Researchers argue dodgeball is a tool of ‘oppression’ that ‘dehumanizes’ others

Researchers argue dodgeball is a tool of ‘oppression’ that ‘dehumanizes’ others
Researchers noticed a common them after asking middle schoolers broad questions about physical education: They hated dodgeball. (Source: Jordan Beauchamp/Flickr)

(Gray News) - A lot comes to mind when thinking of dodgeball.

Just to be clear, this is not in reference to the 2004 Ben Stiller comedy of the same name. This is about the game often played in North American schools that involves hurling an inflated rubber ball at an opponent in hopes of eliminating them.

Maybe you feel a sense of nostalgia. Then, you’re probably among those who miss the thrill of charging the line just to get first dibs at a ball.

Perhaps you’re one of the people who scurried to the back in hopes that a ball wouldn’t find you.

Whether you were going for headshots, giving your opponent fits with your agility or just hiding behind a crowd, you took part in what a group of university professors in Canada call a tool of “oppression” that teaches kids to “dehumanize” their peers.

“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,” University of British Columbia Professor Joy Butler told the Washington Post.

Researches interviewed middle schoolers about physical education, but noticed a recurring theme: The students hated dodgeball.

When they asked why, they plotted the responses against Iris Marion’s 1999 article “Five Faces of Oppression.” Those faces are exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence.

The study found the more athletic students often dictated the rules of engagement without input from the students with less ability. They picked teams that allowed them to gang up on other students.

“I think of the little girl who is running to the back to avoid being targeted. What is she learning in that class? Avoidance?” Butler asked.

To combat this, researchers asked a class to create a completely new game involving just one ball and two goals. The entire class had to agree to the rules.

The students could have chosen games like basketball or soccer. Instead, the more athletic students splintered into a group of their own and developed a game without the rest of the class.

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

Researchers presented their findings to the Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences. They plan to publish them in an edition of the European Physical Education Review.

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