Dodgeball is a pretty terrifying sport if – like me – you’ve been cursed with poor spatial awareness and limited hand-eye coordination.
But this scary PE option could have far more serious consequences than just making nerds like myself look even more awkward and clumsy. Could dodgeball actually be a ‘tool of oppression’ that teaches school children it’s okay to hurt or ‘dehumanise’ others?
Now, 13-year-old me would have certainly have agreed with this claim, but it would appear there is scholarly research to back it up…
As reported by The Washington Post, a team of Canadian researchers have asserted this game ‘reinforces’ the five faces of oppression, identified as ‘exploitation’, ‘marginalization’, ‘powerlessness’, ‘cultural imperialism’ and ‘violence’.
Joy Butler, a professor of pedagogy and curriculum development at University of British Columbia, told The Washington Post:
When you’re setting up the environment for students to learn, and you introduce the idea that it’s okay to slam the ball at whomever you like, even if it’s with a soft ball, the intention is there.
Dodgeball was literally just a teacher-endorsed excuse for athletic kids to inflict pain on those of us that were slower, weaker, and possessing other skills that weren't based on physical ability.
— Erin Biba (@erinbiba) June 8, 2019
After interviewing middle school students for their study, researchers found more ‘athletic and authoritative’ students established rules and practices during dodgeball which led to them ganging up on other students
When students think it’s okay because they’re being told it’s okay to do that, what do they learn? People say [dodgeball] is being used as an outlet for aggression or catharsis. I suspect that this is where they’re learning that.
[Physical education class] should be an arena where teachers are helping [students] control their aggression and move on instead of expressing themselves through anger.
Butler has spoken out about the need for ‘P.E. teachers to look at their curriculum and look for balance’, noting how sports such as dodgeball can serve to exclude students whose strengths lie elsewhere.
Researchers’ findings will be presented at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Vancouver this week.
As somebody who endured their fair share of bullying in high school, I recall PE being a prime time for bullies to use sport as an excuse to hurt and demean others.
This included whacks to the ankle with a hockey stick, as well as abuse being shouted under the acceptable guise of enthusiastic competition.
Although I definitely wouldn’t say dodgeball needs to be banned, I would love it if PE teachers addressed what they could do to make sure kids felt safe and confident when practising sports outside of their comfort zone.
If you’ve been affected by bullying, and want to speak to someone in confidence, contact Bullying UK (part of Family Lives) on 0808 800 2222. The helpline service is open 9am – 9pm, Monday to Friday and 10am – 3pm Saturday and Sunday.
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Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications. When not Lad-ing about, she enjoys cooking, reading and trying not to fall over in Yoga.