Bullying is pervasive in schools and it has horrible consequences [pdf], some of them life-ending. October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Timed to coincide with it, the Southern Poverty Law Center has released its seventh educational film, available free to schools. Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case that Made History, the documentary film by the Montgomery, Alabama-based nonprofit civil rights organization—which is known for its successful lawsuits against the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups—has many lessons for many people.
The movie tells the story of Jamie Nabozny who was bullied relentlessly by classmates when he attended junior high and high school in Ashland, Wisconsin, a "probable" Sundown town that sits on the shores of Lake Superior.
In the film Jamie’s ordeal is recounted by his mother, by eyewitnesses and by Mr. Nabozny himself (as an adult) as he speaks to a group of teenagers in a school gymnasium. Narrated by Emmy Award-winning actress Jane Lynch, the 38-minute film is a must-see for middle and high school students. Bullied is also required viewing for teachers, for school counselors and for school administrators. Moving back and forth from interviews to re-enactments of actual events, Bullied tells the horrifying "education" of verbal and physical abuse Jamie endured, survived, and ultimately conquered.
If you are an American school student and you're gay or lesbian or transgendered (or perceived to be), or if you're comparatively very short or tall, or comparatively overweight; or, if you’re black in a nearly all-white school in a nearly all-white town; or, if you speak with an accent because you are the only foreign-born student at your school; or, if you're artistically or academically gifted in a school that worships its athletics program; or, if you choose to wear your clothes and your hair differently than most of your peers at school, or if you are in some way disabled, then chances are you know all too well about the endless, psychologically tortuous days at school that Jamie Nabozny had. You’re not alone. And I beg you: don't give up. In addition to teaching that bullying is the opposite of tolerance, not giving up is one of the messages to students Bullied provides (the film is in memory of 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover who, God bless him, could no longer live in the same world as his tormentors). If you are a parent of a school aged child, now is the time to have a disucssion with her or him about bullying; and, now is the time to learn what you can do to make sure your child's school is a place for education, and not a place for her or his victimization.
The first half of Bullied is a heart-wrenching downward spiral account of a young midwestern kid with lots of psychological resiliance who is stripped of much of his fortitude by his classmates: those who bullied him with homophobic slurs and repeated assaults, for sure, but also those who bore witness to his suffering and did nothing. In his attempt to deal with the hell that was his public school education—complete with invalidating, and willfully impotent school administrators—Jamie goes from isolating himself (at school and at his loving home) to taking more drastic measures after school officials failed to stop the escalating attacks on him, and after desperate pleas from Jamie and his parents were callously ignored.
The second half of the film deals with the federal lawsuit that Jamie Nabozny filed against his schools and their administrators, after he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Going on the offensive—and winning his civil suit against the school administrators—must have been empowering and healing for Mr. Nabozny, because the film showing him as an adult reveals an empathic, seemingly well-functioning, psychologically mature and happily-out-of-the-closet man. He won $900,000 in the lawsuit, and the jury took just minutes to decide the case. That is the sobering lesson the film gives to teachers, school counselors, and school administrators who might be tempted to—as Mr. Nabozny's school administrators did—blame the victim and allow known bullying to continue on their watch.
As an aside, it doesn't take much delving to discover that those who are opposed to hate crime statutes also fight vigorously to stop anti-bullying measures in schools. That's probably because these people want to pass their hatred on to future generations. Bullying, you see, when committed by young adults and adults is often considered a hate crime. But even when tormenting someone to death because of their sexuality—or for some other reason—might not be considered a hate crime by the legal system, as in the criminal case against Rutgers University students Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei, the "sport" of tormenting someone because of some physical or sociopolitical characteristic that they possess, seems to me, is a form of bullying and must be stopped. As the lyrics to a song by Everything But The Girl go, "Little Hitlers, Little Hitlers grow up into big Hitlers, look what they do."
If you are a junior high school teacher or high school teacher, or a school administrator, and if you are serious about preventing bullying, then please get your school a free copy of Bullied and make sure it is shown throughout your school. The film is the perfect primer for a classroom discussion about not only bullying, but also about diveristy and tolerance and the benefits of both. If you are an elementary school teacher, and you are serious about preventing bullying, then please visit this site and also this site for useful online tools to help teach your class this important message: bullying is never OK.