Playground Politics

School Dodgeball Ban: New Hampshire District Stops ‘Human Target’ Sports, Citing Bullying.

Students attending Windham schools in New Hampshire won’t be dodging balls during gym class anymore. The school district voted to ban dodgeball and other “human target” sports in a recent 4-1 decision, according to multiple sources.

“We spend a lot of time making sure our kids are violence free,” Windham Superintendent Henry LaBranche told the Eagle-Tribune. “Here we have games where we use children as targets. That seems to be counter to what we are trying to accomplish with our anti-bullying campaign.”

As adults we spend a great deal of time to ensure the safety of our children and of course take all the steps necessary to help them cope and deal with the bullying behavior in schools, and in their community. But let’s take a look at what is really happening here, and why we have to help our children develop greater resiliency and learn how to compete and develop stronger pro social skills through something that I call play ground politics.

As a young boy on any given summer day I would leave my house early in the morning with a bat, a ball and a glove and would play baseball until the sun went down. No supervision, just a gang of guys playing ball together. We had a couple of bucks in our pocket, for a soda and a hot dog, took breaks, welcomed other kids who wanted to play, worked on our skills, set up our own rules, and in general had a great time. Did we all get along? Of course not. Were there bullies amongst us? You bet. Did we experience at times some fear and intimidation because of these bullies? We did. But, everyone stayed and played, we solved our own problems, we learned how to get along, and discovered a healthy pecking order on the field. What we learned on that field were lessons that lasted a lifetime. We all knew how to play the game of playground politics. I am not a proponent of bullying, nor do I believe that bullying is some sort of right of passage. I do believe that bullying is on the rise in part because of the inability of our kids today to develop greater emotional resiliency and solve interpersonal problems on their own. One of the goals of any anti bullying program should be to strengthen the victim and provide them with the pro social skills necessary to function in an adult world. The superintendent of the Wyndham school district in New Hampshire wants to be sure that kids are violence free. I agree. But let’s work on the displaced anger of parents who are at a loss themselves when it comes down to teaching their kids interpersonal skills and in that effort really take a stand by helping to eliminate the absolute dysfunction that plagues our schools. Competition is healthy and kids need to learn how to compete in a healthy way. They learn from competition. Banning dodge ball is only the beginning. There are plenty of sports that could be viewed as exclusive and potentially violent. Football, hockey, lacrosse, even soccer can involve body contact. Sports do involve exclusion, or at least they are supposed to because someone has to win and someone has to lose.

Let’s take a look at what kids could learn by properly playing the game of playground politics and how it can benefit them as they move into adult life.

Life is not Win-Win – My daughter Grace was and still is involved with a traveling soccer team. Several years ago at the conclusion of the season she and all of the other team members received a trophy at an end of the season party. Grace never missed practice, went to all of the games, and to boot she was the MVP of the team. She received an additional trophy because of this accomplishment. On the way home in the car Grace said to me; “Dad you know that about half of the team missed practices, didn’t go to some games, and really never gave their best efforts when they played. How do they deserve a trophy?” Well, how do they deserve a trophy? I don’t really know. I do know this though: everyone is not a winner. If that were the case we wouldn’t have a Super Bowl, World Series, or political elections. The game of playground politics needs to reinforce the fact that there are those that are bigger, better, smarter, and stronger and recognize those kids for the skills that they have and not put them on the same level ground as everyone else. Because the ground is truly not level. As a young boy myself, I knew that I didn’t have the same skills in baseball as some of my teammates, I still respected their skill. The good feelings came because I worked, and practiced, and put forth my best effort. Did the team always win? Of course not. We lost a lot. Watching the movie Moneyball really hit home with me. Billy Beane the general manager of the Oakland Athletics put together a baseball team that in 2002 won twenty consecutive games. They went to the playoffs and lost in the first round. His heart and soul was in constructing a team on a shoe string budget, and he did. But in the final analysis he is still trying to win the last game of the season, which would make the Oakland Athletics the World Series Champs. Everybody doesn’t win. There are winners and there are losers. Losers lose for a variety of reasons, and they have to accept the lose as part of life.

