kitchen table math, the sequel: Teambuilding

Thursday, May 28, 2009


OK, next!

I have to sign a form to allow (everyone has to go) my son to go to a one-day adventure/team building camp which will challenge their "own inner strength". "Participants will be exposed to leadership and teamwork concepts through the use of mental and physical training." This will be using a "Low Ropes and/or High Ropes Course" at a National Guard facility. I don't know a thing about these people or what the program is, but I have to sign a form that says it's OK if my son comes home dead or paralyzed.

I suppose it wouldn't be so bad if they gave me a detailed description of what they will be doing, but I have nothing. When I talked to someone at the school, she said that she thought there might be a reaction to the "scary" forms. It's my problem, apparently. She did say that it was only going to be the "Low Ropes Course", but that's not what the paperwork says.

So, here we have a program that will try to push kids physically and mentally and to trust others. Kids will feel pressured to not trust their own judgment. Amazingly, this is actually part of a "Counterdrug Program". I'm being pushed mentally and pressured to trust them when I would rather

"just say no."


Anonymous said...

Is it something they do every year? You could probably find a parent or kid to give you details.

My son went to an "adventure camp" that was run by a military school. It was actually pretty exciting for him. He did some kind of rope-crossing activity, also. They had him in a harness, with ropes coming off of it to break any kind of fall, I guess. He also wore a helmut.

I had a heart attack every time I opened the pictures for that day.

They should have photos of it somewhere, I would think.


SteveH said...

This is the first year the school will be doing it. I was told that the course and the prople come very highly recommended (by parents too). This year it's the low ropes course, and next year, depending on how it goes this year, will be the high ropes course.

Lsquared said...

Does your son want to go? In cases like that, I ask my child. If they want to go, OK, I'll sign. If they don't want to go, I don't sign it. Middle schools think they are way more important than they really are anyway. (What does required mean, anyway, in a case like this. If he doesn't go, maybe they'll lower his grade in PE/health?) Team building is over rated too. OK, I'm clearly feeling snarky today. Good luck with the team building thing. Hopefully it will be fun at least.

SteveH said...

I think the teambuilding idea is overrated too. Once again, schools assume that parents aren't doing their job. I just hope it's not run by some boot camp personality.

Catherine Johnson said...

I have to sign a form that says it's OK if my son comes home dead or paralyzed.I'd sign for comes home with a broken arm and leave it at that.

Catherine Johnson said...

What I meant to say was: wtf?

bky said...

When your son is grown up and working for a big company he will be expected to take part in team building exercises. How do you expect him to perform well on the escape-from-the-jungle with his manager and two other peers if he was deprived of low-ropes in middle school?

People used to talk about leadership. Everybody needed leadership skills. But there was not enough followership training to support that leadership so now it's on to team building.

Barry Garelick said...

The consent form is fairly standard. My daughter went to a few events run by an after-school community center. They did an outing to Hershey Park and we had to sign a form stating we wouldn't hold them liable for death, dismemberment, etc etc. One parent refused to sign, so her daughter couldn't go.

Catherine Johnson said...

How do you expect him to perform well on the escape-from-the-jungle with his manager and two other peers if he was deprived of low-ropes in middle school?Good question!

Catherine Johnson said...

what's with the formatting on comments lately??

Catherine Johnson said...

death, dismemberment...
Looks like I need to add a link to overlawyered....

SteveH said...

" support that leadership so now it's on to team building."

Boy, I'm glad I'm out of the corporate world, but my wife had to go through a couple of teambuilding exercises. They were just another tool for the managers to examine and review the workers. It doesn't matter if you are an equal on the professional track rather than the managerial track. The managers have to justify there existence somehow.

Redkudu said...

This isn't meant to sway your decision one way or another, but I have seen these courses so I can at least offer some insight there.

This website has a great description of a low ropes course that's in keeping with what I'm familiar with. Ropes, beams, etc. about 1-2 feet off the ground. You can see by the picture that problem solving involves getting from one place to another using team support, running relays, etc.

You can also use Google images and see pics of kids on a low ropes course. I'm not so sure this particular activity is going to make kids question their own judgment - it's more a team problem-solving activity than anything else. Kids usually have a good time, and I've noticed they don't tend to internalize the "philosophy" too much, because they aren't thinking of that while they're having fun.

I'd say the biggest danger, if this is the type of course, would be rope burn or scuffed knees.

The high ropes course now - I'd be more concerned about that one. (You can Google images for those too.) They are much more about pushing past physical fears, and if not done properly they may place pressure on kids to take a risk they're not comfortable taking - don't want to be embarrassed in front of peers, etc. This kind of course absolutely requires safety equipment and the monitors have got to be top-notch.

Parentalcation said...

My 8th grader did that on the course here at Elmendorf AFB.

They were only allowed to do obstacles that were below a certain height and there were plenty of safety monitors/spotters.

It's all BS as far as the stated goals, but it's fun.

My daughter enjoyed it, and she isn't very "athletic"

VickyS said...

What's messed up about this is that they have to frame it as a "team building" activity, or something to do with "inner strength."

Why not just call it a cool field trip, which it is (my sons have both been to these types of camps and like Rory said, it's loads of fun).

