This week, three education theorists will present the premise that dodgeball is “miseducative” and teaches athletic privilege to the Canadian Society for the Study of Education at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Vancouver, Canada.
It is not saved because some kids like it, according to an abstract for the presentation, led by Joy Butler, professor of curriculum and pedagogy at the University of British Columbia.
“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,” it reads.
As Butler’s abstract describes it, those “faces” are “marginalization, powerlessness, and helplessness of those perceived as weaker individuals through the exercise of violence and dominance by those who are considered more powerful.” Young’s list of these fundamental types of oppression also includes exploitation and cultural domination.
The audience for this argument is primarily teachers, including gym teachers, who are identified as part of the problem, for not acting on values they otherwise understand and claim to hold.
“Despite the fact that many physical educators understand their vital role in helping students develop robust, equal, productive relationships and critical awareness, their practices on the ground do not always reflect this agenda,” the presenters write. “We suggest that this tension becomes sharply visible in the common practice of allowing students to play dodgeball.”
Brean's National Post article references the comedy movie Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story with Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller to highlight how dodgeball is a danger to the development of children’s character:
“Dodgeball is a sport of violence, exclusion, and degradation.” – Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
For teachers trying to foster the virtues of caring and inclusion, on this view, dodgeball is counterproductive. Sport can teach ethical behaviour and give students the chance to practise it and, in this sense, it is important training for citizens in a democracy.
This goal is impeded when cruelty, oppression and violence are built into the rules. Games become more like cruel initiation ceremonies into a brutal world in which might makes right. As O’Houlihan puts it, before he starts throwing wrenches at his players as a form of training: “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.”
Again quoting this 2004 comedy film to exemplify athletic privilege:
“Dodgeball is a sport of violence, exclusion and degradation. So, when you’re picking players in gym class, remember to pick the bigger, stronger kids for your team. That way, you can all gang up on the weaker ones like Winston here.” Winston, a stereotypical nerd, gets a laugh here when he gets hit in the head and his glasses fall off. For many students, this is the miserable experience of schoolyard dodgeball.