Tonight I walked up to the doors of an old movie theatre in Swift Current. I was surrounded by about one hundred middle school aged children who were eagerly waiting to see a free movie sponsored by a drop in centre appropriately called “The Centre”. We all packed into the small movie theatre and the room was buzzing with nothing but the sound of children talking about their week and attempting to find their seats. The first scene hit me with images of a burial plot of a seventeen year old boy who had taken his own life due to bullying. There were no previews, there were no commercials, just dead silence. The documentary moved into interviews with the parents of this child. The pain and loss of hope overwhelmed me. After about ten minutes children started to get up and leave the movie theatre, none of them returned. By the time the movie was half over, the theatre was half empty. I question whether they were uncomfortable or bored, but it was definitely not a boring movie, so perhaps I already know the answer.
As I watched the movie “Bully” I heard crying and sniffing coming from around me. I was one of the few adults in the room and I am positive that the movie was affecting the kids who decided to stay. I saw scenes of bully’s hitting children without a care that there was a camera crew taping it. I saw administrators make excuses for bully’s to save the reputation of their school and ultimately their job. I saw victims being told to “tell someone” and then being told to “man up” when they spoke up. I heard a father say, “my son will be eleven forever.” I saw an administrator of a school, that had a student commit suicide say, “there is not an overwhelming bullying problem here,” like one death wasn’t enough. I watched a twelve year old boy help carry the casket of his best friend. No twelve year old boy should have to carry a casket.
A sixteen year old victim was being interviewed. She spoke with a maturity beyond her years and a hope that the situation would change. As her year progressed in school and nothing changed, her hope faded and she said, “I guess I will have to go somewhere else to make a difference.” You could see the weight on her shoulders, her inner need to change the views of the homophobic school she went to. That weight was crushing her when she couldn’t see change or improvement. All I can think, is that a sixteen year old shouldn’t have to carry that weight.
I hope that educators can take on some weight. I have been taught that bullying is “bad” and that as a teacher I need to stop it, but I have no strategies. Unfortunately, the administrators and the teachers in “Bully” were bad enough examples that I am now critically thinking about every word that will come out of my mouth in a bullying situation. There are hidden and not so hidden messages that children understand when they hear from an administrator, “I did talk to your bully, and he hasn’t sat on your head again, so I dealt with the problem,” when the bully’s verbal abuse has not stopped. Just because someone is no longer sitting on someone else’ head does not mean the bullying has subsided.
I encourage all educators to watch this movie. I encourage you to push to show this movie in schools, even if it is the censored version (ratings are higher due to harsh language). It makes you uncomfortable, and that is what is amazing about it. It causes you to sit up in your chair and critically reflect on how you will navigate bullying in the future.
I could write about this for days, but I am not going to, because I think it is critical that you go watch “Bully” and come up with your own attitudes. Start a conversation.