I have never been picked on. I was never bullied because of my race or gender or appearance, or for how I walked, talked, or behaved.
I have been cursed at, threatened, and have been vilified, mostly by students who thought I was a poor teacher, who thought I was too critical of their work, or for any number of other reasons. One student complained because my voice was too deep.
Another student habitually wrote epithets in Magic Marker on my office door.
But none of this constitutes bullying.
I don’t know what it feels like to be scorned and teased because I looked different. Alex Libby does. He’s currently a high school freshman in Edmond, Okla.
When I was 9-10, living in Ann Arbor, Mich., my two best friends looked different too. Willie was black. Johnny was missing half of his right arm. Sometimes he wore a prosthetic arm, sometimes he didn’t. The prosthesis had a hook that Johnny could open and close, and that was about it.
We’d get looks wherever we went, and I never understood why. Now I do.
The Ann Arbor News (no longer exists) did a full page article about him. Because Johnny could play. He was the best pitcher in our Little League.
He was the leading scorer on a youth league basketball team. And he was the leading scorer in a hockey league.
Watching him pitch was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. His glove would be tucked under his shortened arm until he released the ball. In an instant the glove would be on his left hand.
If the ball came back to him, he would have to field the ball, tuck the glove under his right arm, get the ball out of the glove and throw it where it needed to go.
I wish I knew where he was. The Smiths moved to California, and Johnny and I never communicated again.
Alex Libby is bullied every day of his life because he has “a slightly curved and flattened upper lip,” as he is described in an April 2 The New Yorker magazine review of the new documentary “Bully.”
Critic David Denby writes that “The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children claims that a hundred and sixty thousand kids a day stay home from school each day (my emphasis) out of fear” from being bullied.
Denby is a brilliant critic and gave the film accolades, and it would be a great educational tool, but there is a significant rub. It was given an “R” rating by the Motion Picture Association of America because it counted six “f”-words in the film. “Most public schools are not going to sponsor screenings of an R-rated film, no matter how high minded.”
The directors chose as their subjects five kids from different parts of the country. Denby writes, “As the movie begins, two of them are dead.” Both were suicides.
Denby concludes his review with this: “Katy Butler, a seventeen-year-old high school junior in Ann Arbor, MI, who had a finger broken by kids when she was in middle school, has an online petition drive to fight the M.P.A.A.’s rating, which, so far, has more than four hundred thousand signatures. Kids may understand better than their elders what actually threatens them.”
If you don’t now by now, because of Katy Butler’s extraordinary petition drive, “Bully” will receive a PG-13 rating and will be seen in theaters around the country starting April 13.
“On behalf of more than half a million supporters who joined me on Change.org in petitioning the M.P.A.A., I want to express how grateful I am not only to the M.P.A.A. for lowering the rating without cutting a vital scene, but to all of the people who used their voices to put a spotlight on this movie and its mission,” Butler said.
Thank you, Katy.
Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at email@example.com