Competition is a Good Thing At Any Age – As adults we compete all the time for promotions, academic recognition, and at times status. It is part of life. Kids need to know how to compete in the real world as soon as they enter the game of playground politics. Our society wants to eliminate games like dodge ball, tag, and even spelling bees because of the belief that it promotes exclusion and we don’t want kids to feel bad. Well, by eliminating competition kids will begin to feel good about themselves for no apparent reason. They will develop an entitlement mentality and believe that the world revolves around them. They will not have a clear understanding of their own limitations and will begin to see competition as a threat to who they are as a person. Several years ago a school district in northern New Jersey faced a dilemma. Six students had grade point averages that were so close that they couldn’t decide who the valedictorian of the high school was going to be.

The simple use of a calculator could have helped determine who it was going to be. But because of the fear of parental complaints and law suits, you guessed it all six students were named valedictorian. The parents and the students feared the competition and believed again that we all win.

Playground Politics Teaches Respect For Someone Else’s Ability – Some kids can run faster, jump higher, and are just genetically better athletes and at times better students. Kids know on the playground that if the kid that was “IT” in the game of tag was the fastest running kid in the school that he wasn’t going to be “IT” for very long. His speed was respected. The last thing we want to see is the best hitter on the baseball team coming to bat with the bases loaded. Kids need to learn how to be respectful and at times admire those with greater ability then they have. By admiring I don’t mean to feel inferior to someone, but just to recognize it as something that is unique to him. Kids can become fearful and at times angry when they enter into competition with someone who has greater athletic or academic skills then they have. The schools then eliminate competition because they don’t want to affect the self esteem of the child. This does nothing more then to prepare him for a life of jealously and envy as they grow older and only wishing that they were someone else.

Playground Politics Teaches Kid How To Make Friends – Kid want and need friends, but knowing how to pick friends is a troublesome job for some. Games like basketball, football, and other sports teach kids a sense of team play. I am not talking here about sports that kids play in an organized way as part of a traveling league or as part of a high school team. I am talking about the games they play by themselves as part of recess during the school day. Most kids today have not been taught how to organize themselves, pick teams, and get a game going. Putting together a pick up game helps kids make friends; friends with similar abilities who they can play and compete with on a reasonable level and offer encouragement to one another. I hate to say it, but once parents and coaches get involved in organizing kids the sense of fun and friendship seems to be taken out of the sport and the kids seem to suffer the frustration, anxiety, and tension of the competition which is imposed upon them by a coach. That is not what competition is about; it’s about camaraderie, encouragement, and a love for the sport they are playing.

The Playground Teaches Balance and Academic Consistency – In almost every state today kids have to pass a standardized test that determines their placement for the next school year. Not to mention the state funding that the district gets if all kids do well. School have been trained that teachers have to teach to the test so when the springtime comes and the test is administered all students will have the requisite academic skills in order to pass. All fall and winter kids are subject to what I call drill and kill. Less and less time gets spent moving around and more and more time is spent in a seat. Recesses are shorter and student behavior has gotten worse. The kids get out of balance and suffer from what I call a scarcity mentality. What this means is that time for movement is scarce so the student has to figure out a way to steal it during class time. Gone are the days when if a student finished his/her work they could go outside and play a game of kickball. Now, when the work gets done what the student has to look forward to is, you guessed it more work. An abundant mentality teaches that at some point I will be able to move and play, so by completing the work in a timely fashion I will have that opportunity. Students develop greater academic consistency and success by being given the time to be involved with free play.

