After weeks of controversy over its MPAA rating, the documentary Bully is in theaters now. We asked two educators who have already seen the film to write about their reactions and the lessons they'll take back to their own schools.
Not everyone has been a victim or a bully, but we've all been bystanders. If you doubt this, watch Bully.
The film opened in Los Angeles last weekend, and as I watched it, I saw footage of students being stabbed, punched, and yelled at. I saw a student grasping his head because it had been smashed into a nail, and heard another student recount being run over by a minivan full of schoolmates. The thread holding these events together was the adults standing by, believing kids are just being kids and wondering why the victims can't just make the bullying stop.
As a sister and friend to victims, as a former bystander, and as a school administrator at KIPP Comienza Community Prep in Los Angeles, I felt anger, frustration, sadness, and shame.
Although the film includes language and situations that most would probably consider adult or offensive, as a teacher at a Los Angeles school, I can tell you that the content is what thousands of bullied kids go through daily in schools across the country.
The film begins with the story of 17-year-old Tyler Lee Long, who ended his life as a result of ongoing bullying. His parents and family share details about his life, talk about the day they found him hanging in his closet, and explain how they're working to make sure his voice is heard. Throughout the film, the audience is introduced to the stories of other bullied youth, some of whom made national headlines for similarly horrific reasons.
Bully also puts the spotlight on the reactions of school administrators and city officials in towns where students and parents reported unsafe situations and instances of bullying. A middle school assistant principal is the administrator featured most prominently in the film. When students told her they'd been bullied, her responses ran the gamut. Sometimes she facilitated discussions in which they could share the problem, how they felt, and their proposed consequences; at other points she resorted to the ineffective response I've seen too many educators fall back on: asking kids to shake hands.
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