British Columbia

'Legalized bullying': Stop playing dodgeball in schools, UBC professor urges

UBC Faculty of Education professor Joy Butler makes the argument that dodgeball is not an appropriate game for school children.

Faculty of Education professor Joy Butler wants the game gone from gym class

UBC education professor Joy Butler says dodgeball is too aggressive for school kids. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

It's all fun and games — until someone gets emotionally scarred.

Love it or hate it, dodgeball has been a gym class staple for generations. For some it is the highlight of the day, but for others it is an anxiety-inducing activity that one education expert is calling "legalized bullying."

Joy Butler, professor of curriculum and pedagogy at the University of British Columbia, says dodgeball — which involves two teams hurling balls at each other with the object of hitting players on the opposing team to eliminate them from the game — should no longer be played in school.

Butler told CBC's The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn that many teachers she has spoken to say dodgeball is a fun way to get kids to exercise and helps "shape them up for society — for the real world."

But Butler, who recently presented her arguments in Vancouver at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, disagrees.

"It is tantamount to legalized bullying," she said.

Human targets

Butler recounted a story of a girl in elementary school running to the back of the gym and hiding from her classmates to avoid getting hit.

"She is being hounded," said Butler. "What is she learning from that experience?

Butler believes the game teaches kids to avoid their classmates rather than engage with them and said there are alternative activities educators can opt for that don't teach kids "it's OK to actually victimize other people."

Some American schools have banned dodgeball, but Butler said it doesn't have to be taken "that far."

She wants teachers to realize themselves why dodgeball shouldn't be played in schools, and start paying attention to the kids cowering in the back rather than catering to their classmates "with the loudest voices" who take pleasure in picking off human targets.

Murder ball

Stephen Berg, education professor at UBC Okanagan, said he grew up loving dodgeball — a game his teachers called "murder ball" — but he changed his tune when he became an educator.

"In schools we talk a lot about kindness, empathy, compassion and citizenship," said Berg, who finds those terms "go out the window" in the gym.

"It's almost contradictory to what we are trying to demonstrate in schools," he said.

Berg knows from his daughter the anxiety that dodgeball can induce.

He said his daughter is "a great human being but not that athletic" and when she leaves a gym class after a game of dodgeball she "feels ashamed that she is not contributing."

Berg acknowledged that other kids love and excel at the game and that it is a chance to release energy, but he disagrees with the notion that other kids should "suck it up or toughen up."

He said mental health is serious concern these days for youth and telling them to toughen up "just doesn't fly anymore."

Berg agreed with Butler that a variety of alternative, more inclusive activities could be substituted for dodgeball.

With files from The Early Edition