Tag Archives: Teaching Tolerance

The Bully Plays

Makers of the film “Bully” have announced that it’ll open March 30 in select theaters, and make its way to Harkins Theatres Camelview 5 in Scottsdale on April 13. Bullying is also the subject of a new collection of short works for young actors called “The Bully Plays,” compiled and edited by Linda Habjan and published in 2011 by Dramatic Publishing.

“The Bully Plays” includes two dozen 10-minute plays addressing bullying “between and among young people, their parents and siblings” from various perspectives — the bullies, the bullied and the bystanders. Issues addressed include gender, sexuality, physical condition, social status and more — plus ways technology has changed the nature and scope of bullying.

“Bullying is aggressive behavior intended to harm or show power over another person that is repeared over time,” according to Susan Sugerman, M.D., M.P.H., an adolescent medicine physician who wrote the book’s forward. Sugerman is also president and co-founder of Girls to Women Health and Wellness in Dallas. “Bullies,” she adds, “have a strong need to show their dominance over others or to get their own way.”

“Victims of bullying tend to be children who are less popular or new to a situation,” according to Sugerman. Youth with academic, physical, or social ‘differences’ may be at particular risk of being bullied — as are those who don’t conform to gender norms. “Victims,” adds Sugerman, “tend not to get along well with others, have few friends, and have low self-esteem.”

But why choose plays as a way to tackle the topic? “One way to approach such a universal problem,” says Habjan, “is to get it out into the open and provide young people with strategies to deal with it in creative and empowering ways.” And Sugerman concurs that “When art can be used to improve, not just imitate, life, we are all better off.”

Two of the 24 pieces in “The Bully Plays” were written by playwrights-in residence at Childsplay, a Tempe-based theater company specializing in “professional theatre for young audiences and families” currently celebrating its 35th season.

“Gasp, Farrah & Monster” was written by José Cruz González, whose “Tomás and the Library Lady” (based on Pat Mora’s book) opens April 7 at Tempe Center for the Arts. “The Bully Pulpit” was written by Dwayne Hartford, whose “The Color of Stars” opens a world premiere run at TCA April 22.

The diversity of plays included in this collection mirrors the breadth and depth of real life experiences facing today’s children and teens. There’s school violence, cyberbullying, suicide and more. Settings include ancient Greece, a teen girl’s bedroom, a school on lockdown, a circus, a courtroom and others. Each play lists characters, setting and time — making staging the works easy in theater, classroom or community settings. Cast size varies from two to 25+.

Titles include “Bystander Blues” (Trish Lindberg), “Flash Mob” (Elizabeth Wong), “The New Kid” (Richard Dresser) and “What Goes Around” (D.W. Gregory). Though written to be performed by and for young audiences, they’re also helpful for introducing student to reading works of theater and inspiring youth to try their own hand at playwriting. Most importantly, they serve as conversation starters.

Long before “bullying” landed front and center in the national dialogue, Mary Pipher, Ph.D. addressed tough issues facing adolescent girls in “Reviving Ophelia,” the first of eight books filled with insights gleaned from cultural anthropology and clinical psychology. Pipher describes “The Bully Plays” as “a tasty antidote to our toxic teen culture.”

“This collection of plays is funny, sad, powerful and important,” says Pipher. “Bullying is a catch-phrase for treating others as less than human. All of these plays help teenagers develop their moral imagination and see that there is no us/them. There is only  us.”

— Lynn

Note: For additional bullying prevention resources, visit Teaching Tolerance and the Anti-Defamation League. Click here for details about a March 30 screening of the film “Bully” at the Phoenix Film Festival.

Coming up: A teacher tale, Student art exhibits

Update: Click here to read “The Defenders” by Sharon L. Green. The article, which appears in the May/June 2012 issue of “American Theatre” magazine, addresses theater works that tackle bullying. 5/2/12


Talking to kids about 9/11

Artwork from an Arizona Capitol exhibit by Young Arts of Arizona

Dispensing parenting pearls is easier than following them — hence my proficiency now in urging others to talk sensibly and sensitively with their children about 9/11 a decade after my own children experienced far too much television footage filled with fire, tears and trauma.

They’re old enough now that I can indulge my instinct to spend much of the weekend following live coverage of 9/11 memorial events — in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania — on television, radio and internet. And I can reflect on ways I might have done a better job talking with them about 9/11 in its immediate aftermath.

