Life is dodgeball.
Either it's the ball coming straight at your head so fast that you don't have time to duck, or it's the satisfying thwack as the ball strikes the unprotected flank of your opponent.
Life isn't dodgeball all the time. Sometimes it's Red Rover, where you either break through or you don't. Sometimes it's tag, and you're "it" or you're home free. Or sometimes it's Double-Dutch, where everyone works harmoniously to make something beautiful.
These life experiences occur most often in one place -- a school playground, during recess. Without recess, they might occur somewhere else, but who can say? Why would we risk depriving children of recess?
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Because, say the critics, feelings can be hurt; knees and elbows can be scraped; someone might lose; children might develop aggressive habits.
(Just what part of the American historical legacy and traditional way of life does not encourage the development of aggressive habits?)
Recess is under attack in an increasing number of school districts across the nation. Some school officials cite liability concerns, which may be legitimate. But, clearly, something else is going on here.
What the critics don't like about recess is its free-for-all nature, the idea that children are set loose on a playground where natural selection and the laws of the jungle take over. Which is, of course, precisely what children love about recess.
While most schools still have a period for play during the school day to burn off excess energy, those who abhor traditional recess have sought ways to downplay the competition and roughhousing.
At one school in Connecticut, for example, students are encouraged to jump rope, play with hula hoops or gently toss a Frisbee. Balls of any kind are closely monitored and parceled out by playground supervisors. Dodgeball, soccer and other "body banging" sports, as the principal labels them, are taboo. But twice a week, as long as an adult is present, fourth- and fifth-graders are allowed to play a modified version of kickball -- as long as the score is not kept.
At another school, children are encouraged to walk the grounds and pick up litter to stay active.
Thankfully, this trend had not gone unnoticed, either by parents or mainstream education groups. A national campaign called Rescuing Recess has been sponsored by organizations such as the National Parent Teacher Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Education Association.
The nation needs to rescue recess from those who promote the myth that childhood competitiveness can be tamped down by not keeping score. We need to take back the playground from those who think aggression and the desire to win are always bad traits.
Certainly, school officials must step in to stop violence or overt bullying. But by applying so much structure and oversight, schools deny children the lessons they have learned for centuries through their self-regulated games.
Children need the freedom to make their own choices, devise and enforce their own rules. When they play dodgeball, they learn their own physical limitations, how to compensate for them, how to interact with others and how to win or lose gracefully.
There will be winners and losers. Students will know the difference no matter how hard adults try to gloss it over.
Significantly, though, children also might learn that the winners of the fifth-grade dodgeball game aren't necessarily the leaders who emerge in middle and high school. Without traditional recess, they could miss that lesson.
The objection to recess is that it brings out the brute in us, encourages our lower animal instincts. But it might be just the opposite; it might be a civilizing influence.
Maybe the playground is where we learn empathy for the kid who can't run fast enough to dodge the ball, contempt for the bully who preys on that kid and respect for those who win by sheer athletic ability.
Those who want to turn recess into a joyless void, a prison exercise yard for kids, need to get smacked in the head with a ball thrown by their schools' champion dodgeball players. It might knock some sense into them.