Researchers: Dodgeball is an ‘unethical tool of oppression’

Credit: Micah Walter

Credit: Micah Walter

A group of researchers in Canada says the game “dodgeball” shouldn’t be played in schools, arguing that it’s not only “oppressive,” but also “miseducative.”

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The researchers discussed their findings, saying some students use dodgeball to dehumanize and harm their peers, in a recent presentation at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Vancouver, Canada.

"When you're setting up the environment for students to learn, and you introduce the idea that it's OK to slam the ball at whomever you like, even if it's with a soft ball, the intention is there," University of British Columbia professor Joy Butler told The Washington Post. "[Physical education class] should be an arena where teachers are helping [students] control their aggression and move on instead of expressing themselves through anger."

The researchers interviewed middle school-aged students broader questions about physical education class. Researchers repeatedly heard that certain students hated dodgeball, The Post reported.

The fact that some kids enjoy dodgeball doesn’t save it, according to an abstract for the presentation. Dodgeball is “miseducative” because it “reinforces the five faces of oppression,” which are exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence, the abstract said.

“The message is that it’s OK to hurt or dehumanize the ‘other,’” Butler said. “The competition is about annihilating one’s opponent, and the true definition of competition is between two evenly matched teams. Well, kids stack their teams, and they really enjoy beating the other team. What’s the enjoyment of that?”

The researchers asked a group of students to create their own game, the only requirements being that there be two goals, a ball and all students had to agree on the rules. Students who dominated in dodgeball split off from the rest of the students to develop rules without consulting their peers, researchers said.

Butler said this showed how negative aspects of dodgeball can spill over to other areas of physical education.

Researcher David Burns, of Kwantlen Polytechnic University, said teachers should be offering students models of good behavior, confirmation of their value and practice for incorporating them into their life, The Ottawa Citizen reported. The problem with dodgeball, Burns said, is that it celebrates aggressively singling out others for dominance.

“Within a game, that’s largely harmless, but within an educational experience over time, you might be nurturing the wrong thing,” Burns said.

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