Children born in 2001 are now elementary school students old enough to feel genuine curiosity about events of that day, but young enough to need adult support as they make their way through atttempting to grasp and come to terms with them.

The national 9/11 Memorial in New York City, which provides information on the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath at www.911memorial.org, offers several
“broad guidelines” helpful to parents of children from preschoolers to teens:

  • Listen. Actively listen to their thoughts, attend to their body language, validate their emotions, and encourage respectful conversation and discussions.
  • Don’t avoid difficult conversations. Let the child’s interests and thoughts guide the conversation. Use age-appropriate language and be aware of your tone, reassuring children about their own safety and allowing them to express concerns about 9/11 and its aftermath in more depth.
  • Answer questions about the attacks with facts. Be prepared for your child to ask questions about death when dicussing 9/11, and to answer these questions in a way that is honest and developmentally-appropriate.
  • Acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers. If you can’t answer your child’s question, be honest. Use the opportunity to model yourself as a learner, and to explore the questions together.
  • Be specific. The story of 9/11 is actually thousands of individual stories. Highlight those specific stories to help humanize the events, and avoid stereotypes and simplifications.
  • Emotions vary. Children’s responses vary widely depending on their age, personality, actual or perceived ethnic or religious background, connection to the attacks, and exposure to other past traumatic experiences.
  • Monitor the TV and internet. Programs may include footage from 9/11 itself, and include scenes that are not appropriate for children to view at all or without supervision.
  • Know yourself. Recognizing your feelings beforehand and then sharing them honestly with your children offers them a model in their own difficult conversations and will help engender a safe, trusting environment.
  • Emphasize hope. Help your children recognize how their own compassion can prevent future acts of intolerance and violence by reminding them to express their ideas respectfully and to treat people who are different from themselves with kindness.

The 9/11 Memorial website offers several resources for parents and teachers — including lesson plans and 9/11 FAQs. Also sections on “Tribute Art & 9/11” and “The Spirit of Volunteerism.” Plus links to other “suggested resources.”

Artwork exhibited by Young Arts Arizona at the Arizona State Capitol

Additional tips are available online from Teaching Tolerance at www.tolerance.org and 9-11 Heroes at www.9-11heroes.us.

Whatever the topic, children need to know that it’s okay to have questions, to express their thoughts and feelings. They need to know their parents will listen with an open mind, not passing judgement or pushing their own agenda.

We can’t guarantee that our children will never come to harm, but we can offer them spaces and places that feel physically, emotionally and intellectually safe.

— Lynn

Note: Artwork by children at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center recently exhibited at the Arizona State Capitol by Young Arts Arizona (www.youngartsaz.org). Photos by Lynn Trimble.

Coming up: Broadway remembers 9/11, Arizona’s 9/11 memorial

Art: Antidote for hate

Works by an American Arab theater company performing Friday in Scottsdale

While searching for ways Arizonans will be remembering 9/11 this week through shared experiences of arts and culture, I stumbled on an upcoming performance by The AJYAL Theatrical Group — which describes itself as “the first Arab-American theatre group in North America.”

The Michigan-based group, established in 1988, says that most of their works “poke fun at the everyday lives of Arab-Americans who are desperately trying to blend into the mainstream of American culture.”

They’re performing a play titled “Shoufou Alwawa Wayn” (“Where Does It Hurt”) Fri, Sept 9 (8pm) at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. It’s written by Najee Mondalek and directed by Aziz Charabaty.

Like other AJYAL works, the play “serves as a forum to help people laugh at their mistakes and mishaps but also to come to terms with social issues facing Arab-Americans.” www.arabamericantheater.com or www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org.

It’s a particularly fitting week for a bit of Arab American theater, given the bigotry towards Arab Americans and Muslims that’s fueled each year by a minority of Americans who blame all Arab Americans and Muslims for the acts of a small group of terrorists.

Novelist Amy Waldman, formerly co-chief of the South Asia bureau of The New York Times, recently released “The Submission,” published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. www.thesubmissionnovel.com.

The book, according to the newspaper’s recent “9/11 in the Arts” guide, “imagines what would have happened if the winning designer of a memorial to victims of a terrorist attack turned out to be an American Muslim.”

We don’t have to imagine how American Muslims might be treated in the aftermath of 9/11. It’s there in black and white when you read the online vitriol of people who feel that Arab American and Muslim children who lost parents in the 9/11 attacks should have been excluded from the “Children of 9/11” documentary recently aired on NBC.

