Facing History's Guide to the Film BULLY: Fostering Empathy and Action in Schools helps adult and student audiences confront the stories in this film and explore the meaning for their schools and their wider communities.
BULLY offers insight into the often cruel world of the lives of bullied children through intimate glimpses into homes, classrooms, cafeterias and principals’ offices.
Like the phenomenon of bullying itself, the film is direct and hard-hitting. Through the power of individual stories, the film aims to be a catalyst for change in the way we deal with bullying as parents, teachers, children, and society as a whole.
Facing History and Ourselves has worked with the creators of BULLY to craft a guide that can help adult and student audiences confront the stories told in the film and explore their meaning and resonance for their schools and wider communities.
Careful preparation by educators who intend to use the film with their students is not only critical, but will pay off in precipitating the kind of honest, open discussion about caring and responsibility that the film is designed to engender.
At Facing History and Ourselves, we have spent over 35 years researching, teaching, and writing about historical episodes of collective violence in which the marginalization and humiliation of particular groups played the central role.
Seemingly small steps of ridicule and labeling, when allowed to persist and go unchallenged, have too often had catastrophic consequences. Why, in such cases, did some people willingly conform to the norms of a group, even when those norms encouraged wrongdoing, while others spoke out and resisted?
That is a Facing History and Ourselves question that might well be on the minds of viewers of this film. It is part of the intellectual and pedagogical framework developed by Facing History, which not only focuses on how history informs the present, but also helps young people look at difficult events and find connections to their own lives. That framework further encompasses concepts and vocabulary that are familiar to adolescents: identity, membership, stereotyping, conformity, peer pressure, leading and following, in-groups and out-groups, judgment, and responsibility.
Having students use such terms as a lens through which to view and discuss the stories in the film will encourage them to make connections between more extreme situations and less serious actions and behavior that they participate in or observe in their everyday lives.
The necessity of adults previewing the full film before using it with young people cannot be overemphasized. Ideally, that would be done with a group of faculty and school personnel, including counselors. In any case, it is important that adults take the time to reflect upon their reactions to the film, and many of the suggestions in this guide will assist in that process.
When using the film with students, adults need to anticipate and prepare for how young people will respond. Initially, there can be a wide range of responses—silence, blaming victims, discomfort that shows itself in joking and laughter—as well as an insistence that it has nothing to do with their lives.
On the other hand, some students may see the film as hitting particularly close to home, and need individual support. But engendering the kind of classroom atmosphere of trust, respect for different opinions, and honest, informed discussion that is described in the opening section of the guide will best facilitate moving on and thinking together about actions that sustain an environment in which bullying of any sort is simply not acceptable.
Preventing bullying in our schools and communities will not be a quick fix or simple solution. Stopping it needs to go far beyond reacting to alarming media headlines, completing surveys, and distributing zero-tolerance policy reminders—as important as all of that may be.
In the best schools, every adult, no matter what his or her position or job title, recognizes and accepts his or her responsibility as role model and educator. Every adult takes the matter of bullying seriously, and sees it as his or her responsibility to prevent it when possible and intervene if it arises. Explicit curricula and non-curricular programs foster social and emotional competencies, such as perspective-taking and empathy, which make bullying less likely. The entire school community is alert to signals and warning signs and everyone finds a way to “upstand” on behalf of the safe and respectful learning and living environment that every young person deserves.
About the Author
Facing History's Dan Sigward worked extensively with middle school students for eight years in the Boston area. He taught Facing History to eighth graders before joining the organization as a researcher and curriculum writer this past fall.