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by Indiewire Staff
March 30, 2012 10:57 AM
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First Person: 'Bully' Writer-Producer Cynthia Lowen Speaks Out

Alex Libby in "Bully" TWC

We met Alex before the school year started, right after 7th grade orientation, sitting outside the school on a bench, waiting to be picked up. While the other kids gathered in groups, loudly chattering about what they did over the summer and which teachers they had for which period, Alex was distinctly alone, shoulders slumped around him, looking both determined to fly under the radar and acutely in need of a friend. When we approached him, we soon learned that he had been bullied since elementary school.

We started this out of our own homes, with our own savings, knowing that this was the moment we had to begin this film; that we couldn’t wait for a grant to come through, or a financier.

We met other families in a variety of ways. Kelby’s mother, Londa, had written in to Ellen DeGeneres’ website after Ellen did a show with Sirdeaner Walker, who lost her son Carl to suicide after he was relentlessly bullied. We were shocked by Londa’s description of the bullying Kelby had endured, after she came out to her small town of Tuttle, Oklahoma, forced from her sports teams because her teammates harassed her on the field and in the locker room, alienated at school where both peers and teachers hurled homophobic slurs at her, unsafe on the streets of her community where she was run down by a carful of her classmates in a minivan. With the help of Ellen’s producers, we were able to reach out to Kelby, whose incredible courage we soon were in awe of.

Ja’Meya’s story came to us through hearing about the news of the young man who bravely wrestled the gun away from her on her school bus, with an awareness that the other side to the story was not being heard. When Lee met her, Ja’Meya was incarcerated in a Mississippi juvenile detention facility, awaiting a ruling on multiple felony charges including kidnapping and attempted aggravated assault. As opposed to the “kids gone wild” tone of much of the news media about her, Ja’Meya was a soft-spoken 14-year-old, a basketball player, an honor student and a girl who was relentlessly picked on over the course of her hour-long bus ride to and from school—who eventually broke.

We met David and Tina Long a few weeks after their son Tyler had taken his own life at 17 after being terribly bullied—even after his suicide—when his bullies wore nooses to school the Monday following the tragedy. We learned that the Longs were holding a Town Hall Meeting, to discuss bullying in their community of Chatsworth, Georgia, and were stunned by their commitment to engage kids, parents, community leaders, and hopefully, educators, on how to make a difference in Murray County’s schools. Unfortunately, the school district declined to participate in the Town Hall meeting, but the voices of both these parents, and others in the community were astonishing, and we continued to follow the Longs’ struggle to ensure no other child would have to endure the torment that Tyler suffered.

And we met Kirk and Laura Smalley in the spring of 2010, at the tail end of that long school year, just days after their son Ty, 11, had passed away. In the midst of mourning such a profound loss, we were struck by Kirk and Laura’s determination to transform this tragedy into change. Within just a few months, they had launched Stand for the Silent, which today has reached tens of thousands of students, inspiring young people to stand up for those who are being bullied, and for those who are bullied, to cherish their own self-worth.

It was through the bravery of these five kids and families that we were able to depict the experience of bullying in such a way as to make it impossible to gloss over, to turn the other way, to accept as a “normal” rite of passage, or “just kids being kids.” As we have discovered from the incredible outpouring of support in the past weeks in regard to the MPAA rating, this film reflects the experiences of not only these five families, but of the 13 million kids and families who are bullied in this country every single year.


  • Bob Rose | December 16, 2012 12:14 AMReply

    For Cynthia Lowen:

    I'll share the following article I wrote. It appeared in the October, 2011 issue of Pen World magazine.


    Many people would argue that handwriting is an obsolete skill, but no one seriously contends that reading is. Robert Rose, M.D., believes that handwriting is the key to literacy -- and he's spent years proving it.

    We retired and moved to Georgia in 1996. I began pushing for the adoption of E. D. Hirsch, Jr.'s Core Knowledge Curriculum and eventually made a big enough pest of myself to be interviewed by the then-superintendent of schools in Cobb County. An opponent of Hirsch, he finally admitted that, "ideally, all kids should learn a curriculum like Hirsch's, but too many kids just couldn't handle it."

    After thinking it over, I came to the conclusion that if they couldn't, it was because they lacked basic literacy and numeracy skills. America used to lead the world in education. Now we lead in high school dropouts.
    In Maria Montessori's 1912 book The Montessori Method, she claimed that preschoolers learn to read spontaneously once they became "expert" at writing the alphabet. I volunteered to tutor kids with reading problems at a local social agency. Within a few weeks I had cured two "dyslexic" boys, simply by working with them on writing the alphabet.

    By this time listservs were becoming popular. I joined TAWL (Teachers Applying Whole Language) and joined in their discussions. I begged members to count how many letters their first-graders could write in twenty seconds, then multiply by three to get a letters-per-minute (LPM) rate on each child, and to correlate that figure with each child's reading ability. To my amazement and joy, there was a universal and massive positive correlation -- even in classrooms of teachers who didn't agree with requiring fluency at anything. It turned out that "expert" meant an LPM of more than 39.

    The following school year (2003-04), I began my own free listserv at and enlisted five kindergarten teachers to help me prove Montessori's idea, which wasn't new or unique. In the first century, Marcus Quintilianus had written that, with regard to literacy, "too slow a hand impedes the mind". In the early twentieth century G. Vernon Hillyer wrote, "If you teach a child to write, you needn't bother teaching him to read."

    I repeated the experiment with different groups of K-1 teachers in 2008-09 and 2009-10. We always got the same result. This is a very important finding, but virtually no one in the establishment cares to investigate this possibility. Many of my acquaintances, however, are aware of the overarching importance of writing fluency. Children who can identify randomly presented alphabet letters as fast as they can write them, and who have a score of at least 40 LPM or better, are virtually assured of reading success.

    Writing fluency leads to literacy because it forces students to think about the appearances of letters, letter combinations and syllables. That is the secret of becoming literate.

    A cyber pal once mailed me a copy of an article from an obscure journal which purported to prove that if second-graders can give more than forty correct answers to simple addition facts per minute, they almost never have problems with math or science thereafter. And I believe this. It's true with music and with athletics: early fluency is an immense advantage.

    Robert Rose, M.D. practiced internal medicine in Long Island, N.Y., before retiring to Georgia.
    Further articles on the writing/reading connection are available at these URL's: (Deardorff in Chicago Tribune) (Graham/Carnegie article) (InTech free ebook, "Reflections on the Haptics of Writing".) (Zaner-Bloser info on writing/literacy) (Steve Graham article in American Educator) ( (scroll to bottom for my reading essay, "Chapter 12") (writing and literacy) (WaPost article on writing by Steve Graham) (Bob Rose on (Rand Nelson's blog on writing/reading) (Steve Graham article in American Educator) (writing and literacy) (WaPost article on writing by Steve Graham)

  • Marisol Carrere | April 2, 2012 1:16 AMReply

    I applaud the film makers for making this important documentary film, it commands attention. I know what you have been through, because I too have taken this journey with my film “I AM JULIA”. Congratulation to everyone and especially the children and their families for their courage in sharing their stories. I wish you all joy and the very best of luck…. Marisol

  • katy | March 30, 2012 11:29 AMReply

    I met the man of my dreasms on the place mentioned in my pic ==--TallLoving.c'0m---it gives you a chance to make your life better and open opportunities for you to meet the attractive young man and treat you AS a queen!