Arab Americans, many of them Muslim, were killed that tragic day. Arab Americans were among the first responders. Arab Americans defend our freedoms through military service every day. They’re Americans through and through, no less than me or you.

I’ll be spending time in coming weeks and months getting to know more about the contributions of Arab Americans to American arts and culture — starting with an online exploration of the Arab American National Museum.

So far I’ve enjoyed reviewing their list of 2011 Arab American Book Award winners, reading four online resource guides (including one titled “Islam and Muslim Americans”) and exploring a “web exclusive” exhibit titled “Reclaiming Identity: Dismantling Arab Stereotypes.”

The Smithsonian Affiliate, located in Michigan, shares that its mission is “to document, preserve, celebrate, and educate the public on the history, life, culture and contributions of Arab Americans.”

The museum also serves as a “resource to enhance knowledge and understanding about Arab Americans and their presence in the United States.” www.arabamericanmuseum.org.

They’ll be participating Sept 8-11 in an event called “U.S. Rising: Emerging Voices in a Post-9/11 America,” which features discussions, storytelling, music and art. www.usrising.org.

StoryCorps, an independent nonprofit dedicated to providing “Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives,” will be at the museum Sept 8-10. www.storycorps.org.

All happy news in my book. I like to believe that art is an antidote for hate.

— Lynn

Note: Read the blog for “Teaching Tolerance,”a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, to learn more about promoting tolerance in homes, schools and communities. www.tolerance.org/blog.

Coming up: Talking with children about 9/11

White noise

Years ago the airwaves were full of infomercials for white noise generators — nifty devices that supposedly produce something capable of drowning out other distractions. I never tried one, though, since sound has been such a profound part of my parenting experience.

I wonder at times whether my children developed their own white noise force fields as teens — because it sometimes felt like everything I said bounced right back to me before making that split second journey from ear canal to brain.

White Noise, A Cautionary Musical is now on stage in Chicago

Recently I learned of a musical titled “White Noise” — currently playing at the Royal George Theatre in Chicago. The news came across my desk with a host of other alerts from the “Teaching Tolerance” program of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

I was disappointed by the timing of my discovery, which came just days after Lizabeth returned from Chicago, though harrowing hamster tales and tidbits she shared about dark moments from another show did serve to slightly assuage my guilt.

Lizabeth saw “God of Carnage” at the Goodman Theatre over the weekend, and even thought to get me a souvenir pen for future writing ventures. She revealed that her dad, not a giggling sort of a guy, laughed throughout — and that they also enjoyed their time together at the Art Institute of Chicago.

After James and I first married in Southern California more than two decades ago, both our homes and his offices were decorated with prints of famous pieces of art — many from the Art Institute of Chicago collection. I imagine he was especially pleased to visit the museum with one of our three children.

“Chicago” is one on a small list of shows he didn’t want Lizabeth to see when it came to the Valley several years ago — fearing she was too young for some of the content. But she’s grown into all sorts of mature-content theater since then.

God of Carnage is part of the 2011-2012 season for Arizona Theatre Company

“God of Carnage” is being mounted next season by Arizona Theatre Company — which Lizabeth expects will do it great justice. And Broadway World reported recently that a film adaptation to feature Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet (as two moms of children who have a bit of a playgound tussle) is in the works.

In the meantime, I’ll be looking for ways to see “White Noise,” which is being produced by Whoopi Goldberg. The cautionary tale is described as “an edgy new rock musical about a white separatist singing duo.” The musical “challenges conventional notions of free speech, media and the power of pop culture.”

An educational guide for working with high school and college age students has been developed by the Southern Poverty Law Center — which says the musical “raises important issues about the power of hate speech in our culture and should inspire people of conscious to call out those who engage in it.”

It feels particularly timely as tragic events continue to unfold in the aftermath of one man’s decision to burn a book held sacred by millions across the globe. Sometimes we fight on the playground, other times on the world stage.

I’m grateful for works like “God of Carnage” and “White Noise,” which help us hear the hate — then work together in peaceful ways to not merely mask it, but to eradicate it from our personal and collective lives.

— Lynn

Note: Scottsdale Community College presents the next film in its “The Many Faces of Hate” film series on April 27, 6:30-8:30pm in the Turquoise Room on the SCC campus (take the 1o1, exit at Chaparral, then head east to land at SCC). The documentary, “Strange Fruit,” will be followed by a moderated discussion.