Coaching Is Not Just About Sports – If we want our kids to develop pro social skills we have to coach them through the game of life one step at a time. We have to teach them how to be graceful losers, develop friendship skills, how to compete in a respectful and responsible manner, and how to solve interpersonal problems where space is allowed for productive conflict. This will not happen over night. The bullying epidemic which society faces today is a direct result of exclusion. Too many things have been excluded from our schools that help teach kids how to get along and develop the necessary confidence and resiliency to face their fears and understand how to function as part of a class, a group, or a team. This problem is beyond the dodgeball story cited at the beginning of this article. The Wyndham school district was just reacting possibly to one parental complaint. Dodgeball only gave those who were bullies a chance to act out. Discipline the bully then and let the rest of the kids have fun.


10 Hardcore Signs That a Child is Being Cyber bullied

  1. Does the child spend long hours on the computer and or a mobile device?
  2. Does the child close his or her browser or mail windows immediately when an educator and/or parent enter the room?
  3. Is the child evasive when an educator and/or parent ask about his or her Internet activity
  4. Is the child’s history folder always cleaned out?
  5. Is the child less attentive in school or falling behind with school work and requirements?
  6. Are the child’s grades failing or getting worse?
  7. Has the child’s eating habits changes?
  8. Does the child frequently complain about stomachaches?
  9. Is the child openly fearful especially when friends are brought up?
  10. Is the child emotionally distant?

Dharun Ravi

If you follow the news and are involved in the anti bullying movement in New Jersey you will probably know this name well. If you don’t this name means nothing to you at all. Dharun Ravi is the young student who used a webcam to spy on his roommate Tyler Clementi having sex with a man in his dorm room at Rutgers University.  Ravi sent tweets of his findings on twitter to his followers humiliating, and embarrassing Clementi to the point that he took his own life by jumping off the George Washington Bridge in September of 2010. Ravi faced up to 10 years in prison for his actions. Before the jury went off to deliberate the case they were informed by Judge Berman of New Brunswick New Jersey that Mr. Clementi’s suicide was not relevant to the case they were considering. Ravi was found guilty of all 15 counts of invasion of privacy, biased intimidation and evidence and witness tampering on March 15. He was sentenced today (May 21, 2012) to 30 days in jail, 300 hours of community service, counseling on cyberbullying and alternative lifestyles, and a $10,000 probation fine to be used to help victims of bias crime.

After Tyler Clementi committed suicide the state of New Jersey passed the strictest harassment, intimidation, and bullying laws in the country. Schools were mandated to have anti bullying specialists, and coordinators. Investigation into acts of bullying was also mandated and schools were put on notice that they are going to be graded on how they handled bullying in their districts. The Anti Bullying Bill of Rights, which all schools must abide by, is the standard that other states look at and consider when they tackle the problem in their state.

Let’s back this up a bit and start considering what would have happened if Tyler Clementi didn’t take his life. Business as usual I guess, right? Does it take a tragedy like a suicide to make an entire culture understand how devastating harassment, intimidation, and bullying can be to its victims? How about Dharun Ravi? Supposed Clementi never said anything would anyone even know who he is right now? How many Dharun Ravi’s are there in society today who take the time to humiliate, harass and intimidate? It is amazing to me that we have to have a law that says we have to treat others with kindness and respect. More importantly how we consider stricter laws after a tragedy.

The sentencing is what it is. Dharun Ravi didn’t kill Tyler Clementi, the judge made that clear by calling the suicide irrelevant; Irrelevant to whom? Certainly not to Clementi’s family or those that loved him. Ask Dharun Ravi if Clementi’s suicide was irrelevant? Dharun Ravi wasn’t sentenced today; he was sentenced in September of 2010 the day that Clementi took his life. I have often said that consequences take on many forms. Dharun will serve his time and pay the fine, he will do his community service and it’s over right? Wrong; I don’t care whether he displayed remorse in court or not. He has lost his freedom albeit not physically. He will be emotionally and mentally bound in chains for the rest of his life. His own conscious will see to it.

