Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, published in 1972, follows the life of a child growing up in New York City across the street from Central Park and his trials from growing up with a little brother (Fudge), parents who don’t always understand and the pressures of elementary school projects.
Reading this book now opened up a couple windows into the past for me. First, my own memory of reading this myself in Mrs. Nichol’s fourth grade reading class at Warner Elementary school in Wilmington, DE.
Second, my memory of being a kid in the 70s and 80s. It was a time where people must have felt more safe in the world than they do now. Children were allowed to go out and play by themselves, my parents never had any idea where I was and didn’t really care so long as I came home by dinner.
One chapter of ‘Fourth Grade Nothing’ really brought this home for me. The story centers around Peter and his brother, Fudge. Peter is in the fourth grade (10-11yo) and Fudge is 3. Yet, in one scene, the mother leaves Fudge in the care of Peter and his two friends in Central Park while she runs home to turn the oven on. Peter also mentions how he is allowed to come to the park himself, but it is unusual for his mother to leave Fudge in his care – not because of crime, but because Fudge is a disaster, dangerous to himself and all those around him.
I think parents today would panic at even the idea of leaving their kids by themselves for almost any length of time, let alone if it was in the center of New York. What’s the reality? Is New York (as an example) more dangerous now that it has been? The answer is: no. Take a look at this graph of violent crimes committed per year in NYC. When crack was an epidemic in the 90s crime skyrocketed, but it’s come down, way down – below what it was before the rise in crime.
Today we live in a world of fear and think it’s normal. We hawk over our children all the time and worry about everything. I didn’t grow up like this, why would I default to it now?
“One possible reason fear of crime remains high is that powerful people have an incentive to ring the alarms anyway. Politicians score points by promising to get “tough on crime,” even after those efforts pay off and crime levels hit historic lows. Media play up only the most horrifying deeds. The result is a skewed perception of how dangerous the world is.”
What do you think? Is the world safer or more dangerous? Do we over-react to reports of violence?