bullied by the mpaa.

Lee Hirsch's "Bully" is a heart-breaking look at how five families are affected by the institutional and societal shortcomings in our management of bullying behavior.

“Bully” isn’t set to hit theaters until March 30, but already there is a significant debate surrounding Lee Hirsch’s latest documentary, and—specifically—the “R” rating it received from the MPAA as a result of the film’s “language.” What is frustrating in the MPAA’s decision is that this is not an issue of some fictional account glorifying bad behavior, but is instead a reflection of things as they are for many students already. Essentially, the MPAA is attempting to “protect” children from something they already experience on a daily basis just within their own school hallways and lunch tables.

In addition to the sheer illogicality of seeking to curb a student’s access to a film discussing an issue most of them must deal with in some way or another every day, there is the issue of weighing which of these aims will provide more benefit to our youth. Better yet, which of these issues would provide more damage if ignored?

While it may seem honorable to attempt to shield children from profanity, it is a misguided endeavor, especially considering how prevalent profanity is within our media—including cable television. Instead, what suffers is the message that Hirsch is seeking to deliver, as children who may want to better understand the emotional toll bullying has or who may be bullied themselves and are simply looking for a way to know they’re neither alone nor powerless. Linda Holmes says it best in her review of the MPAA’s decision:

“There’s a grotesque irony in declaring that what is portrayed in Bully should be softened, or bleeped — should be hidden, really, because it’s too much for kids to see. Of course it’s too much for kids to see. It’s also too much for kids to live through, walk through, ride the bus with, and go to school with. That’s why they made the movie. The entire point of this film is that kids do not live with the protection we often believe they do — many of them live in a terrifying, isolating war zone, and if you hide what it’s like, if you lie about what they’re experiencing, you destroy what is there to be learned.”

Many of us who have safely made our way out of the middle- and high-school battles zones already have some idea of what it feels like to be picked on by our peers. Even more of us can—at the very least—empathize with feeling insecure and awkward during those years. While this film highlights just how much more brutal youth culture can be today in comparison to our own experiences, “Bully” is not necessarily for us. It is to give the children navigating a hostile school environment a voice that they are all too often robbed of. To silence them further by rating their stories “R” or watering these stories down by censoring the language continues to bully them. If we don’t respect these children enough to give them a voice at the institutional level, how can we expect them to have any hope of successfully overcoming what they face from their peers?

It may be a small gesture, but please consider signing the petition. At the very least, give our students a chance to be heard.

Alex is just one of the five students featured in "Bully" whose story is restricted as a result of the MPAA rating.

UPDATE 4/6/2012: We won! The MPAA has changed Bully’s rating from R to PG-13 as a direct result of public pressure. Thank you so much for your help, and please make sure you (and all of your adolescent acquaintances!) see this documentary.



Springtime at UVA is nothing short of pure magic.

Every year, I am continuously surprised at the sheer beauty of our Grounds as the trees thaw and begin to bloom. Between how intellectually stimulating my peers are and how visually stimulating my surroundings are, I really could not ask for a better place to be.

I am overcome with gratitude.

P.S. If you need me, I’ll be in one of the Lawn’s Pavilion gardens from now until May. See you there.

field trip.

UVA Art Museum, via The Sky Line

This is an embarrassing admission. Bear with me.

After nearly four years of living and studying here, I finally went on a tour of the UVA Art Museum. For me, it’s always been sort of like the Rotunda—you admire it from afar, but you’re never entirely certain what the policy is regarding ragamuffins just sniffing around for the sake of “adventure.” I’ve prided myself on exploring as much of this school as I could, so it really is just a major oversight that it took so long to explore the museum.

Considering that the docents usually work with elementary school classes of about 20 or so students, I can imagine it was rather overwhelming to have roughly 60 confused college kids swarming outside the stairs, waiting for instruction. The head docent was rather abrasive at first, so I was nervous about how the rest of the experience would go, but it seemed to dissipate once we developed some sense of group organization.