Coming up: Musings on “Macbeth” from Valley students

Mothers and sons

I went to Scottsdale Community College recently to see the latest offering in the anti-hate film series they present each year with the Anti-Defamation League.

The film, titled “Bullied,” recounts events leading up to a court case involving a Wisconsin student who’d been brutally harassed during middle and high school because of his sexual orientation.

A title can be a telling thing. Given the name of the film, I expected to learn more about bullying and the challenges facing LGBT youth — and I did.

"Mother & Son" by Stephen Armstrong

But titles rarely reveal the whole story, for I found this film to be first and foremost a profound glimpse into the precious relationship of a mother and her son.

After the film, someone commented that “coming out is really something that happens for the whole family.”

The film “Bullied” beautifully portrays the impact of bullying on Jamie Nabozny’s entire family, and everyone around him — including other targets, bullies and bystanders.

We’re often reminded that “it takes a village to raise a child.” But “Bullied” reminds us that “it takes a village to protect a child.” If you’re not doing something to prevent bullying in our communities, you’re part of the problem.

The film offers ways that those who experience and witness bullying can stand up and reach out. During a post film Q & A session, a tall and slender young man from Africa stood to recount his family’s own experience with brutality.

We spoke a while near the close of the evening about his mother, Rose, and a film sharing their story — which I’ll feature in a future post.

I was especially moved by comments he shared earlier with the 100 + people gathered at SCC, noting that objections simply shouted in the street are easily ignored.

The real key, according to John Moise, is for parents to discuss bullying in their homes — even with their very young children.

Bullying will be banished only when each of us take responsibility for teaching our children that it is wrong to hurt others or to simply stand by as others cause harm.

I shared with Moise some of the words I’d helped my young children formulate when they were barely knee-high, so they’d know how to advocate in the moment for kids being teased or harrassed.

Telling our children they have to stand up to injustice is all good and fine, but too often we fail as parents to actually give them the concrete tools they need to do so.

Parents and teachers eager to learn more about bullying prevention have plenty of resources — including the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

As folks from the ADL pointed out after the film, bullying that goes unchecked too often escalates to violence — even genocide.

I was also moved during the Q & A session by a father who spoke of his work as a Christian minister, and how often he’d preached hatred toward homosexuality before learning that his own son was gay.

Life is plenty challenging for LGBT youth. But imagine what it’s like for those rejected even by their own parents.

As the mother/son story in “Bullied” makes clear, it’s our job to love and protect our children — and the other children of the world — no matter what.

— Lynn

Note: I also chatted after the film with a woman who does “Holocaust tracing” for the American Red Cross — who told me about the recent reunification of family members from Poland. I’ll share more of her story in a future post as well.

Coming up: Art speaks louder than words

Art, film and bullying prevention

Learn how you can be a part of "No Name-Calling Week" 2011

The Anti-Defamation League is partnering with Scottsdale Community College for the sixth year of a film series titled “The Many Faces of Hate.”

The film “Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case That Made History” will be presented at SCC on Wed, Jan 26, from 6:30-8:30pm in the Turquoise Room.

The film recounts the story of “a student who stood up to his anti-gay tormentors and filed a federal lawsuit against his high school district.”

It’s free and open to the public, and includes a moderated post-film discussion.

The film is being presented as part of “No Name-Calling Week” — a national initiative inspired by a young adult novel titled “The Misfits.” This year’s “No Name-Calling Week” takes place Jan 24-28.

The project is headed by the “No Name-Calling Week Coalition” — created by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Publishing (a company I call to mind each time I hear a Carly Simon song).

The project includes “a week of educational and art activities aimed at stopping name calling and bullying in schools” — which leaves me wondering about grown-up plans to curtail their own bad behavior.

I’m not so sure we set the best example as we cut each other off in traffic, gossip about friends over dinner or hurl wild accusations during political discourse. I’d rather see folks armed with crayons than with guns.

Individual students in grades K-12 are invited to participate in the “No Name-Calling Week 2011 Creative Expression Contest” before the Mon, Feb 28 deadline. Grown-ups, of course, are always free to color on their own.

The contest is “an opportunity for students to submit essays, poetry, music, original artwork, or other pieces that convey their experiences and feelings about name-calling, and their ideas for putting a stop to verbal bullying in their schools and communities.”

