Fostering Empathy, Addressing Bullying through Film

October is National Anti-Bullying Month, reminding us how the scope of the problem has grown in recent times. Earlier generations of school goers had bullies, but the problem was not an epidemic requiring the attention of the Centers for Disease Control. While no one knows exactly why the problem is escalating to epidemic proportions, professionals and parents alike are seeking solutions.

Middle School Students Perspectives on Global Film Education

Teachers looking for ways to inoculate classrooms against the spread of bullying can turn to Journeys in Film. Our Discovering India - Like Stars on Earth curriculum guide provides tools to disempower bullies by developing empathy among students who are neither bullies nor victims themselves.

Understanding the Victim

According to StopBullying.gov – “a comprehensive, one-stop-shop” website launched by the White House – those at risk of being bullied are children, teens and young adults who:

  • Do not get along well with others
  • Are less popular than others
  • Have few to no friends
  • Have low self esteem
  • Are depressed or anxious

Our featured film in Discovering India is the acclaimed Bollywood movie, Like Stars on Earth. The film follows the life of eight-year-old Ishaan, who is suffering from severe undiagnosed dyslexia. In the absence of understanding from his family, friends or teachers, he becomes withdrawn and begins to develop behavior issues consistent with the above criteria.

He is set on a path to being bullied – and predictably neighborhood boys and even insensitive teachers at school start to bully him.

The Victim’s Peers

This short but potent passage titled Peer Relationships that Promote and Prevent Bullying is from the National Education Association’s Nationwide Study of Bullying:  Teachers’ and Education Support Professionals’ Perspectives:

Peer relationships are like oxygen that allows bullying to breathe and spread” but “even one good friend to a victim of bullying” can ease harassment. A problem behind bullying is “the unresponsive bystandera classmate who finds harassment to be funny, or a peer who sits on the sidelines afraid to get involved”

If peers withheld the bully’s “oxygen,” perhaps it would force more socially acceptable behavior from the bully. But what could motivate peers to draw the line against bullying?

According to Time writer Maia Szalavitz in a 2010 Time article, research by neuroscientists, psychologists and educators over the past decade shows that bullying and other kinds of violence can be reduced by encouraging empathy at an early age.

Teaching Empathy

Targeting younger audiences, Like Stars on Earth gives a bird’s-eye view of how life looks from the perspective of the dyslexic, revealing the resulting psychological devastation. The sensitive portrayal of Ishaan’s conflicts will likely engender a sense of empathy in most viewers.

Lesson 3 of the Discovering India curriculum guide takes this natural response to a deeper level of understanding.

Nine questions on the two-page handout coach students on reading body language, interpreting anti-social behavior, and imagining themselves in a victim’s shoes. Teachers can take this lesson plan one step closer to resolving bully issues by giving examples of how to discourage the bully by showing empathy for the victim – thereby robbing the bully of his “oxygen.”

The NEA research showed that the support of even one child could make a difference to a bullied victim. Imagine the impact teachers could have on entire classrooms if they helped students tap into the native well of human empathy.

Journeys in Film is committed to preparing youth to be global citizens; empathy to one’s fellow citizens of the world is a beginning point.

Visit our store to purchase our Discovering India curriculum guide.

Be sure to download Lesson 3, “Analyzing a Character’s Emotions” that can be used by teachers to cultivate empathy among students and thus mitigate the impact of classroom bullying.  Also download free lesson plans about music in India and Bollywood.

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