Laura Varlas

"Tell Me How to Fix This"

Alex

The Bully Project, a new documentary from filmmaker Lee Hirsch, is a heartbreaking look at the ongoing violence and harassment that plagues school communities. Over the course of the film we meet

  • Alex (pictured), whose daily abuse from peers stymies school officials who can't seem to offer much beyond shake-and-make-up solutions.
  • Kelby, shunned by her community for coming out as gay; adults and students alike make school unsafe for her.
  • Ja'meya, a 14-year-old behind bars for pulling a gun on her tormentors.

But the motivation for The Bully Project is most acutely illustrated by the kids we don't meet—17-year-old Tyler Long, 11-year-old Ty Smalley, and hundreds like them—who took their own lives in response to relentless bullying. Their deaths are the tragic effects of a dysfunction readily acknowledged to be everywhere, but nowhere in particular.

It's like alcoholism, said Tyler Long's mother in a Q&A following the Bully Project screening in Washington, D.C. "Until you admit there's a problem, there won't be a solution," she said. Even after Tyler's suicide, officials in his school district told media that bullying is "not a major concern."

How could this be?

Is it the overwhelmed frustration of the administrator in Alex's school who, after tending to an injured student, pleaded to the camera, "Tell me how to fix this"? The school personnel discussed in the film clearly do not have the interventions, the resources, and in some cases, the will, to create schools safe for students. But also, the parents of bullied students seem at a loss, both in advocating for their children at the school level and helping them develop resiliency. And then there are the students, many of whom don't know how to stand up to bullies without becoming victims or bullies themselves.

For this to change, schools need to be places where everyone talks about real issues like race and sexual orientation, said one panelist at the film screening. Broader definitions of school accountability that include school climate and are matched with resources, especially bullying intervention training for all school personnel, also seem like good ideas.

To get things rolling,The Bully Project aims to create dialogue that will move communities toward social change. We can change this building by building, filmmaker Hirsch told viewers. The film is slated for wide release November 11, 2011, and will be accompanied by a suite of online resources for teachers, parents, and kids.

As an educator, have you felt frustrated in your attempts to address bullying?

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