I question the rationale for the activity, not the activity itself, necessarily.

Must we always be part of a team? Some people fly solo. How about a field trip where you learn how to do stuff alone. That would be more in line with the development of "inner strength" anyway.

Must we all face our fears in artificial environments that we have not chosen? Some people would rather wait for natural opportunities, or choose the time and place ourselves, and sign up for Outward Bound when we're feeling ready.

Must we always trust others? Sometimes others can't be trusted. I'd rather they learn to judge who can, indeed, be trusted.

Barry Garelick said...

Thanks Vicky S. Couldn't have said it better. For the record, I hate the word "team" almost as much as the words "share" and "reflect".

Cranberry said...

My mother, my daughter, and I are all afraid of heights. I remember freaking out on a ropes course in high school--freezing and refusing to take a step. My daughter did the same at her school's adventure camp. On the other hand, my son loves climbing walls and ropes courses, and I trust his school implicitly.

The value of being an adult is that you can say, "no," when someone proposes an asinine activity. Children don't have that power, unless their parents do it for them.

Do you trust the school?
Do you trust the teachers in charge of the program?
Do other parents, whose children have participated, praise the program?
Is your son afraid of heights?

I would not sign my child up for an activity in which he/she would be forced to "go beyond his limits." Absolute terror is not a healthy point from which to learn, and I've met enough insensitive adults to know that some will push a kid too far, because they don't accept the validity of the kid's opinion.

Students miss activities every day, for various reasons. I think that parents are buffaloed into agreeing to questionable activities by the assertion, "everyone's doing it." If it's off campus, and not academic, they need your permission. It's your choice.

Catherine Johnson said...

Well, now I'm going to have to figure out what low ropes & high ropes are.

We have some new bungee-jumpee thingie at the high school that Jimmy's teacher put him on one day. C. was there. Jimmy freaked out! He was squealing DAAAAA-ddy! DAAAAA-ddy! (I can hear him -- same voice he uses on the log flume at Playland, which he likes to go on & asks to go on but then he changes his mind when the cart clears the final rise.)

That reminds me: Andrew, last summer, insisted on going on the....what the heck is that ride called?

It's the one with roller-coaster seats on a circular track & fantastically loud heavy metal music. First the carts race around the track going forwards; then they reverse and race around the track backwards. The centrifugal forces are so strong all the riders are crammed against the far side of the cart.

Andrew was squished down & curled up like a little caterpillar against Ed, looking terrified. He looked **so** terrified I was debating whether I should ask the guy to stop the ride and take him off.

Meanwhile Ed was sustaining a back or shoulder injury (I forget which) from having Andrew jammed against him.

When the ride ended, Andrew wanted to go again.

Catherine Johnson said...

Vicky - great!

VickyS said...

As for the activity itself, if the ropes course is part of a commercial operation with liability insurance, safety vetting, etc., you're probably okay. You want to know who's going to be in charge there. It should not be school personnel.

It's a little off topic but I have a field trip horror story that will make your skin crawl. The sixth graders at our private school always took a day trip canoeing in the spring. I thought nothing of it; I assumed it would be through a legitimate canoe outfit. Turns out it was the pet project of one teacher. Some parents volunteered to canoe along. They took a bus, rented canoes at a public rental place, and set off in a big, fast-moving, deep river (the St. Croix, for Allison & St Pauli girl).

My son was placed in a canoe with 2 other boys, both troublemakers (one had been driven home by the middle school director from an earlier, overnight camp). Clearly he was placed there to try to keep them on the up and up. No adult in the canoe.

The boys flipped the canoe in the middle of the St. Croix. Thank God, and I mean it, that my boy had his life jacket on, and the other boys too. Who's to say they hadn't taken them off while screwing around on that big river? The kids & canoe went sailing down the river. My son was pulled out by parent who, thankfully, had canoeing experience. Thank goodness my guy can swim so he wasn't completely terrified. They were also able to right the canoe in the middle of the river. The other boys were pulled out by the teacher, I think.

No one called me.

I heard about this whole thing from my son when he returned.

I read the riot act to the middle school director but since there were only two days left of school he said there really wasn't anything he could do about it.

When it came time for my younger son to go on this same trip (nothing changed; it's a beloved tradition, after all...), he just happened to be absent that day.

Likewise the bike trip. Each year they do a parent-supervised 10 mile bike trip on a busy country road.

Funny how my kids always had stomach aches on those days.

Catherine Johnson said...

Using harnesses, helmets, cables, ropes and wooden beams strung 20 to 50 feet high among trees or poles, teams explore risk-taking, trust and coaching. Each moment is rich with discoveries, whether you’re climbing, simply encouraging others or on belay.

Belay that, matey.

Catherine Johnson said...


vendors with ropes

Catherine Johnson said...

I am dumbfounded by Vicky's stories.

I speak as a person who knows of one boy killed on a commercial white water rafting trip and one high school girl killed on a bike trip -- a bike trip on an empty road in Colorado in the middle of a bright sunny day.

VickyS said...

