Bullying was once considered a normal, inevitable part of growing up. Boys hitting each other on the playground were shrugged off with the thought that “boys will be boys.” Girls excluding one another were considered to be engaging in a rite of passage to womanhood. National incidents like school shootings at Columbine High or at Virginia Tech and the rash of suicides of gay teens and college students have cast new light on the age-old problem of bullying. In these cases, the perpetrators were themselves victims of bullying or had felt the stinging effects of social isolation and discrimination.
Bullying at school means that learning occurs in a culture of fear and intimidation. Defining bullying is a first step towards understanding it. Bullying occurs “when one or more persons repeatedly say or do hurtful things to another person who has problems defending himself or herself,” according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. These attacks can include taunting, teasing, hitting, threatening, or indirect bullying through purposeful exclusion caused by gossip and rumors.
Rightfully so, educators must confront the bullying culture rampant in American schools. Not only must they address the negative behaviors, but they must also empower those who are being victimized and those who feel powerless to affect change.
Bullying behavior is frequently a subject in popular culture artifacts, particularly movies. A recent search of the keyword on the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com) and on Netflix revealed over two thousand movie titles of all genres—even for children. Given Hollywood’s penchant for the subject, is it any wonder that our children believe such behavior is normal and to be expected? Cultivation theory suggests that such significant and prolonged exposure to these themes may be having a profound and detrimental effect on kids’ expectations of the way life should be.
In a recent course on bullying at a public university taught by one of the authors of this book, three themes continuously emerged among the student population: (a) there’s nothing anyone can do about it, (b) bullying is necessary as it builds character, and (c) there needs to be more educational programming in the schools designed to curb bullying behavior.
(Contest LLC, 2013)
Contrast these sentiments with the helplessness teachers and administrators feel. Many will tell you that current state and federal guidelines tie their hands until after an incident occurs. In other words, a student must get hurt before the school is able to do anything. Reel Big Bullies: Teaching to the Problem is designed for regular anti-bullying campaigns and will not cost struggling districts thousands of dollars to implement as it provides teachers with educational resources to complement regular instruction in classrooms.
School districts across the country spend thousands of dollars annually to participate in campaigns designed to curb the problem with bullying in schools. They bring in high-paid consultants who make great promises about how their canned programs will work to change student behaviors. Superintendents who recognize the problem are anxious and hopeful to find the solution—just one thing—that will keep another child from being hurt, from being ostracized, and hopefully avoid something as terrible as a suicide or school shooting.
Regrettably, these administrators fail to recognize the greatest assets (tools/“weapons” in the anti-bullying arsenal) they already possess in their districts—their teachers. Schools already have the best resources in the classrooms every day. These highly educated, credentialed, creative talents should be put to use every day—not just during a special week. Teachers are the best line of defense for students because they are already the eyes and ears of the school—capable of affecting the student culture daily—our goal is to give them the tools to do so.
Real Big Bullies: Teaching to the Problem is designed to help students, administrators, teachers and counselors create a safer school environment for all students. It is also intended to help all students understand the terrible toll bullying can take on its victims, and to encourage students to stand up for their classmates who are being harassed. The idea of putting others down, physically assaulting, or social excluding others has been normalized in the films we watch, and we have been desensitized to believe that bullying and hazing are a part of making the target a “better person.” Developing an integrative approach using film will challenge participants to see the personhood and humanity of all persons, and to learn how to eliminate bystander behavior. Reel Big Bullies: Teaching to the Problem is designed to strengthen communities, foster mutual respect and build truly inclusive environments where all can thrive!