It is very difficult indeed to watch the new documentary “Bully” without experiencing both an intense sadness and a feeling of helplessness.

The film opens with the heartbreaking ruminations of a father whose son committed suicide after being brutally bullied by his classmates. We hear a number of similar stories throughout the film, and we also are allowed to watch and listen as very real kids are pestered, belittled, mocked, and in some cases, physically assaulted — just because they are, in some sense, different.

The most memorable figure in the movie is a young man, around 12, named Alex. He seems to be a good-natured kid, happy in the embrace of his family, but because he’s a bit uncoordinated, geeky, and odd-looking (his brutal nickname is “fishface”), his fellow students mercilessly pick on him. Alex’s daily ride on the school bus is like something out of Dante’s Inferno.

What would be funny — if it weren’t so tragic — is the cluelessness of the school officials (and of the adults in general) who should be doing something about the problem. We get to watch the vice principal of Alex’s school as she deals with aggressive students, and as she tries to mollify Alex’s parents. What we hear is a pathetic mixture of bromides, self-serving remarks, boys-will-be-boys platitudes, and; worst of all, a marked tendency to blame the victim.

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