by L. Daniel Howell, PhD, Vice President of The Primalfoot Alliance
By all accounts, Hawaii is one of the most barefoot-friendly places in the United States. Bare feet are generally welcome in the shops, markets and eateries on this beach paradise.* Accordingly, public schools on the islands have also been traditionally accepting of barefooted children.
Back in December of 2010 a news article emerged from Maui in which public school principal Fern Markgraf declared, “the olden days (in Hawaii) when kids all had bare feet are no longer acceptable.” This declaration, however, begs the question: Why? What threats to bare feet exist today that did not exist in the “olden days”? Why are bare feet in Hawaiian schools – once the norm – no longer “acceptable”? Is it possible that Fern Markgraf and the rest of Hawaii is just falling prey to Western ‘civilities’?
On June 1, 2011, I mailed a letter to Mrs. Markgraf encouraging her to reconsider this position. I now make the letter available to the public as an open letter – a plea to all schools throughout America that prohibit (or even discourage) students from going barefoot on their campuses. As a professor of human anatomy, Vice President of the Primalfoot Alliance and author of The Barefoot Book, I am thoroughly convinced that requiring footwear on children damages their feet for life. If you are a school administrator, I – on behalf of the Primalfoot Alliance – urge you to reconsider bare feet in the classroom. Please contact us; we would love to talk with you further about this important health issue affecting our school children.
RE: Footwear on schoolchildren
Dear Fern Markgraf,
Thank you for your dedication to improving the lives of children through education. As an educator myself, I know it’s a tiring and often thankless profession (yet also rewarding).
I am writing because you recently cited footwear as a dire need and priority for your schoolchildren. You stated in a Maui News report that the “olden days (in Hawaii) when kids all had bare feet are no longer acceptable.” I certainly believe you are doing what you feel is best for the children in your care, but I think you are making a mistake that in the long run will harm the feet and health of the children in Hawaii.
There is a growing body of scientific evidence that prolonged shoe use damages our feet, ankles, knees, hips and spine. The use of footwear by young children is particularly problematic since a child’s foot is still developing; the shoeing of children sets them up for foot problems that last a lifetime. It is widely believed that footwear is needed “for safety reasons,” but after performing a thorough search for barefoot-related injuries I and others have found scant evidence to support this assertion. Indeed, the evidence indicates we should all go barefoot more for healthy feet and bodies.
I sincerely urge you to reconsider your requirement for footwear on your pupils. Schoolchildren have long gone barefoot in Hawaii without serious injuries. Indeed, the history of going shoeless in Hawaii is cause for celebration. As states on the mainland are realizing the harm caused by shoes and the benefits of going shoeless, Hawaii has a unique opportunity to lead the nation in promoting foot health through going barefoot. Schoolchildren in Hawaii have already demonstrated that going barefoot is safe and healthy for children. Perhaps a more sensible approach is simply to let children and parents decide for themselves whether shoes are necessary for them.
I am available if you would like further consultation. I love sharing the discovery that feet are healthiest and happiest when bare!
Dr. Daniel Howell
Vice President, The Primalfoot Alliance
Author, The Barefoot Book
(Please note: The original letter was co-signed by Michael Buttgen, founder & President of the Primalfoot Alliance and Michael Warburton, research scientist.)
Related resources from The Primalfoot Alliance:
Our Position on TOMS' 'One Day Without Shoes'
National-TV Stories Provide Positive Looks at Barefoot Living
Frequently Asked Questions
* Jennifer Aniston has even made waves this week walking barefoot around the islands and according to an internet poll the vast majority of people think it’s "cool."