By Roger Barbee
This week I began a wrestling unit in the local middle school. The principal and physical education teachers have allowed me, the high school wrestling coach, to come to physical education classes for sixth and seventh graders in order to introduce the sport.
Besides teaching basic skills, my aim is to get more students interested in the sport and perhaps come out for the high school team. Like other sports and activities, it helps if children learn about it earlier as opposed to later, so recently I went to the first class and began teaching some basic tumbling moves such as the forward roll, both shoulder rolls, and the monkey roll. While similar, all are different and teach certain skills that will help in any sport, but especially in wrestling.
As is to be expected, some students had difficulty tumbling, but most tried. After one of the earlier classes, an experienced teacher told me, "I asked some of the kids if it was OK for me to touch them in order to help them complete the forward roll."
I made no comment, but had to wonder why this good teacher, whom I have known for three years, felt compelled to ask a student's permission to help him or her by touching.
Then, on the third day, the same teacher told me that some parents had made objections to the classes. I asked how many and was told just a few, but I was asked to remind the students that if they felt uncomfortable, they did not have to touch another student. I said I would, and I did. However, I questioned how I would introduce wrestling without touching.
Also, one parent had complained that his or her child had had a headache for two days that had been caused by the tumbling. Not having seen any student hit the mat hard with his or her head, I questioned the validity of that complaint, but reminded the students to be careful and if they felt any discomfort to remove themselves from the activity.
Wrestling is a sport of contact. In order to execute moves, a wrestler has to touch his or her opponent. However, as any adult knows, there is touching and then there is touching of another nature. Our touching is used to gain an advantage over an opponent. We touch, gain an advantage, and move on. As an experienced educator and coach, I am well aware of how sensitive some middle schoolers and older students can be concerning their bodies. I respect that and use that respect in teaching wrestling. No child is forced to touch another one during wrestling drills. Generally speaking, girls work with girls and boys work with boys, unless one or both want to work with a different gendered friend. If so, they may.
Any parent has the right to opt out his or her child from this class. However, why? I find it unfortunate that a parent would question an activity taking place in the middle of a gaggle of students, on a mat in the middle of the gym, with at least two adults present.
In my thinking, a parent who pulls his or her child from such an activity is doing the child a disservice. If a parent does not trust the teachers of his or her child in an open, public setting, then there is a real problem. How have we developed an educational system in which a teacher feels the need to ask a student's permission to help by touching? In an educational environment where a teacher or coach feels compelled to ask permission to help by touching, can we expect students to grow into healthy, clear-thinking adults or are we developing a generation that is self-centered and self-serving?
Yes, there are issues with coaches and teachers in relation to students, and those teachers or coaches need to be dealt with in an honest and just manner. However, most educators and coaches are good, thoughtful, and caring people. Instead of using a shotgun approach that hinders everyone, including the students, can we not, as mature thinking adults, deal with the ones who are inappropriate and let the outstanding ones, such as the young teacher and all the others, feel free to do their jobs as they see best?
What kind of system have we developed in which a teacher of physical activities feels the need to ask a student's permission to help by touching? And, if your child gets a two-day headache from a few basic tumbling moves, then I offer that you have more of a problem than headaches caused by tumbling.
Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.