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do not touch?
October 12th, 2010 by wrekehavoc

Recently, I was at elementary school, talking with our gym teacher about my son. I’ve noticed lately that the boy likes to stand on his head, flip around, and basically bounce. A lot. While team sports don’t seem to work well for him yet, some sort of physical activity would probably be beneficial for energetic little him, for me, and frankly, for the rest of the world. (You can thank me later.)

In short, I’m wondering whether gymnastics might be a way to go for him.

I hearkened back to my own gym experience. We had entire units on tumbling, on the rings, on the pommel horse. While I never did grow up to be Nadia Comăneci (and yes, I know I am dating myself, you Mary Lou Rettons out there), I enjoyed gymnastics — the weightlessness, even for just that second, before flying over the horse (and often into one of my less intelligent classmates who didn’t move away from it fast enough.) Leaping ever so carefully on the balance beam. What I would give to be able to perform those flips I once did without living in fear that I’d require traction and anti-inflammatories!

So I asked our gym teacher: when will my son’s class get to do a unit on gymnastics? His reply?

Not in this school.

Apparently, the threat of litigation has backburnered this pursuit in our public school. I was told that when a teacher spots a student, he or she may have to actually touch the child; and since movement is involved, there is too much fear that a teacher might accidentally be in contact with a child in an improper manner. And even if that contact is purely accidental, the fear of getting sued, losing your job, and having your reputation sullied beyond all recognition outweighs the possibility of teaching a child to discover this ancient athletic pursuit.

Obviously, my sympathies are ever-present with any child who has fallen victim to a predatory adult; and there’s no question that persons in power who are abusive ought to be severely punished. However, this situation makes me think about where we are going as a society. When teachers cannot teach to children because of a fear that they may touch a child and that the child, in turn, may cry foul (whether true or not), what is lost? There’s a certain communication that comes with physicality; and while I don’t advocate that teachers go out of their way to lay hands on their pupils, this scenario tells me that litigiousness has won the day.  And how sad: for I remember fondly teachers patting me on the head, hugging me, and yes, spotting me in gymnastics. I know how I appreciated all of these gestures; and I mourn the fact that my children will likely have radically different educational experiences with their teachers. There will be little touching.

There is a beautifully sad story entitled Hands in Sherwood Anderson’s masterpiece Winesburg, Ohio that concerns a dedicated teacher named Wing Biddlebaum. Biddlebaum is estranged from society for decades because he has one “flaw”: he expresses himself with his hands. The story shares that in his younger years, Biddlebaum was a teacher who never touched any child inappropriately, but who caressed his students’ heads and shoulders in a supportive manner. Unfortunately, one day, a “half-witted boy” falsely alleged molestation, and Biddlebaum was driven from another town to Winesburg, where he lived alone on the outskirts, cut off because of his hands. He feared communicating with anyone ever again, all because of his fluttering, expressive hands.

Such a loss.

Originally posted on Smartly.


One Response  
  • Elaine writes:
    October 12th, 2010 at 9:39 am

    This is so sad.


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