Tell Me How To Fix This

I saw the movie Bully Last night: one of the few folks in my circle who waited this long to see it. I mean I am an anti bullying consultant, and I should have been waiting on line to see it sooner but last night was the night. I will say that I received a great deal of feedback from friends and colleagues who did see the movie, and the big cry from all and I mean all of them was that in the schools where the movie was shot, where all of the harassment and intimidation took place the teachers, and the administration from top down did nothing to stop the nightmare of bullying that these kids were experiencing. This is not a movie review; you can get that somewhere else on the net. This is a review of how the problem was handled in the schools where the movie was filmed.

In one of the very first scenes of the movie the assistant principal whose name was Kim was addressing a few kids who just arrived at school that morning. They came to her with a problem that they were having probably on the bus, don’t remember, not sure, doesn’t matter. When she was finished speaking with the students she walked away talking to herself and made a comment that was so telling about schools and society in general. Her comment was “Tell me how to fix this.” I will add one more word myself that wasn’t said; “Quickly.” In other words get me the quick fix.

When I first started out in administration nearly twenty five years ago I did not want one problem brought into my office. Whether it was with a student, a teacher, or a parent, I would at all cost avoid a problem, and a confrontation. A good day? No problems. I knew myself well, or at least I thought I did. If a problem arouse I just wanted it to go away, very similar to the assistant principal in the movie. Soft pedal and just make it through the day. It was not until my second year as an administrator that things started to change. I had a huge confrontation with a parent, and I was balled out, really balled out. I knew it was going to happen, she was one of those parents that you just hated to see coming. My nerves were shot knowing this. Her son was disciplined and in her opinion to harshly. In some way, shape, or form I stuck to my guns and didn’t rescind the consequence. She left in a huff, and I sat back in my chair and asked myself this question; if getting yelled at by a parent is the worse that is going to happen to me today, than what am I afraid of?  I took out a composition book and documented the incident. That composition book became what I called “My Life Notebook,” anytime I had a problem going forward, I documented the problem and the steps I took to solve the problem. There are no quick fixes, none. We all need something that I call equity in life. I have defined this as developing the ability to solve a problem for which we don’t have a reference point. In other words we never did it before, but we need to learn how to do it.

School administrators today are pressured even more than I was. They fear many of the same things I did. Why didn’t I want a problem brought into my office? Because I didn’t know how to solve a problem. I believed that I had to please everyone and we all know that is just impossible.

Well we have a problem now, it’s called bullying. It can’t be fixed, not quickly anyway. In schools where anti bullying programs are in place and enforced consistently we reduce bullying incidents by about 50%. All parents want anti bullying rules to be enforced until it’s there kid who is accused of bullying. Then the discussions start and the fear of the confrontation builds to a point that administrators take the path of least resistance. The assistant principal in the movie was so filled with fear and lacked such professional equity that all she could hope for day to day was that the problem would just go away. It’s not going away. If anything it will get worse if schools and society don’t learn how to handle…….the adults. Yes, the adults. Adults are the mess not the kids. The adults produce these kids, and teachers, and school administrators are all adults. Aren’t they? Help me fix this.




Life Lessons

Some Great Stuff. It Does Make Sense. 

1. Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.

2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.

3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.

4. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and parents

will. Stay in touch.

5. Pay off your credit cards every month.

6. You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

7. Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.

8. It’s OK to get angry with God. He can take it.

9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.

10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.

11. Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present.

12. It’s OK to let your children see you cry.

13. Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn’t be in it.

15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don’t worry; God never blinks.

16.. Take a deep breath.. It calms the mind.

17. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.

18. Whatever doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger.

19. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.

20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don’t take no for an answer.

21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, and wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t   save it for a special occasion. Today is special.

22. Over prepare, and then go with the flow.

23. Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple.

24. The most important sex organ is the brain.

25. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.

26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words ‘In five years, will this matter?’

27. Always choose life.

28. Forgive everyone everything.

29. What other people think of you is none of your business.

30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.

31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.

32. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

33. Believe in miracles.

34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn’t do.

35. Don’t audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.

36. Growing old beats the alternative — dying young.

37. Your children get only one childhood.

38. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.

39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.

40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.

41. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.

42. The best is yet to come…

43. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.

44. Yield.

45. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.