Tag—you're illegal!

THE LIST OF WAYS in which children's skin and psyche can be forever bruised is apparently endless these days: dodge ball, kickball, any game in which they chase or touch or aim at one another. It's hard sometimes to tell whether schools are graduating students or growing orchids. An elementary school in Massachusetts that banned tag, dodge ball and all other "contact" or "chase" games this month was only the most recent of a growing list. Another school in the same state outlawed touching altogether.

Georgia resolved the problem — until public outcry forced a change — by eliminating recess, on the notion that if you cramp children's bodies into chairs long enough, with no break time for activity or relaxation, they will somehow become better learners too.

School officials cite the injured feelings of children who might be singled out, and the possibility of a lawsuit if children are physically hurt. It's a wonder any kid escapes recess without being traumatized for life.

Life is indeed perilous for children and principals alike. But if you make recess boring enough, kids will sit it out like field potatoes — and then sue anyway because all this enforced inactivity led to childhood obesity.

The notion that children can endure a certain amount of discomfort still bears truth, though we admit to being unfashionable in stating it. Thus our own discomfort at the sort of thinking that has banished scorekeeping from some youth soccer leagues. Winning isn't supposed to matter, no matter that competitive games were invented for, well, competition. Maybe adults can sustain that particular fantasy, but 5-year-olds are way too smart. So while mom and dad pretend that goals are just another artifact of the game, children who haven't even learned how to count are keeping perfect score.

Minor injuries, physical and mental, are unavoidable on the playground (take the monkey bars, if any still exist). A child who avoids being targeted by a dodge ball now will feel the sting another day in another way.

The real lesson schools are teaching here is that solving minor roughhousing problems calls for all-or-nothing strictures, and common sense no longer is trusted. We, and most parents, expect reasonable teachers to spot and stop bullying or break up a third-grade game gone rough. But if the world of tag simply proves too cruel and bloody, they can always equip kids with copies of "Grand Theft Auto."

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