May 30, 2001

May 30, 2001 | Commentary on Political Thought

Dodging the Issues

Dodge ball? Did I read that right? They're taking away dodge ball?

And Mother's Day? And Father's Day?

At Rodeph Sholom School in New York City, the director of the school's lower elementary division sent a note home with students recently saying the school "will not be celebrating Mother's Day and Father's Day this year."

Why? "At this time, these holidays are not needed to enhance our writing and arts programs," the letter states. "Second, families in our society are now diverse … and we need to recognize the emotional well-being of all the children in our school. Holidays that serve no educational purpose and are not vital to the children's education" should be evaluated because recognizing them "in a social setting may not be a positive experience for all children."

The same week, The Washington Post reported that dodge ball has been banned from physical-education classes in several school districts around the nation. "In today's world, with so many things breeding violent behavior in children, there's no room for dodge ball," says the health and physical education coordinator for Fairfax County, Va., public schools. A game that uses students as "human targets sets up the potential for teasing and ridicule."

Note the language. "These holidays are not needed," says the elementary school official. "There is no place for dodge ball," says the physical education coordinator.

One can argue that no holidays are needed. That less "hurtful" sports can take the place of dodge ball. But one also might argue that hundreds of millions of adults have lived perfectly well-adjusted lives despite years of exposure to dodge ball-and to holidays they may not celebrate at home.

Yet everywhere you look, school systems are trying to shield our allegedly fragile children. A typical Fairfax County high school boasts 27 varsity teams. No one has to be on the second string anymore. The notion that a bench-warmer could use second-string status as motivation to work hard, improve and come back next year and take the first-stringer's job seems too painful. So schools offer enough sports that everyone can play.

The founding fathers wrote in the Federalist Papers that our system depends on most people leading moral, temperate, hard-working lives. As a society, we still talk a lot about self-reliance and the importance of personal responsibility. Well, part of self-reliance-actually, part of life-is dealing with disappointment, with incidents that deflate our self-esteem.

How we deal with setbacks shows what kind of people we are. Do we run from disappointment? Do we decide there is "no room" for setbacks and ban them because they "may not be a positive experience for all children?" Or do we face our problems, overcome those we can and learn to live with those we can't, and grow stronger for the experience?

As we go through life, some people will reject us, tease us, ridicule us, try to hurt us. Not every party we attend will be held in our honor. No one is immune from this. So why grease the skids? Learning to cope with little hurts prepares us to handle the big. If a kid can't deal with getting knocked out early in a dodge ball game, what will he do when deadlines bear down at work, when family needs arise, when people count on him for more meaningful things?

Often, an ounce of imperfect reality is worth a pound of contrived "positive" experiences.

Edwin Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org) , a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office

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