Tuesday, April 7, 2009

School play promotes discussion of uncomfortable reality

A dramatic performance of “Bang, Bang, You’re Dead” by the Calistoga Junior/Senior High School drama department offers much-needed encouragement to talk about violence and bullying in our schools.

As a consequence of speaking out publicly as having been bullied in school, I've observed an uncomfortable phenomenon: people frequently do not want to believe that bullying or abuse took place and will respond to the victim with a viciousness that rivals the original abuse.

It’s bad enough that the victims of bullying face the day-to-day reality of abuse. Even when a victim is not provoked to wreak violence upon his or her peers, the consequences can still be devastating.

Bullying is a documented factor in many young people’s suicides and has also been identified as a contributor to Complex PTSD (that’s post traumatic stress disorder caused by cumulative traumatic events rather than a short-lived trauma).

But when you examine the clinical description of Complex PTSD, there is also an identified tendency to blame the victim for repeated abuse, to dismiss that person as being of “weak character” (National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder).

Imagine how an attitude like this could compound the victim’s suffering by holding him or her responsible for having failed to prevent the abuse!

But it’s not so easy to dismiss the reality that children are bullied and abused when you are confronted with a performance such as “Bang, Bang, You’re Dead” on stage right in front of you.

I attended the final performance on Saturday, April 4, in the CHS Black Box Theater. In it, five dead students forced their classmate to explain why he killed them with a shotgun.

The playbill included a list of Web sites that have resources to deal with bullying as well as a check list for depression and suicide that offered local contacts.

Cast members also assembled on stage and read statistics about violence and bullying before inviting comments from the audience. Representatives with the Calistoga Family Center, a student assistance agency, encouraged community referrals.

So much had changed in almost 25 years since I'd graduated from CHS. Talking afterward with the Calistoga Family Center representatives, I allowed myself cautious optimism that today's students at CHS will have resources made available to cope with bullying and violence.

In an article in the Weekly Calistogan, CHS drama teacher Tyrone Sorrentino cited one of the statistics that was recited at the end of the performance: that school violence has increased 82 percent in the last five years. Both teacher and students were ready to take on a serious subject like bullying.

I think this performance is a perfect example of the power of art and drama -- to transcend our disbelief and to facilitate dialogue.

Published April 7, 2009 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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