Dodging the Curriculum: Schools Ban Dodgeball On the Grounds That it "Promotes Bullying"
"Every winner was once a beginner." - Anonymous
Dodgeball week in gym class was always a terrifying one for me. I was never the biggest kid, or the strongest, especially in middle school, and so I was considered an easy target - the weak link to be easily disposed of early in the game. It was as if the hulking post-pubescent behemoths of the 7th grade possessed some kind of supernatural kill faculty that I could never tap into as long as I lived. (Or maybe I've just been watching too much Dexter lately.) These acne-ridden titans in flimsy high tops could literally sense vulnerability, and they made it their job to perform a twerp genocide via whipping makeshift kickballs around the gymnasium for five 55 minute sessions once a year. The innocents fell left and right with flailing arms and twisted limbs as their bearded 12-year old executioners only laughed. Looking back, it was almost ritualistic - a hedonistic mercy killing of the nerds, dweebs, and dorks who could otherwise outsmart them in all other aspects of life. The geeks had to be sacrificed to maintain the natural pecking order.
Your dad just lost his job? Haha, here's one for your face! Parents getting a divorce? Haha, here's one for your face! Your great grandma just died? Haha, here's one for your face! This was a true lesson in the "might equals right" philosophy - a good one to learn early on if you plan on spending the rest of your existence dedicated to exposing the stupidity of such a maxim. Once the gym teacher blew that stupid red whistle, it was on, and the most you could do was prolong your inevitable destruction, but maybe, just maybe, you could throw those bullies for a loop in the process with a few well-timed head shots... Unintentionally, of course.
Windham School District
Granted, for many 12-year-olds, being ruthlessly hunted like a deer for an hour on a daily basis isn't exactly the highlight of their day. Adolescence can be a pretty rough time for kids, and being cast as the object of someone else's domineering physicality can add to the desperation and confusion of those formative years. It's no secret that bullying is reaching near epidemic levels in America (as evidenced by these 14-year-old sociopaths - Warning: Deeply disturbing behavior and explicit language), and it's equally obvious that this type of behavior needs to stop immediately on all levels. However, rather than using games like dodgeball as character-building exercises to educate students about teamwork and overcoming adversity, a school district in New Hampshire has opted to take the easy way out by removing them from the phys. ed curriculum entirely.
In a 4-1 vote of the Windham, New Hampshire School Board, "target games" such as dodgeball have been banned from the district's gym classes. The reasoning behind the decision was that the school's policy makers felt that games such as dodgeball contradict their anti-violence stance: "Here we have games where we use children as targets. That seems to be counter to what we are trying to accomplish with our anti-bullying campaign" said Henry LaBranche, Superintendent of Windham School District. Mr. LaBranche is right: Dodgeball is violent. But the idea behind the game, and indeed behind all sports, is to help channel the competitive spirit (i.e. our inherent primal affinity for violence) in a healthy way. It's also a great chance to counter the "might is right" philosophy by championing agility and strategy over sheer size and strength. It may seem like a chaotic mess to the casual observer, but dodgeball is much more a game of wits than brawn.
Most importantly, violent sports serve as a metaphor for the cutthroat world in which we live. Someone is always going to be gunning for you job, for your significant other, for your very identity, and the sooner that we realize this sad fact of life, the better. Violent competition isn't an obstacle to be avoided, it's a fact of life - one that we will all encounter at some point. By removing it from the controlled, moderated environment of the gymnasium, we aren't protecting our children, we're doing them a disservice. In essence, we're lying to them, insisting that the world isn't the ruthless domain of those that would seek to dominate them. Furthermore, we're cultivating the warm and fuzzy notion that, if something scares them, the powers that be will tuck them in tightly and magically remove all the fear that comes along with modern existence.
The question of whether to remove dodgeball, and other games like it, goes well beyond protecting our children from senseless bullying. Banning certain games deemed unfit for the growth of the student body is a curriculum issue and should be approached as such.