James Howe's book has much to offer tweens, teens and adults

The statistics about bullying are sobering, according to Melissa Medvin, associate regional director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Arizona regional office.

Medvin points to GLSEN studies showing that 65% of LGBT teens or those perceived to be LGBT report being verbally or physically harassed.

About one-third of the general student population reports being bullied.

Often bullying is based on perceived differences in race, religion, sexual orientation or physical characteristics. 

Medvin notes that victims of bullying have increased rates of absenteeism, use of dangerous and illegal substances, and suicide/bullycide — as well as lower grades and lower graduation rates. We all have a stake in reducing bullying in our communities.

Additional films in the series will be shown at SCC on Feb 16, March 23 and April 27. All are documentaries dealing with the subject of hate, and all are free and open to the public.

In the meantime, banish bullying from your own behavior. You can’t expect your children to do the right thing if you’re not leading by example.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn about free “Bullied” kits available (one per school) from Teaching Tolerance — a program of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Click here to learn more about GLSEN in Phoenix.

Coming up: Puppetry with a purpose

National Hispanic Heritage Month

Artwork from ALAC in Phoenix

Some of the Valley’s richest cultural resources are tucked away in places you might not even know exist. I stumbled on one just the other day as I was parking for the Phoenix Symphony/Phoenix Theatre performance of “The Music Man.”

It’s the Arizona Latino Arts & Cultural Center, just across the street from Phoenix Symphony Hall.

The center, also known as ALAC, is a consortium of local Latino groups and artists featuring Galeria 147 — which includes art exhibit spaces, a multi-use performance venue and a gift shop/bookstore. Their current exhibit, “La Phoeniquera,” features the works of Latino & Latina artists in Phoenix.

I wasn’t able to enjoy it because it’s closed Sundays and Mondays, but I look forward to touring the space in the future — perhaps during one of Artlink Phoenix’s “First Friday” events. I’m also eager to see their exhibit of newspaper sculpture and costumes by Christopher Plentywounds, which is titled “The Fine Art of Fine Print.”

"Hechale" by Eduardo Oropeza

ALAC is one of several organizations identified as a partner by the CALA (Celebracion Artistica de las Americas) Alliance, which will hold its kick-off event on Sept 24 at Phoenix Symphony Hall — a “signature concert featuring the exciting Grammy Award winning Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band.”

Plans are underway for the first bi-annual CALA Festival — a two-month Valleywide celebration spotlighting “the vibrant artistic, musical and culinary offerings of the regional Latino community through various exhibits, concerts, street fairs and more.” Interested artists can visit their website to learn about the jury process.

"The Love That Stains" by Maya Gonzalez

Other alliance partners include XICO, which “promotes Chicano artists by nourishing the appreciation of the cultural and spiritual heritage of Latino and indigenous people,” and CPLC (Chicano Por La Causa, Inc.), “an organization dedicated to the well-being of Arizona’s economically-deprived communities by providing the tools to empower people and families to achieve their aspirations.”

If you’re eager to learn more about Hispanic culture, you’ll have plenty of opportunities during National Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated Sept 15 through Oct 15.

Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama, notes that the month “celebrates the cultures of Americans who trace their ancestry to Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.”

Local family-friendly events include “Fiesta Surprise” on Sept 18 and “Tempe Tardeada” on Oct 10. “Fiesta Surprise,” being held at the Surprise Stadium, features live music and dance, a kids’ fun zone and more. “Tempe Tardeada,” taking place at the Tempe Community Complex (near the Tempe Public Library), features music, dance and art exploring Tempe’s Hispanic roots and culture.

"First Aztec on the Moon" by Santiago Perez

Stay tuned to local venues — including museums, community colleges, universities, performing arts centers, libraries, parks and recreation centers, and bookstores — to learn about National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations in your area.

Online resources include www.pbskids.org, www.smithsonianmag.com, www.smithsonianeducation.org, and www.hispanicheritagemonth.gov — which notes that “the observance started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period.”

September 15 is the anniversary of independence for several Latin American countries, while Mexico celebrates independence on Sept 16 and Chile celebrates independence on Sept 18. Columbus Day (Oct 12) also falls during the 30-day period designated as National Hispanic Heritage Month.

"Cumpleanos de Lala y Tudi" by Carmen Lomas Garza

If your organization or venue offers events and activities to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, please feel free to comment below to let our readers know.


Note: To enjoy more Latino art, visit www.latinoartcommunity.org.

Coming: More season previews