Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Theater of the Oppressed in an After-School Program: Middle School Students' Perspectives on Bullying and Prevention

Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Theater of the Oppressed in an After-School Program: Middle School Students' Perspectives on Bullying and Prevention

Article excerpt

This article examines students' participation in Boalian Theater activities to role-play, rehearse, and develop strategies to use when bullied or witnessing bullying.


Bullying is a form of aggression where there is systematic use and abuse of power (AERA, 2013). It is now considered a prevalent and often neglected problem in schools both within and outside the United States (NEA, 2003). Bullying occurs in all grades across gender, race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status. This paper is relevant to middle school teachers and administrators as it examines the role of Theater of the Oppressed activities as a tool for engaging middle school students in talking about their experiences with bullying and rehearsing possible actions when being bullied or witnessing acts of bullying, with the goal of creating a more humane environment.

Early adolescence is a time of rapid growth and change during which these 10- to 15-year-olds form their adult personalities, dispositions, values, and attitudes (NMSA, 2010). Adolescents need experiences that help increase self-efficacy and a positive ethnic identity. At the same time, they need experiences that help them to understand racial, ethnic, and/or sexual differences by engaging in perspective-taking and empathy.

Many times, middle school students respond to racial, ethnic, and/or sexual differences in their peers by bullying. About 28 percent of 12- to 18-year-olds have reported being bullied at school during any school year (DeVoe 8c Bauer, 2011; Robers, Zhang, Truman, 8c Snyder, 2012). Bullying occurrs with greater frequency among middle schoolaged youth than high school-aged youth (Nansel et al., 2001). Research findings on bullying show that bullying is often aimed at specific groups. For example, students with disabilities (Rose & Espelage, 2012), African American youth (Turner, Finkelhor, Hamby, Shattuck, 8c Omrod, 2011), and LGBTQyouth (Espelage, Green, 8c Polanin 2012; Poteat 8c Rivers, 2010) are vulnerable groups to bullying, harassment, and victimization.

Middle school students learn best in safe environments that are characterized by active student engagement; where students have opportunities to share, reflect, and imagine possibilities; and where their oral, written, and artistic voices are heard (NMSA, 2010). One such learning environment is created with the use of Boalian Theater.

Augusto Boal's Theater of the Oppressed (TO) is grounded in the work of Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) and is a safe aesthetic and a democratic space for young adolescents to come together to rehearse for reality and restore dialogue among human beings (Bhukhanwala, 2007; Boal, 2003, 2006; Cahnmann-Taylor 8c Souto-Manning, 2010; Harman 8c French, 2004). For Greene (1995), aesthetic spaces allow students and teachers to imagine. Imagination is a way of engaging in empathy and perspective-taking: "It is becoming a friend of someone else's mind" (p. 38). With this approach, theater is seen as a reflection of daily activities and serves the function of bringing a student community together for celebration, entertainment, and dialogue (Blanco, 2000), as well as for problem-posing and generating multiple possibilities. Jackson (1991) says, "Victims of the oppression under consideration are able to offer alternative solutions because they themselves are personally acquainted with oppression" (p. xxiv).

Bullying is an action that is repeated over time and involves an imbalance of power (Olweus, 1993). In more recent times, this definition has broadened to include varied forms of aggression such as verbal, physical, sexual, or digital media-based (for example, text messages, social media, and websites); or it may include being threatened, having things forcefully taken, or being socially excluded (Espelage, 2012; Vaillancourt et al., 2008).

There are no simple explanations for bullying; rather, it is a complex phenomenon with many causal factors and consequences. …

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