By Guest Blogger Dennette Bailey

Have you heard about the story in the news this past April concerning a young boy in Michigan who had charges filed against him because he hit a classmate with a ball during a game of dodgeball? This young boy was charged with aggravated assault and there was an outcry in the media because the incident was made into a racial issue.

The mother of the young boy who was hit reported to a Detroit TV station (WXYZ TV) that her son has a special medical condition that would make head injuries “especially dangerous.” The child seen as the aggressor was suspended from school but the charges against him were later dropped.

Many people reacted in one of two ways. They either blamed the mother of the child with the medical condition for allowing her child to “play” knowing he had this condition, or they blamed society for being racists in regards to the child charged as the aggressor.

I would like to submit to you that there is a real issue that we as a parents, educators and society-at-large should be concerned about. That is – what responsibility do we as adults have in recognizing that something that may have been “normal” child’s play when we were children is no longer “normal.” On the contrary, it may in fact be barbaric. We should be asking ourselves, “When we know better do we do better?”

I surveyed several people (scientific friend/family research) regarding the game of dodgeball and not surprisingly they all said one of two things. They either loved the game because they enjoyed trying to hit people with the ball (some even spoke of how they tried to hit certain people or tried to hit a person in such a way that that the ball took them off their feet) or they responded that they did not like the game because they did not want to be hit with the ball. These same respondents felt they didn’t have the skills to avoid being hit or they felt anxiety about going to gym class because these types of games were frequently played. I am in no way making an assumption about what the child who was viewed as the aggressor was thinking while playing this game. Instead, I am pointing out that while we want our children to gain athletic skills, we also want them to gain social skills. I hear adults complain so often about how young people do not know how to communicate their feelings effectively or that they do not have the skills to cope with issues they do not like. But what responsibility do we as the adults or the older and wiser generation have in reference to why some young people may have trouble communicating? Is gaining the skill to throw, catch, jump and play collaboratively with others achieved best from games like this?

I can recall from my childhood young people being bullied by such games. However, my most vivid memory during games like this, is seeing teachers and camp counselors that did not seemed to be bothered by it. If one has eyes and ears that work, can’t one see and hear one child purposely trying to hurt another child during a game? What in society says it is OK to throw things at people and justify it by saying “I was playing.”  I hear some of you saying, “Well then what about the game of tag?” – children hit one child and run – or “everyone is becoming so sensitive they are offended by everything.” My response is that as an educator (unfortunately I am not a physical education teacher) I do not and will not provide or condone games that teach young people to use their hands to hit or throw items at another person to teach any skill. I am capable of thinking of methods to teach athletic skills without these games. However, I will submit to any educator or person responsible for regulating children’s time this school year to think about whether they can do what they have done in the past –better. The goal is not to treat children like babies. For myself, the goal is to treat a child the way I would have liked to have been treated. Maybe you still play the game but you offer a choice so the children who do not want to play these games have an alternative to learn the athletic skills. Maybe you take the time to get to know the students and recognize if one student takes advantage of the lesson plan to hurt, offend or bully other students.

As a society we would not have to blame parents for not requesting their children be prohibited from taking physical education or be confounded by racism if we remember that as adults we should not just treat other adults with compassion, but we should also treat children with compassion. As educators we should ask ourselves if we are creating compassionate environments for our students. Our classroom, for some, may be the only compassionate environment a young person sees. This responsibility, my fellow educators, is one of those times which does not start at home. It starts in the classroom, and when we as educators know better- we should do better!

Want to see more blogs like this and get notifications on local events and happenings? Subscribe to our free weekly newsletters here.