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Sticks and Stones

Distributed by National Film Board of Canada, 1123 Broadway, Suite 307, New York, NY 10010; 800-542-2164
Produced by George Johnson, National Film Board of Canada
Directed by Jan Padgett
VHS, color, 17 min.
Grades 3-6
Sociology, Psychology, Education, Children's Literature

Reviewed by Karen Plummer, University of Akron, Akron, OH

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   

Remember the rhyme Sticks and stones will break your bones but names will never hurt you? Parents frequently use this to encourage their children to "turn the other cheek" when they're called names. But is it accurate? Not really, since names can be hurtful. While not a physical type of pain, name-calling brings an emotional and psychological pain that can stay with a person for years, influencing their behavior and their decision-making processes. This documentary from the National Film Board of Canada's Celebrating Diversity: Resources for Responding to Homophobia collection addresses this issue from a child's point of view, showing how name-calling and teasing based on stereotypes and misconceptions can indeed be hurtful.

What is family? What does gay mean? Why do kids call other kids names? What does it mean to be "different?" A group of articulate, sensitive children from ages 5 to 12 explore these and other questions in the course of this film. Young Maggie's family includes two dads and as she says "My family is still a family even though I have gay dads." Maggie and her family are seen enjoying the day at the beach, but much as she loves her dads and enjoys their time today, it makes her feel bad when some children tease her about her two dads. She does have a safe haven in her classroom. She loves it when her dads come to the school since her class has already talked about "being gay is ok."

Another child has two moms and to avoid teasing, only tells people that she trusts about her family situation, sadly recognizing that tolerance isn't the norm for most people. The children often change their behavior, hiding facts about themselves to avoid the dreaded teasing that may occur. They express many different emotions in response to teasing. One young man states his anger with the name-calling and stereotypes, but says that he can usually keep himself under control; another boy admits to going home and "crying his eyes out" every night.

Exploring differences in traditional concepts of boy culture versus girl culture brings stereotyping into focus. One exercise the children do in class is to write lists detailing what "makes" a girl a girl and what "makes" a boy a boy according to popular culture. The lists they develop are very traditional: for girls, the list included makeup, dolls, shopping, clothes, earrings, nail polish, crying, high heel shoes, and dresses, while the boys' list included violence, sports, running fast, act tough, no crying, and computer games. They note that when boys or girls don't act like boys or girls as defined by society, being teased is often the result. One young boy remarks that there are many things he wants to do and it makes him angry that boys have blocked that off from him. He enjoys painting his nails; in fact in many ways he'd like to be a girl. Alternately, two girls talk about how much they love sports and the teasing that results from enjoying and being proficient at sports that are more traditionally thought of as boys’ culture. One of the girls wishes she were a boy so she could do sports without the teasing.

The conclusion that the children reach is that it is okay to be different. People should not be afraid to be who they are, nor should they have to suffer name-calling or teasing because of the choices they make or the situation they have at home. The children seem very aware that intolerance is not acceptable, and understand that name-calling comes from fear of difference, ignorance, and/or insecurity in addition to the "doing it to be cool" factor or thinking its "just" a joke. One answer they see to the prejudice they have experienced is education, and that education needs to take place while children are young. Since the younger kids emulate older kids' behavior without always understanding what they are saying, education would help them understand the words they are using and see how these words may be hurtful to others. One older child voiced the idea that they should serve as role models to the younger children, showing respect for them and how they can show respect to others while helping them understand that differences are just part of who people are, not something to be ridiculed.

The focus on the children's comments is very effective. The well-produced film mixes shots of the children's comments with scenes of their non-traditional families doing things all families do, and scenes from the classroom. Animated sequences define terms such as "gay" and "faggot."

A brief teacher's guide is included as an insert accompanying the video. Topics covered include: Language shapes attitude; Doing the right thing; Appropriate language and terms; Guidelines for talking about language in school; Screening the video; Discussion after screening the video; Name-calling; Boy culture/girl culture; Exploring family; and Ideas for further action. The guide also includes titles of other videos in the Celebrating Diversity collection, with brief content summaries and age level recommendations.

While the producers recommend this film for children in grades 3 through 7, their educators, and their parents, it could be used with students at the secondary or college level as well. The film would be very useful in college-level education classes with pre-service teachers or as an in-service tool to show methods for creating a safe classroom for discussions covering topics such as boy-girl stereotypes, homosexuality, same-sex parents, and generally the idea that being different is ok. Highly recommended