There was a time in this country when public school teachers could focus on teaching the basics. Today, unfortunately, they are all too often preoccupied with accommodating the silly concerns pervading our society.
To what concerns do I refer? Oh, those such as banning the innocent children’s games of dodge ball, cops and robbers, musical chairs, steal the bacon and tag. You heard me right — it’s not just the allegedly sadistic and violent game of dodge ball that schools are trying to outlaw.
Call me nostalgic for my childhood if you wish — for the days of Beaver Cleaver and Andy Griffith — but I long for the times when cockamamie ideas didn’t pass for reasonable. Bring back the days when kids were allowed to have some harmless fun without certain hair-brained, social engineers coming unglued. Dodge ball is an easy target for the sourpusses because it involves students — heaven forbid — trying to hit other students with a dastardly rubber ball. And at least once in recorded history, one of those children was hurt.
For the record, we played the game all the time in Coach Russell’s PE class at Franklin school, and I can’t remember a single injury, even among the girls who played with us boys. Sure, when the ball hit you it stung slightly, but that was part of the fun of it. Real injuries were much more likely to occur in touch football or softball, which ought to tell you how likely they were.
So, under the pretense that dodge ball is too dangerous, there is an increasing trend among school districts across the country to ban it. But this seems more of a convenient excuse, as does the objection that the game provides a poor cardiovascular workout. Give me a break; softball involves more standing around than movement, and many other games cannot be said to be cardiovascular, being more anaerobic then aerobic.
Reading below the headlines we find that other reasons are motivating those who seek to purge these schoolyard games. One major reason, according to the Los Angeles Times, "is that the game can hurt children’s feelings."
How does dodge ball cause this irreversible emotional trauma? Well, it is a contest of elimination where the last player to avoid being hit wins. So, like the perilous games of cutthroat in billiards and the heartless musical chairs, dodge ball is a game of exclusion — a capital crime in these times of politically correct inclusion.
Diane Farr, a curriculum specialist in Austin, Texas, explained that her school district implemented the ban to satisfy a panel of professors, students and parents who wanted to "preserve the rights and dignity" of all students in the district. So dodge ball is a dignity thief? Of course, claims Farr. "What we have seen is that it does not make students feel good about themselves."
There’s more. According to one anti-dodge ball crusader, "at its base, the game encourages the strong to victimize the weak. … Schools preach the values of harmony, community and cooperation. But then those same schools let the big kids loose to see if they can hit the skinny nerd in the head with a hard, red rubber ball." (Have you noticed that no one ever sticks up for fat nerds?)
Educators also fear that dodge ball is not only violent, but that it and other games convey "a message of violence." "With Columbine and all the violence that we are having, we have to be careful with how we teach our children," says Farr. They actually want us to believe that there is a logical continuum between dodge ball (and cops and robbers) and student on student massacres.
The Washington Times detailed a litany of examples, including: a threatened suspension in California of a 9-year-old for playing cops and robbers, two New York second-graders suspended and criminally charged with making terrorist threats for pointing paper guns and saying, "I’m going to kill you"; and a 9-year-old New Jersey boy suspended and ordered to undergo psychological evaluation because he told another student that he planned to shoot a classmate with spitballs.
These ideas are ludicrous on their face, but there is obviously something else at work here. While the secularists are paranoid lest any vestige of Western values remain in the classroom, they are eager to impose their own values at school.
They tell us they want to promote harmony, community and inclusiveness when what they really want is to push the notion of pacifism and discourage our traditions of competition and rugged individualism.
Maybe it’s time to urge some of these educators, instead of the students, to seek psychological evaluations.
This column was originally published in April, 2002