Canadian education researchers weren’t trying to single out dodgeball when they asked middle schoolers broad questions about their physical education classes. But they couldn’t ignore the one repetitive response they got from kid after kid after kid — they hated dodgeball.
In the results of their study, which is slated for publication in the journal European Physical Education Review, the University of British Columbia researchers called dodgeball a tool of “oppression” that dehumanizes kids and is even “miseducative.”
The professors involved in the study presented their work at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences last week in Vancouver.
“As we consider the potential of physical education to empower students by engaging them in critical and democratic practices, we conclude that the hidden curriculum offered by dodgeball is antithetical to this project, even when it reflects the choices of the strongest and most agile students,” the study reads, according to the National Post.
The researchers had been asking general questions about gym class, but with so many kids consistently reporting that they hated dodgeball, they shifted focus and began asking more about the game. They then decided to plot the kids’ answers against theorist Iris Marion Young’s Five Faces of Oppression, which was published in her book “Justice and the Politics of Difference.”
Her theory of oppression is made up of exploitation; marginalization of groups of lower standing; powerlessness; cultural imperialism, in which the dominant group’s customs are the norm; and violence. (Ever taken a dodgeball to the face? That last one might ring true.)
The student’s responses about dodgeball matched up with Young’s framework, said Joy Butler, a professor at the University of British Columbia in the department of curriculum and pedagogy.
“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,” Butler told The Washington Post.
Butler said researchers noticed that in dodgeball, the more authoritative and athletic kids formed a majority to choose players and establish rules to the exclusion of some students. This let them gang up on others.
And when they asked a focus group of middle schoolers to create a new game with a ball and two goals, but told them they had to have a consensus about the rules, the students broke into the same groups — and excluded the same students from the decision making.
“The message is that it’s OK to hurt or dehumanize the ‘other,’” Butler told The Washington Post. “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 study is already divisive, with an apparently pro-dodgeball USA Today opinion contributor quipping, “Surely this marks the beginning of the end of Western civilization.”
Did you like dodgeball as a kid? Either way, maybe it’s best to follow the wisdom of the character Patches O’Houlihan, the old champion of the 2004 movie “Dodgeball,” on this one: “You’ve got to learn the five D’s of dodgeball: dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge.” That’s advice you can take to the water cooler when someone brings this up at work!