I'm going to go see Bully this coming weekend, which is getting great reviews:http://www.metacritic.com/movie/the-bully-project and http://movies.nytimes.com/2012/03/30/movies/bully-a-documentary-by-lee-hirsch.html?nl=movies&emc=edit_fm_20120330. Below are two articles about it by Andy Rotherham and Neil Gillespie in the WSJ. Here's Rotherham:
Bully…interweaves the stories of five tormented children, two of whom have committed suicide, and their families over the course of the 2009-2010 school year. In Sioux City, Iowa, we meet Alex, a 7th-grader and victim of frequent bullying. Kids are particularly cruel to him on the school bus, shoving and hitting him while the driver just keeps driving. But it's the haplessness and abject ineffectiveness of his school administration that is the most shocking. In one of the most wrenching scenes in the movie, a middle-school student deftly undoes the argument of a school administrator who claims to be addressing a bullying problem. (Maybe the inmates would be better off running the asylum.) The bullying of Alex is so intense, and the school so weak in addressing it, that the filmmakers drop their observational stance and go to the police. To Sioux City's credit, the district agreed to let the cameras in in the first place; the administrator, after seeing the film, apologized publicly, and the superintendent has said he welcomes "the conversation about where we have found success and where we can grow even stronger for each and every student."
…The obvious lesson there and with bullying is that there is no substitute for discretion and judgment by the adults in charge. In some circumstances, eye-rolling could be abusive behavior just as aspirin can be used or abused. But adults shouldn't abdicate the hard role of making nuanced judgment calls by creating ridiculously rigid discipline codes. Replacing thoughtless inaction with thoughtless action won't solve the problem. And as Bully shows all too well, for tormented kids there is no problem bigger than this.
And here's Gillespie:
Despite the rare and tragic cases that rightly command our attention and outrage, the data show that things are, in fact, getting better for kids. When it comes to school violence, the numbers are particularly encouraging. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 1995 and 2009, the percentage of students who reported "being afraid of attack or harm at school" declined to 4% from 12%. Over the same period, the victimization rate per 1,000 students declined fivefold.
When it comes to bullying numbers, long-term trends are less clear. The makers of "Bully" say that "over 13 million American kids will be bullied this year," and estimates of the percentage of students who are bullied in a given year range from 20% to 70%. NCES changed the way it tabulated bullying incidents in 2005 and cautions against using earlier data. Its biennial reports find that 28% of students ages 12-18 reported being bullied in 2005; that percentage rose to 32% in 2007, before dropping back to 28% in 2009 (the most recent year for which data are available). Such numbers strongly suggest that there is no epidemic afoot (though one wonders if the new anti-bullying laws and media campaigns might lead to more reports going forward).
The most common bullying behaviors reported include being "made fun of, called names, or insulted" (reported by about 19% of victims in 2009) and being made the "subject of rumors" (16%). Nine percent of victims reported being "pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on," and 6% reported being "threatened with harm." Though it may not be surprising that bullying mostly happens during the school day, it is stunning to learn that the most common locations for bullying are inside classrooms, in hallways and stairwells, and on playgrounds—areas ostensibly patrolled by teachers and administrators.
None of this is to be celebrated, of course, but it hardly paints a picture of contemporary American childhood as an unrestrained Hobbesian nightmare. Before more of our schools' money, time and personnel are diverted away from education in the name of this supposed crisis, we should make an effort to distinguish between the serious abuse suffered by the kids in "Bully" and the sort of lower-level harassment with which the Aaron Cheeses of the world have to deal.
Bully Is Good, but Knee-Jerk Responses to Bullying Are Not
Some schools have made eye-rolling a punishable offense. But if everything is considered bullying, then nothing is
A scene from the film Bully
- THE SATURDAY ESSAY
- Updated April 2, 2012, 12:28 p.m. ET