you seem to fall down from, or out of, or off of, just about everything: bikes, trees, swing sets, jungle gyms, dining room tables. Really the danger begins when you're learning to walk. I mean, how many times do you have to fall down--upon how many diverse surfaces must you go boom--before you can walk safely?

Children's rhymes emphasize falling down. There is the tragic babe in "Hush a Bye Baby" who, in that fleeting and terrifying depiction, tumbles in its basinet from a broken branch. Then there is the case of London Bridge, which was apparently in a perpetual state of falling down--or there is the chorus, "Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down." And we can't forget those two hapless heroes, poor Jack and Jill. In case you don't know the story, Jack fell down, and Jill, well, she came tumbling after. You'd think that Jill, seeing what happened to Jack, would have been more careful.

Moving forward, if we look at silent films or the golden era of animation, for example, it seems that falling down was again emphasized. Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton--they fell down for a living. But perhaps no creature has ever had more difficulty with falling down than the Coyote in the Warner Brothers cartoons. That coyote was really a crazy clown. And it is amazing that after all those longs drops that that Coyote kept getting back up to pursue that Road Runner. But perhaps it is here, in the tenacious, stubborn Coyote--and his refusal to be disheartened by all those long drops--that we can glimpse a possible benefit in the many skinned knees of our youth.

In his study into the cultural importance of play, critic Johan Huizinga posits that many rough and tumble games--where falling down is such a frequent element--can serve as ritualistic training grounds for the strife and struggle of real life. In this view, falling down repeatedly, as we do when we learn to ride a bike, for example, serves metaphorically to help the developing child toward the realization that tension and opposition are required if we are to achieve anything worthwhile. It might just be that in falling down a lot, and in their ritual games and entertainment, children are being taught that when playing the game of life, you will fall down, and, like that crazy clown the Coyote, when you do fall, it is best to just get back up, dust yourself off, and try again.

Copyright 2006 Kevin Shortsleeve

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Friday, 01-Dec-2006 12:08:41 EST


"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."