Yesterday, I saw an education related documentary called "Bully" with my friend, Gabby. I was the nerd in the back of the theater taking notes in the dark on my mini notepad :-). If you plan to watch this movie, be warned that I may be spoiling much of it for you. My goal in talking about "Bully" is to try to point out what theme I thought the movie was focusing on.
These are the students who were focused on in the documentary: Alex (age 12), Kelby (age 16), Jamey (age 14), and Ty (age 17). First, I want to point out that there were no elementary students in this documentary. What does that mean? Does it mean that, at the very least, bullying is less of a problem in elementary school than middle or high school? I would imagine that that's true. Does it mean that bullying is nonexistent in elementary school? I doubt that that's true. These are some questions that I'm just putting out there for you. What is the earliest age at which a student has experienced being bullied? How frequently does any one student experience being bullied? How many students at the youngest age experience being bullied? I think answers to these questions would reveal how early bullying can become a problem, how much of a problem it tends to be at the youngest age, and how early it can be addressed.
What Alex, Kelby, Jamey, and Ty had in common was that to some extent, they were not socially accepted. Alex was referred to by many of his classmates as fish face. He wasn't accepted or tolerated because of how his face looked. I presume that made it difficult for him to make friends. Also, for some reason, some of his classmates would beat up on him. He wouldn't communicate this to his mother, so that made matters even more difficult for him. When his mother found out, she reported it to the principal. The principal was dismissive of the mother's claims. So, the principal never really acted on the mother's concerns. In the end, the principal made promises to make sure that her son was safe but never expressed any specific actions. If anything, the assistant principal was the one who briefly shined since she actually interviewed students on the bus to figure out how Alex was being treated.
Kelby is lesbian and her appearance is noticeably masculine. She lives in Oklahoma. She was rejected by her church, excluded from joining the school basketball team, made fun of by one of her teachers and her classmates. So basically, where she is, society as a whole wasn't very accepting of who she is.
Jamey was made fun of alot. I don't recall the documentary specifying the insults. In response to how she was repeatedly insulted, she brought a gun on the bus. She was disarmed. Basically, I propose that if she was accepted, then she wouldn't have been made fun of.
Ty is a student who committed suicide. As he grew older, he became a loner. He was always chosen last for team sports. He would record a video journal. In one of the entries, he tries to put himself at ease. If he was socially integrated, then that would be an obvious indication that Ty was socially accepted. I'm not sure what pushed him over the edge, but I'm guessing that it was being alone for so long.
So yea, those are my examples for why I think social acceptance was a theme of the movie. There are a few other things you can take away from those examples. There are three ways to perpetuate bullying: #1 The student who is being bullied says nothing about it and just accepts it as unchangeable. #2 If the administrator doesn't investigate and act on bullying, and #3 If the teacher doesn't investigate and act on any claims of bullying (in Kelby's case, the teacher is the bully).
My understanding is that if you want to end bullying, then every student must learn to socially accept other people regardless of appearance and/or differences. And, perhaps going a step further would be to also interact with other people in a positive way regardless of their appearance. So then, how do you get every student to learn to socially accept other students despite their appearance and differences? I don't know. But, my guess is that if the principal of a school and every teacher of that school establishes and maintains a school culture of social acceptance regardless of appearance and other differences, then bullying wouldn't have any legs to stand on. How do you establish and maintain such a culture? I think I could figure that out, but it would take me a while, so I'll just stop there for now.
If you want more info on "Bully," you can go to their website.