So there it is. A mother in a Toronto suburb has asked city hall to cut down the oak trees near her children's schoolyard because the acorns they drop to the ground belie the school’s claim that it is a “nut-free zone.”
“A false sense of security is putting a sign on the door that says nut-free and there’s nuts all over the place,” Donna Giustizia is reported to have said. Those who position themselves as guardians against political correctness and extreme parenting are having a field day. For many, we have now achieved the apogee of modern narcissism, where the mildest fear and the slightest offence are license for any of us to demand satisfaction.
But before piling on, let’s step back for a moment. Ms. Giustizia is not off-base when she says it is odd for a school to say it is a “nut-free zone” when there are tree nuts littering its grounds. People who are familiar with the dangers of anaphylactic allergies know that the slightest contact with an allergen can lead to severe reactions and even death. It’s rare, but it happens. These rarities scare parents and have led to a ban on peanuts in most schools. Everyone ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at school a generation ago; now no one does because of the threat they pose to one in 100 children. The ban is a source of frustration for that vast majority of parents whose children aren’t allergic, but it is nonetheless accepted as a needed precaution.
So in that light, how out of place is it for a mother to worry about an acorn getting cracked open and the tree nut inside somehow coming into contact with her allergy-prone children? Modern parenting has become an exercise in making sure the worst never happens. We arm our children against every possible harm, and we demand that their schools join in the exercise. Is it possible to go too far any more?
Yes, and now we know how. A bitter nut that no one eats raw, that falls from a tree in a rock-hard shell that requires a hammer to crack, and for which there is no evidence that contact with the shell poses a risk, cannot logically be included in the list of things schools need to protect our children against. It is logical, however, to assume that if we start to ban acorns from schoolyards, we will soon have to ban them from public parks, and then from private property because of the risk of an ill-informed squirrel transporting one onto public lands, and we will have veered into the absurd. As long as the school continues to make an effort to remove the acorns from its property and Ms. Giustizia warns her children to stay away from any stray ones, that is more than enough.