Physical Education Malpractice: A Ball Named Sue


A few weeks ago I read about a physical education (PE) teacher in the Bronx who is being sued for creating an environment that led to a serious injury by a student.  The game being played in PE class that day was Dodgeball, and a male student (obviously on the receiving end of a throw to the face) lost some of his permanent teeth.  His dental bill is approximately 20k, and his parents are suing for damages.

Allegedly, this is the story.  We all know not to believe everything we read in the papers and on the internet, so while I maintain a healthy degree of skepticism, it appears that this is pretty much the way it happened.  Therefore, in my opinion — this is malpractice and I’m 100% in support of the parents who are taking legal action.

We all know that dodgeball (or it’s conceptual variations – warball, bombardment, etc.) has no place – NO PLACE – in an educational environment.  If the standard or learning objective of that day’s physical education class is throwing accuracy, there are plenty of ways children can practice it without using each other as targets.  Besides the physical danger, the emotional safety of kids is compromised significantly.  Those students with the strongest arms are throwing at others who cannot dodge the bullet.  It’s a classic example of PE Darwinism – seeking the slower, less agile ones for elimination first.  And, no one should ever be forced or peer pressured to play this game.  Finally, just to add insult to injury, (allegedly) a hard ball was used – arrrggh!!

This is a great one for one of my favorite Saturday Night Live segments – “Really with Seth and Amy.”

“Really, so you decided to play a game that has been on every PE hall of shame list with your students – really?  Even though you know that the game itself has led to a bad reputation shared by PE teachers all over the country, really?  And you thought you’d play Dodgeball with a hard ball that could really do some damage to a kid’s grill – really.  And really, you just assumed that the child’s parents and your Principal would be OK with this and not sue your ______ for damages – really!”

Now we all know Dodgeball is not the only embarrassment to our physical education teacher reputations we’re still trying to live down.  What about elimination games?  What about teachers taking way too much time instructing while students are sitting on their rears and waiting for the cue to move?  Don’t think they happen much anymore?

Last week I witnessed examples of both of these – each taught by a former or current, National Teacher of the Year!

People, it’s not OK.  Don’t model these Hall of Shame activities anymore.  Let’s only show people how fantastic a quality physical education experience can be, not go back to old, outdated practice that only aligns us with the problem, and not with the solution.

I hope everyone will join me in making a pact to never, ever, do any of the following in a school-based physical education class:

Join SPARK in our effort to ELIMINATE THESE EIGHT!

1. Standing in long lines (inactive and not recovering from high exertion) waiting for a turn with the equipment.  Think relays too.

2. Using other students for target practice.

3. Sitting on roll call numbers.

4. Elimination games.

5. Picking teams.

6. Using fitness as punishment.

7. Grouping and playing games by gender.

8. Focusing on star athletes