David and Tina Long wanted answers following their son’s 2009 suicide so they held a townhall meeting to address the bullying suffered by Tyler and his classmates. Though well-attended by parents, students, and community leaders alike, Bully highlights a troubling absence – school officials. It’s a sign that climate change is needed.
You see, bullying is an environmental problem. As director Lee Hirsch puts it:
It’s the whole ecosystem of the schools.
Everyone has a stake. It’s not just bullies and the students they target. It’s students who witness incidents. It’s teachers and administrators with the power to intervene. It’s nurses and counselors dealing with the physical and emotional tolls taken. It’s parents trying to get through to their children. It’s community groups who simply want to help. It’s bus drivers:
To support [Bully], [First Student] is working with The Bully Project to help transport 1 million students across the country to see the movie in theaters. Following the film, a trained facilitator will lead a discussion about bullying and bullying prevention.
It’s also not paying lip service to the problem. It’s a genuine interest in making it better now and sustaining those solutions in the future. James Wendorf, Executive Director of the National Center for Learning Disabilities:
It’s having those supports, having those personnel there, but also having them prepared and trained in the right way is absolutely critical.
When we’re out of sync or insincere, you get school officials who skip a townhall. You get a student at that same townhall who says:
It’s a shame that [Tyler Long] had to do this for anybody to notice.
The R rating felt ridiculous. It was like R for Ridiculous.
That was what director Lee Hirsch had to say at last night’s Bullyscreening in DC regarding the ratings controversy that ended last week when an editing agreement was reached to get a PG-13 rating. (Shout out to Katy Butler for her successful Change.org petition that attracted more than 500,000 signers, including 35 Members of Congress and celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Meryl Streep.)
Hirsch is right. Rules are rules, but in this case, the R rating would have severely limited Bully's audience. These aren’t the “f” words that fly freely in other films. This is reality. This is what kids in schools are really saying to each other.
Indeed, Bully is a movie that should be shown as widely as possible. To teachers, administrators, and other school personnel. To the parents who are trying to get through to their children. To the kids who are bullied, the ones who do the bullying, and the adults who endure one or both scenarios and carry it with them for the rest of their lives.
[the] importance of everyone telling their stories. I think we have to actually make these kinds of issues real for people.
I think it’s incumbent upon me to tell my own story. I was no exception to the rule that middle school is bad. Kicking my calculator down the hall. Reaching into my locker for lunch money. You get the picture. But there’s one incident that really stands out. I was on the bus and someone asked me if I was gay. I wasn’t then, and am not now, but felt the need to respond with a defensively sarcastic yes. In essence I bullied something I didn’t understand and became the victim all at the same time. Certain people never let me forget. One of them called me “Ellen” during freshman Spanish class. What can you do but laugh it off?
As Alex Libby and I can tell you, laughing it off doesn’t make the problem go away. There’s a scene in Bully where one of Alex’s assistant principals calls a parade of students into her office as part of an investigation into the violence he regularly suffers on the school bus. One of the kids admits that he’s witnessed bullying but says that Alex laughs it off.
Just because the victims laugh it off doesn’t mean that bullying isn’t a problem. Just because Ja’Meya Jackson takes the drastic step of bring a gun to school doesn’t mean that bullying isn’t a problem. Just because we’ve latched on to the “kids will be kids” myth doesn’t mean that bullying isn’t a problem. Violence is not just “messing around,” and bullying is a problem. Even if you can’t make it stop, bullying is a problem. The list goes on for those whose stories are told in Bully.
The Right Wing smear machine has been in overdrive attacking Kevin Jennings, who heads the Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools. But the education community is having none of it.
Gerald Tirozzi of the National Association of Secondary School Principles appeared on CNN last night to praise Jennings as "a powerful voice to continualy help us not to back away from doing the right things for kids in our schools."