Bullied to Death

If you’ve read this blog before you know that I’ve had more than a few stories about bullying, bystander behavior, acts of violence and agression toward a particular person or group.  It seems, though, that there is no dearth of news about this at its core, and I feel that advisory should be a place to discuss many of these issues.  It has the power to provide a safe space from this kind of behavior.

A couple of weeks ago, bullying led to a suicide.  Phoebe Prince, a 14 year old high school student new to the school, committed the crime of being new, different, and threatening to social life of an older girl.  She was chased in the hall and called and “Irish Slut”; phone messages, texts, and Facebook pages haunted her.  (Even after she died, bullies posted terrible messages on her page). It is another chance to learn something, to change what is sadly a common response to fear and jealousy.

Activities: With any of these activities, you will probably want to have students understand what happened in South Hadley to Phoebe (using the articles below and the news piece), and allow them to ask questions to learn more about it.

  1. Read the poem: “What do we do with a Variation?”
    1. What are the different ways that poet James Berry says that we (humans) deal with difference?
    2. Which seems to have been in place for the bullies at South Hadley High School?  Why?
    3. What is your favorite metaphor in the poem? Why?
    4. Berry shows us the range of responses we have – some of us have all these responses in different settings – what response to dealing with difference represents how you respond most often? Give a couple examples.
  2. Read the editorial by Kevin Cullen “The Untouchable Mean Girls“.
    1. Talk with students about what an editorial is and how the rules of journalistic objectivity do not apply.  This might be a good time to review fact vs. opinion with them.  (You can use a T-Chart graphic organizer to have them write words and phrases that are facts from the stories and then opinions he derives from those facts). Have students discuss what the tone of his editorial is. How can you tell?  Do you find his editorial persuasive?  Why?
  3. Discuss as a group, based on what you know, where does the responsibility of this type of death lie?  (I would only do this activity if you have built a group with strong norms to listen and respect one another and the topic.  This could be trivialized in an immature setting. We do not have all the information and it would be irresponsible to dole out blame in this case.  Encourage them to think more abstractly.)  Have students discuss where the responsibility lies in these cases.  (One way to frame this could be – if we were going to make changes so this didn’t happen in the future, where would we have to spend most of the energy).  Have them in small groups discuss:
    1. What is the responsibility of the School?
    2. What is the responsibility of the (the bullies’) Parents?
    3. What is the responsibility of the bullies?
    4. What is the responsibility of the bullied?
    5. Other: ______________
    6. The using the Pie Chart graphic organizer have each student dole out the responsibility for this event to any or all of the four groups/people above – it must add up to 100%.  On the back or in the margins explain the “why” you have given the percent of responsibility (not blame) to.  If you have time, have each group member present to the small group and, if possible, come to some agreement on a group pie chart. After looking at it, discuss, what does this assignment of responsibility suggest about how we should move forward to impact the future?
  4. Have students respond in quiet journaling: Does learning about these stories cause you to think differently about acting with others?  What did you learn from Phoebe’s situation and her choice? What is it that can and should be done about these incidents? Why?



  • Research the increasing incidents and any current thinking about how to combat Cyber Bullying.  How is it different from bullying in person?  Is it more pervasive or less?  How do bullies experience this?
  • Is there a difference between when and how boys bully and when and how girls bully?  Look into research to see if gender plays a role in this.
  • You might choose to have students create an ad, write a persuasive essay, or creatively express their feelings on and solutions to this chronic bullying.

Enciendalo! Please People, Light that Spark!

Gay and Bullied in NY State

If you’ve read this blog before, you know that whether it is “Gingerism”, anti-semitism, racism, or generalized bullying, I believe we need to do more to encourage respect, moral courage and self examination at our motives and actions toward those who are “different”. Here is another example, in Mohawk, NY,  Jacob Sullivan no longer at Gregory B. Jarvis Junior/Senior High School after students and a teacher bullied him because of his sexual orientation.  How can we use this example to discuss issues of respect, self-awareness, and social justice?


  • Read the news article and listen to the NPR story and have  build a discussion around some of the main topics in this case:
    • What is the responsibility of a school in making a safe place for students to learn?
    • What if any are the boundaries to that?
    • What should the role be of a staff in a school to protect difference and individual expression?  Why?  Under what instances would you as a teacher intervene?  Why?
    • What about your role as a student in school? When is it your responsibility to act and intervene (if ever)?  Why?
  • Why did the justice department enter into this case?  What article are they citing?  What does that article say?
  • Ask students to examine their own “codes” for treating people.  What rules do they live by? Do they have a code or belief? How does their feelings about this situation mesh with their code?


Related Blog Entries:

  1. Bystander Responsibility
  2. Kick a Ginger Day


Kick a Ginger Day

Segregation, alienation, bullying – another chapter in the history of human kind: Gingerism


  • Have students write a quickwrite about a time they felt singled out in a negative way or made to feel inferior because of the way they looked?  Have students share in pairs.
  • Tell students you are going to consider a particular kind of prejudice today: (if necessary as a group build a definition of prejudice). As a large group, look at the picture above.  What is the message of the picture above? Why
  • Define for students: Gingerism is defined as predjudice against people with red hair.
  • Have students read the article in the LA times about the recent bullying incident.
    • Review the facts with people (reinforce the differentiation of Facts and opinion).
    • What do they think about what happend?

    In small groups, present a specific question to think about.  Ask students to discuss these questions, decide for themselves on their answer and have at least three reasons to support why they think that.  Encourage them to think of not only their life experience and “common sense” but what they know of history, politics, economics, psychology, etc.  to form and defend their opinions.

    • What do they think about the explanation that it started as a “Joke”? Should there be limits to this kind of joke if it has a negative outcome? Why or why not?
    • As reported by Contra Costa Times, Andrew Cohen said “the incidents are more than just a prank. ‘I use the example of the Holocaust, and how it started as small acts of discrimination and then escalated to a much larger problem. . . . We can’t take these things lightly. This is a hate crime.’ ” What is a hate crime? Do you agree with Cohen that those who adhered to “Kick a Ginger Day” committed a hate crime? Is the Holocaust analogy appropriate? Why or why not?

Journal Reflection:

  • Have they ever bullied anyone? What were the circumstances?  Why did they do it?  What do they think about that now? Is there anything that someone else could have done to prevent that?
  • What other questions about this or related topics do you want to explore?