Sunday, May 20, 2012

"Bullied" not "Bully" for Midcoast teens

Early in May, the high school visited the newly-renamed Oceanside East School in Rockland to watch a film called, “Bullied.” Though this documentary should not to be confused with “Bully”, a new independent film making its way to Maine in the next few weeks, “Bullied” addressed many of the same issues, including school policy and action, or lack thereof. The high school faculty agreed we and the students needed to see it, so we joined area schools and converged in the former Rockland District High School auditorium.
“Bullied” focuses on a gay man, Jamie Nabozny, who won a large settlement in a court case against his school system after its administration failed to protect him from the physical and emotional damage resulting from many years of anti-gay, homophobic bullying. Nabozny attended the Rockland screening, asked the students several questions and also took their questions. When he asked the Midcoast teenagers in the auditorium to raise their hands if they feel safe in school, not one Rockland, Thomaston, Vinalhaven or North Haven hand went up. This reality pointed squarely at Trekkers Executive Director Don Carpenter’s emotional introduction of Nabozny. Carpenter stood before several hundred teenagers and nearly a hundred faculty and staff members and admitted he had been on all sides of the bullying dynamic. “I have been bullied, I have been a bully, and I have stood by and done nothing when I witnessed bullying,” he said. This simple truth resonated with every person in the hall.
All the North Haven Community School faculty, not just high school teachers, administration and staff work every day to create and maintain a safe environment. As a teacher anywhere, let alone in a tiny school where we pride ourselves on personal, nearly one on one teaching, seeing evidence that your students find the climate threatening is uncomfortable at best, shaming at worst. We went to the screening of “Bullied” because we wanted to face reality, not because we wanted to be comforted.
In the film, Nabozny got abuse for being studious and emotional. To many bullies, kindness, nurturing, and concern for others equal weakness. We all have heard a version of this misogyny on the playground when a child gets criticized for playing a sport, “like a girl.” Because my NHCS classroom is adjacent to the high school locker rooms, outbursts from students who imagine they are out of earshot, too often contain epithets using the word “gay” as a euphemism for stupid, ugly, or confusing. Though consequences and conversation have helped, teachers around the country fight this stereotype, so we know we are not alone.
This fall we have an opportunity, with the coming high school grouping: eight girls, seven freshmen and one sophomore; and 11 boys, two seniors, four juniors, two sophomores, and three freshmen, to hear a wide variety of voices from the student body. With Principal-Elect Amy Marx’s leadership, faculty voices may discover new tunes while bringing Marx into the chorus that echoes in the halls of NHCS.
Cooperation, tolerance, sensitivity, empathy, and kindness build trust and personal relationships and give our work meaning. These traits are part and parcel of the NHCS mission exiting Principal Barney Hallowell has given his adult life to promote and embody. The finest appreciation of this legacy we could provide him would be to honor these precepts by living them.