a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Sunday, April 22, 2012

"Bully" reminds us to talk about this problem

By Scott Beveridge

WEBSTER, Pa. – The school bully should have had a field day with a kid like me.

I was cross-eyed, had ears of corn growing out of my ears and didn't live in one of the "better" tree-lined neighborhoods in the Belle Vernon Area School District south of Pittsburgh during the 1960s and 1970s.

To say I was chubby would have been an understatement, having tipped the scale at 250 pounds in the 10th grade while standing less than 5 feet, 10 inches tall. I also was drawn to the arts, whose stereotypes need not be regurgitated to make a point.

But, surprisingly, I wasn't taunted or beat up by my classmates, and, why that never happened has remained a mystery to me to this day.

These thoughts about my childhood resurfaced today after I watched the troubling new documentary, "Bully," which has just about everyone talking about this subject.

My best guess as to why I escaped bullying as a child would involve my having had the fortune of being among a grade of kids with decent parents and schoolteachers who had the skills to keep bullies within arm's reach.

While my parents lacked socioeconomic status, if nothing else, they paid attention to their children's lives. That, in itself, did a lot to scare off bullies.

Mom often drilled into my head one of her favorite sayings, "People only make fun of you because they are jealous of you."

And, if I mentioned a problem in school in which that advice didn't solve, she usually acted promptly to address the situation with administrators, often behind my back.

That said Belle Vernon did tend to ignore bullying problems. And the teachers there sometimes joined in the problem. I remember one junior high school teacher making fun of an overweight girl by adding syllables to her last name, and doing nothing when boys in his class would put two or three chairs behind her desk to suggest she needed more support when she sat down.

The older kids on my school bus were so mean en route home that, each day, they would snort loud oink sounds in chorus from the time one poor, short and round girl stood from her seat and until she exited the door to the street. That behavior sometimes motivated me leave the bus at the next stop and walk the long way home to get away from those abusers.

The jealousy issue didn't seem to apply to her, or appear to have involved the boy who is repeatedly abused on his school bus in "Bully."

It broke my heart to see the assistant principal in this documentary react to one bullying case by blaming the victim and another by attempting to intimidate a boy's parents who complained about him being repeatedly roughed up on the bus. If nothing else that school administrator needs to immediately be enrolled in anti-bullying training.

It also bothered me that some critics of "Bully," including Roger Ebert, have criticized its director Lee Hirsch for not offering in the documentary any solutions to the problem.

The reviewers are wrong, if for no other reason, than this movie reminds us that we really need to discuss this problem. A lot.

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