Well these things can happen even when precautions are taken. I'm not the person who wants to remove the swings from the school playground. However, when a school or any organization arranges or sponsors such activities, they have a basic obligation to keep the kids safe. Contract with a reputable company to do a ropes course? Fine. Throw a bunch of kids in rented canoes onto a major waterway. No.

Allison said...

An undergraduate that I knew died in a canoeing accident. He drowned. He was a grader for the course I was teaching.

The idea that the school let random people canoe on the St. Croix makes me want to start screaming. Vicky, can you just email me and tell me which private school all these horror stories come from? please? greifer at gmail dot com, please.

Steve's point about how kids are pressured to trust others is really the part that makes me so angry. Most of the counterdrug program experiences I've seen are PRECISELY the behaviors that would lead to drug use. This seems to be another such example.

And of course the reason why they needed a rationale for the field trip was because otherwise IT WOULDN"T BE EDUCATIONAL.

but obviously when it's character ed, it is.

VickyS said...

How very true. This "trust others" mantra is the opposite of what we should be telling them, from a drug education standpoint (and peer pressure, in general).

They should be taught to think for themselves, and trust their own judgement. That's my wish for them as a parent, anyway.

Plus, some people are simply not to be trusted. As one who trusts too much, I can say that being gullible is NOT good.

SteveH said...

"The high ropes course now - I'd be more concerned about that one."

I found out that it was just the low ropes course this year, so I signed the papers and sent them in this morning. The high ropes is something else. Can you overcome a real problem of heights (or anything) with the teamwork of untrained peers, and do it while everyone is watching?

They could call it a future managers training course - "How to Justify Your Existence".

SteveH said...

"Sometimes others can't be trusted."


SteveH said...

"Do you trust the school?
Do you trust the teachers in charge of the program?
Do other parents, whose children have participated, praise the program?
Is your son afraid of heights?"

Yes, it's a judgment; probabilities. I have no problem with the low ropes. I'll see what my son says and what other parents say before I decide on the high ropes for next year. This is the first time the school is doing this, so there is little information.

SteveH said...

Learning trust and teamwork shouldn't necessarily involve risk, and it shouldn't involve those who haven't earned that trust.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm not the person who wants to remove the swings from the school playground. However, when a school or any organization arranges or sponsors such activities, they have a basic obligation to keep the kids safe. Contract with a reputable company to do a ropes course? Fine. Throw a bunch of kids in rented canoes onto a major waterway. No.Absolutely.

An issue for parents is that a lot of us don't know what the various risks are.

I had no idea how risky white water rafting is until the little boy we knew died & palisadesk told us her story.

I also had no idea how risky driving, cycling, & walking are until I was in an accident in L.A.

Our attorney told me that if you drive in L.A. you're going to have an accident. Period. That was basically his position.

Which turned out to be true, or close to it.

Also: until that experience it simply hadn't occurred to me that pedestrians can get killed while walking on sidewalks. I thought cars hit other cars. (inflexible knowledge!)

Then when I was spending time in doctors' offices & rehab places I met all kinds of people who'd been hit by cars while on foot. One had been hit by a bus.

The woman who hit me is probably the same woman who, just two weeks later, jumped a curb in Beverly Hills & ploughed through a bunch of people sitting in front of a cafe. iirc, one person died and one person had a leg amputated as a result of injuries.

Our attorney told us that the laws against reckless driving are never enforced. If you stood on a corner and shot a gun into the air you'd be arrested at once & tried. But reckless driving, he said, is far more dangerous and no one goes to jail or even gets arrested. (The way this woman hit me was INSANE. Really, it was beyond reckless driving - and she had her child with her at the time, as I did.)

She had broken all kinds of laws (out of state license plates, drivers license, etc.) and that wasn't going to cause any trouble for her, either.

The system was that people like her had their cars impounded; then they bought another car for $200 and drove it illegally until they crashed again.

That's when I realized that all the laws about having car insurance & proper registration etc. are followed by the people who don't need those laws in order to drive safely.

The people who are going to be running over cafe patrons aren't the people who buy car insurance.

Catherine Johnson said...

Can you overcome a real problem of heights (or anything) with the teamwork of untrained peers, and do it while everyone is watching?no

Catherine Johnson said...

oh my gosh

this reminds me of the speaker who came to the middle school a couple of years ago: this was a former teacher who was RUN OVER IN BED

His presence at the school produced an endless amount of dinner table riffing that night. Christian was especially hilarious on the subject of exactly what kind of reception a former teacher who was run over in bed would be given at a Yonkers high school. (Basically: what kind of fool gets run over in bed?)

Then C. reported that the speaker had said everyone should support teachers & pay them more because every successful person in the country had a teacher when he was a child.

Prompting Ed to say, "What about the guy who ran over him in bed? Didn't he have a teacher?"

Catherine Johnson said...

We have too many vendors.

That's all there is to it.

Catherine Johnson said...

PLUS which, a guy who got run over in bed might have a helpful message for grownups. I think his speech was about overcoming trauma, moving on, etc. His wife was killed in the accident.

But most 10-13 year old children in a suburban school haven't experienced severe trauma.

It doesn't seem too likely to me that this particular message would have been helpful to kids who had suffered trauma, either.