We were told to step back into 1st grade and view everything as children. This may or may not surprise you, but I didn’t have much trouble with that assignment. We looked at a variety of different pieces and artifacts, ranging from Tom Burckhart’s contemporary “easel” sculpture made entirely out of cardboard to an ancient Chinese terra cotta warhorse.

Chinese horse statue, 7th - 9th c. BC.

A cardboard scene from Burckhart's new exhibit.

From there, we moved onto photography and looked at two pieces in particular: Sally Mann’s “Jessie Bites” and Tina Barney’s “Marina’s Room.”

Sally Mann's "Jessie Bites" (1985)

Tina Barney's "Marina's Room" (1987)

As my appreciation for different types of art is still in the formative stages, I’ll admit I left the tour still unsure of what the cohesive theme was tying these pieces together. During the information session, we learned about the selections process for how one becomes a docent, and apparently the choosing of a theme is one of the crucial parts of offering these tours.

Aside from feeling a bit foolish about “missing” some key aspect of our journey around the museum, I had a great time. It was neat to interact with some of my classmates in a less formal setting and I was incredibly impressed with the insight many of them had in making artistic connections or drawing attention to something I missed. I also really appreciated the emphasis on interactive learning. It was evident that the docent program really places a lot of attention on learning how to ask guiding questions and in making the entire group feel as though they have a part in the dialogue. I know that takes a considerable amount of finesse, and our docent pulled it off flawlessly.

Bottom line: I really should have gone much sooner; I’ve missed out on a major gem of UVA’s Grounds. Then again—better late than never.

the whole picture.

Jefferson in bronze, via J. Martin

“You’re a philosophy major? That’s so cool! My parents would kill me if that’s what I chose for a major, but it’s so interesting!  So……what are you going to do once we graduate?”

Believe it or not, this has been the reaction I most often receive when I meet someone and the infamous “What do you study?” question arises. At first, it was kind of neat to feel as if you’re some pensive, beatnik Kerouac-derivative. For some reason, the people I’d introduce myself to often liked to drop names like Kierkegaard or Vonnegut once they discovered my major.

Then I began to notice just the slightest hint of condescension from a number of my friends and classmates when it came to my course of study. One friend, an Economics major, explained to me in a moment of frustration that I couldn’t possibly understand how stressful this school can be because I just “talk about things that have no answer” all day. After that, I began to pay attention to reactions I got, and—almost without fail—it always came back to employment: What could I even do with a Philosophy degree? How could I ever expect to support myself?

I realized that, while many people probably think Philosophy is one of those neat things to discuss over cocktails, it isn’t viewed as particularly practical. Therefore, it isn’t viewed as particularly important—at least, not as a career choice.

As I’ve continued learning about arts integration in our public schools and as I’ve reflected on my own experiences in secondary education, I discovered a parallel. I remembered a conversation I had with the mother of a friend who was on the football team:

“Sure, chorus class is probably fun and I’m sure it’ll be a nice GPA booster, but I don’t think state universities hand out all that many ‘choir scholarships,’ do they? Maybe you could also try out for field hockey?”

That very attitude has been especially prevalent within our public school system when it comes to conversations about promoting an “arts” presence. It’s a great hobby, but—a future?

What many parents are only now beginning to understand is that a strong arts presence is often synonymous with higher academic achievement. In the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities (“PCAH”) report entitled “Reinvesting in Arts Education,” evidence supports that standardized test scores are higher for the children that are involved in arts programs than for those who are not. Furthermore, these children are more motivated, have a better self-image, and are less likely to drop out of school [PCAH, p. 17]. This is what is so unnerving about public perception of the arts’ value to our public education system. To not recognize that music lessons or painting classes provide something both empowering and unique from the formal “core class” structure is commit a grave injustice towards our students—especially those in underserved communities.

For a number of students, the arts represent far more than a mere “hobby.” For many of us, the arts have been the ticket by which we are able to gain admission towards building a future. If that ticket disappears, so does our access to a well-balanced and diverse education.