Somewhere along the line, we began coddling our children to the extent that demanding one measly hour of physical exertion from them was considered taboo. Whatever happened to cultivating our youth's physical capabilities as well as their intellectual potential? The mind is bound to be deficient if the vessel is sedentary.
Physical education in public schools as it stands today is a joke, laughable in that we avoid developing our children's emotional health, while simultaneously allowing their muscles to atrophy and their waistlines to bulge. Much of this has to do with school policy, and much of it has to do with lazy P.E. teachers. Most schools don't require students to shower (understandably conservative) or even change their clothes (recklessly unhygienic) before or after class. Kids basically wander into fourth period, maybe shoot a few hoops, and then escape to roam the halls when the teacher is zoned out in a bro chat with one of his football players or inappropriately ogling a cheerleader. There's no structure, no attempt to stress the importance of sportsmanship, and no desire to instill a lifelong desire to live an active lifestyle. In the technological age in which we live, we should be adding games and activities to the phys. ed curriculum, not stripping the cupboards bare.
The problem isn't with the games that our kids are playing, it's with the direction of the professionals that we entrust with their development. Dodgeball doesn't have to be just another excuse for the big kids to pick on the vertically challenged. Instead, it can be a fun way to get a deluxe serving of exhilarating exercise, while also serving as an experiment in team building. In short, dodgeball can help forge friendships between classmates just as easily as it can divisions. The person who will ultimately dictate the degree to which the students benefit from these games is the teacher. If he or she is willing to take an active role in enhancing the game for everyone, then there's no reason why these games would ever devolve into another shallow excuse for a bully to inflict his will. Here are a few tips to ensure quality sportsmanship when playing dodgeball:
- Don't refer to the game by any of its more threatening monikers (e.g. murderball, bombardment, poisonball, etc. ). These names only reinforce the violent aspects of the game by enthusiastically heralding an otherwise unnecessarily vicious approach to the game.
- Be sure that you're playing with balls that are heavy enough to fly quickly through the air without hurting anyone. If the ball is too light, it won't travel fast enough, and the game will lose its fun. Of course, if the ball is too heavy or coarse, certain kids will be afraid of its force and feel threatened.
- Actually pay attention to the game, and help the kids with their throwing motions and their awareness. In the same way that many kids need help with learning to read or discerning the meaning of a poem, most children that don't usually play sports will have difficulty with certain techniques. This is where a gym teacher can actually earn their pay by transferring their passion for athletics to their pupils.
- Never, under any circumstances, allow the kids to choose their own teams. Not only will this lead to a disparity in athletic size and skill, but a handful of kids will feel inferior to their peers when they're picked near the end. It's not fun feeling left out, so be sure to avoid any controversy by fairly choosing the teams before the students even come to class.
- Finally, make sure that you use lots of balls during the game so that every student has a chance to be an active participant. However, more balls will have the more intense kids salivating, so make sure that a player can only possess one ball at a time.
Something for Everyone
It's important to remember that everyone learns differently and is going to excel in different areas. Sure, dodgeball isn't exactly a life skill, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't teach life lessons. This could be the chance for an otherwise average kid to stand out and build some self-confidence. For instance, the man-child that owns on the dodgeball court is often times the same kid that struggles in the classroom - the ultimate breeding ground for fostering a culture of barbarous one-upsmanship. Who's to say that he doesn't feel the same amount of shame for never having mastered his multiplication tables as the kid that he just blasted in the face feels for having just been blasted in the face? Should we remove chemistry because my inability to master it in high school made me feel kind of bad about myself? How about math for kids that struggle with geometry? When a student is diagnosed with dyslexia do we merely throw our hands up in dismay and leave the kid staring at the page desperately stuttering? Didn't think so. Why should a competitive, pseudo-violent sport that's traditionally been included in the phys. ed curriculum be any different?
Ryan, Michael. "School Board Axes Dodgeball Games from Curriculum." Windham Patch. News. 21 March 2013. Web. 4 March 2013.