This past weekend, I went to see Bully, a documentary about the issue of bullying in American schools.
The movie focused on a number of bullying cases, some current, others in the aftermath. A lot of time was spent with Alex, a socially awkward 11-year-old routinely tortured on the school bus, even showing much of that treatment happening. The film countered depictions of Alex with those of kids and families dealing with the aftermath of bullying, ranging from relatively positive to the worst result you can think of.
On the better end of the scale was Kelby, a lesbian in a rural Oklahoma town who was victimized even by teachers. She had attempted suicide several times, but had support from family and friends; eventually, she had to make the choice to leave her school. Next was Je'Maya, an athletic girl who decided to try to intimidate her bullies with a gun, landing her in juvenile detention. A great deal of attention was paid to her mother, who had to deal with a child that had been driven to the brink.
Sadly, not everyone can get out, as was shown with the suicides of two boys named Tyler. Tyler Long had dealt with bullying most of his adolescent life and hanged himself in his closet at 17. Ty Smalley was only 11-years-old when he took his life. The parents of both Tylers seemed to be towards the fore-front of trying to enact change to school policy and overall attitudes towards bullying.
The film also showed snippets of bullying behavior and interviews with other bullied children. All cases were heartbreaking, made worse by the seeming disconcern exhibited by teachers and administrators shown in the film.
The movie was certainly emotional and at times made me angry; certainly at the bullies shown, but also at the school administrators, the people charged with protecting kids when they're not at home.
Probably the moment that most made me want to run up to the theater screen and punch a hole through it was when a vice principal at Alex's school sat down with him to talk about his treatment on the school bus. She was inquiring as to why he hadn't reported the bullying. When he told her that he had, it was revealed that, after an incident in which a boy had sat on Alex's head, she told the boy not to sit on Alex's head again. Guess what? He stopped sitting on Alex's head, sure enough, but continued to torture the boy in other ways. He didn't continue to report the incidents because, in his mind, nothing happened as a result. That seemed to be a common story; little or nothing was done until either the student snapped or took his or her life.
I don't know if suicides as a result of bullying have increased in the past few years or is just getting reported more. But it doesn't matter if it's one kid or 20, it shouldn't happen...ever.
OK, I'll get off the soapbox now. It's a good documentary; I think that it could have been better balanced in terms of how much time it spent on each case, but certainly made me want to do something.