"Why did we have to sit through an hour long bully assembly that taught us nothing about not bullying?" one of my students asked me as we were discussing the anti - bullying play we had just viewed. Some may think that this question is rude. How dare a child question the decisions an adult makes? However, I think this question is thoughtful. Particularly once the question was explored and various ideas were shared. I try really hard to not impose my views and ideas on my students. And it was difficult for me to keep my mouth closed about this. Why? Because in reality this anti-bullying play was teaching the children how to be a bully.
ALL of the characters, except the teacher, were bullies. The play opens with the students badmouthing their new teacher, calling her freaky & saying she is from Mars. The teacher was portrayed as an absent-minded flake who was oblivious to what was happening in her classroom with her students, even when she was watching them. Every time the teacher did or said something the students were calling her names, right in front of her. Is that not bullying? Sadly, this was done to provoke a laugh from the children. What does that teach the children about how to treat adults?
The new kid who comes in is the bully. She takes things from the other kids & rips them up. She takes money from another kid. She calls them losers. But why is the bully Hispanic and the victims ALL white? It's difficult for me to not read too much into this characterization. I'm researching Critical Race Theory & this proves the theory's point. A perpetuation of stereotypes: Hispanics are mean and angry. And if we apply Critical Race Theory, the unspoken message is that we should not allow Hispanics into our country because they will take our money (jobs), ruin our things (steal), and only have 1 derogatory words to choose from (illiterate).
There's a lot of singing in the play. Song is an excellent way to reach some of our learners. The beat was decent for most of the songs & I did find myself tapping my toe to a few, but forced myself to stop because I did not want my students to see that & think that meant I liked what the song was saying. Of the two songs I remember, the first one was about how one of the children friends everyone. Yet what was actually said was the he friends "zeroes". The other song was titled "How to Be a Bully". It explained in great detail how to be a bully: puff up your chest, strut, push, punch, threaten, etc. We know the research that has shown the power of song & music in teaching & helping children remember concepts.
Thirty minutes were spent illustrating negative behavior. Children saw the characters calling each other names, talking about people behind their backs, pushing each other, punching each other, stealing from each other. It also showed one of the characters encouraging another to be mean & use violence on another child. While this was a response to the bullying behavior, many adults try to teach children to respond without violence.
I spend a lot of time teaching my students what to do. I spend a lot of time deliberately teaching them how to handle negatives without actually teaching them the negative. As I was watching this play I was concerned about what my students would take out of this. I was concerned about what the humorous sing-songy play would plant in their impressionable, concrete minds.
I am thankful that my student began our conversation with the question that I opened this post with. It was because of this question that the others wondered exactly what I was wondering. They said that the play showed them how to be mean to others. They were questioning how the strategies presented in the play were worthy when they come up with & use more respectful strategies in their class meetings. They said that they like being assertive with others in a kind way. They were confused why none of their strategies, which work, were not presented in the play. They finally wondered why they had to sit through the play. One student said, "We could have done a lot in our classroom in the hour we sat through that."