"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
January 9, 2014
Dancing in Gym Class
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Question:

My nine-year-old daughter came home from school last week very concerned about her gym class. The teacher, whom we have always liked, brought in a game console and dance game from home for the children to play. My daughter was concerned that the song lyrics and dance moves were not appropriate.

I looked up the game and the song, and sure enough, they were not appropriate, especially for children. I emailed the teacher, told him how much I appreciate his efforts, and expressed my concerns about the game. I asked if they could use the kids’ version of the game, which I know is available.

The teacher replied with a lengthy, and very defensive email. He said no one else had complained about the game and that the game was rated E for Everyone. He said it was his personal equipment, and he could not afford to buy a new version of the game. He also said my daughter would be excused from participating in the future.

I don’t want my daughter to be excused: I want her to participate in an age-appropriate activity. Do you have any suggestions about what I should do next?

Answer:

I think you have already done a couple of things right in this situation.

First, you listened to your daughter’s concerns. When your child is concerned that something is not appropriate, you don’t want to brush off her feelings. You want to encourage her personal discernment and evaluation of the music she is presented with. But you also investigated her concerns. Children do not always perceive things accurately, so evaluating the game for yourself was wise.

Second, you contacted the teacher and expressed your appreciation before you expressed your concerns. It is always easier to hear criticism from a friendly source. And in this situation, where you are essentially accusing a teacher of exposing children to inappropriate materials, it was wise to strike a friendly tone.

Third, even though the teacher’s response was not entirely what you had hoped, you are still working on the problem. I agree that excluding your daughter from gym class is not a good solution. Asking the teacher and school to provide “age-appropriate” music and choreography is a reasonable and achievable request.

I don’t think you should be put off by the teacher’s defensive response — it is entirely expected given your concern. Also, if he thought the game was appropriate, he might feel a bit offended that you are asserting that your standards are higher than his.

I have three suggestions for what you could do next.

One, talk to other parents individually. If you find other parents who share your concern, tell them that you have contacted the school and asked that the children play a similar game that is age-appropriate.

Encourage them to do the same. Be sure to express that you like and support the teacher and his efforts to engage the children in fun activities, especially if you know he has limited space and equipment to hold gym classes.

What you want to avoid is making a huge deal of this and getting the teacher in hot water. There are probably many parents at your school who have no objection to this game. Many of them probably play it at home, and think it is fun and wholesome entertainment. You don’t have to agree with them. But you should consider that you might be part of a very small minority. That shouldn’t cause you to drop the issue or change your mind, but it should cause you to tread respectfully.

Also, gym class activities change all the time. You may not want to spend too much time on this problem if they are going to move on to a new activity next week.

Two, buy a copy of the game you would rather be used, and donate it to the school or to the gym teacher. Before you do, contact the gym teacher, and ask if he would use the new game if you sent it in. You could get contributions from other parents, or you could just buy it yourself. You should preview the game to make sure it meets your standards.

A similar solution would be to discover which songs on the game are appropriate, and which avatars are modestly dressed, and ask that your daughter be allowed to participate only using those songs.

Three, if neither of these solutions works, call the principal and explain the problem. Again, start by saying how much you enjoy the school, how much you appreciate the gym teacher’s creativity and generosity in bringing in his personal equipment, how glad you are that dancing is part of gym class.

Then express that you are concerned that the game is designed for older children, and that the lyrics to such-and-such song are not appropriate. Explain that the gym teacher has offered to excuse your daughter from class, but that you want her to participate in a version of the activity that she feels comfortable performing.

Then, offer a solution. Ask if the school could purchase a copy of a child-friendly dance game, or offer to provide one. Close the conversation by again expressing your support of the teacher and school.

You may not get an immediate response. It is likely that the principal will want to talk to the gym teacher, look at the game, and craft a response. If it turns out that the principal agrees with you, terrific.

If the principal does not agree with you, and tells you that your daughter will continue to be excused from gym class when that game is played, you will have to decide how far to push the issue. You can certainly continue the conversation with the principal. You can also contact the other concerned parents and ask them to talk to the principal.

In the end, though, your power to change the situation is limited (despite what you may read in women’s magazines about the power of one woman to take a stand and make a difference).

I suppose you could take the issue to the school board or some other governing body, but you need to decide (1) if that would achieve anything and (2) if that would be a wise use of your time, which is both valuable and limited.

Part of being Mormon is learning when to gracefully sit out of an activity — or leave a movie, depart from a party, or excuse yourself from a conversation. This could be a defining experience in which your daughter can stand up (or sit out) for what she thinks is right.

It was she, after all, who initially thought the music and dance moves were inappropriate. If she can learn at a young age that she doesn’t have to go along with the crowd, that it’s okay to do what she knows is right even if it means missing out on some fun, she will have a happy life.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!


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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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