Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 3, 2012

Out of the Well, by Lisa Eskinazi

Out of the Well, subtitled My Battle with School Bullying and Severe Depression is an important little book.  I came across it when by chance I was introduced to the author at a theatre night a couple of weeks ago, and I decided to look it up and see what it was about.

Over the getting-to-know you conversation that occurs when you meet someone for the first time, Lisa and I had shared a laugh as well our first names, and then I asked her the usual ‘What do you do?’  She explained that she wasn’t able to work because she had severe depression, and she went on to tell me that she had had a terrible time being bullied at school, and had sued the Department of Education.

I remembered this: I’d read about this in the newspaper when it happened, and the succesful lawsuit triggered a wholesale review of the Department’s Student Wellbeing policies which included a requirement that all schools develop new policies under strict guidelines.  There was a very sharp deadline, and there was no allowance for Term 4 being the busiest time of the year.  So a colleague and I worked on our new Student Engagement Policy over the remaining weeks of the term so that it would be ready for implementation in the new school year, and we had a Professional Development Day at my school to introduce it to staff.

For my school there were no major changes.  We already had a research-based anti-bullying program and we had unambiguous school rules with clear-cut consequences for infractions.  Every teacher responds immediately to reports of bullying in exactly the same way, and in a series of lessons that is taught every year and then reinforced throughout the year, children learn what bullying is; when, how and who to ask for help; and most importantly that every student bystander has a responsibility to report bullying.  We had had this program in place for years, and although there are incidents from time to time, my school’s zero tolerance for bullying makes it a safe place for our students to learn.

But Lisa Eskinazi was not so fortunate.  In this courageous memoir, she explains:

I didn’t write this book to complain or to receive sympathy.  I wrote it in an attempt to educate the public on the issues of homelessness, mental illness and victimization’.

While the psychiatrist who testified in her court case and Lisa herself acknowledge that she lacked certain self-help skills (such as bully-blocking techniques), the reason why her suit was successful was because the school knew about the bullying and had discipline and welfare policies – but it didn’t implement them.  Not even when after months of hateful verbal attacks, she was knocked unconscious to the ground.   Lisa asked for help at home and school and didn’t get it.   The school, and the individual teachers who worked there, failed in their duty of care.  In the end this student – who had been a high achiever in primary school – left school early.  She spiralled into severe mental illness, homelessness, and a brief period of prostitution.

It’s not a long book, only 120-odd pages.  I think it should be essential reading for every teacher, and every parent.  Because no one should have to endure relentless verbal and physical abuse, not in any circumstances.  All of us need to work together to develop a culture of zero-tolerance for bullying, in any context, and this little book is a brave attempt to speak up for the victims of it.

Author: Lisa Eskinazi
Title: Out of the Well
Publisher: Melbourne Books, 2008
ISBN: 9781877096860
Source: Kingston Library

Availability:
Fishpond: Out of the Well: My Battle with School Bullying and Severe Depression

This review is cross-posted at LisaHillSchoolStuff.

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Responses

  1. A very powerful review. I will see if I can locate a copy here. What is sad, is that the unchallenged bullies in school often go on to be bullies in the workplace. In the last 10 years I have dealt with several bullying cases, and the devastation caused to the individual was dreadful.

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    • Yes. and these days there are also cyber-bullies as well. As I read this book, I kept thinking about the girls who had been so cruel, and wondered why, or how they got any satisfaction out of it. What’s really impressive is that Lisa Eskinazi isn’t nasty about them. She simply tells what happened.

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  2. great review Lisa ,always nice to meet the writer or in my case quite often the translator of the books ,nice put a person to the books ,all the best stu

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  3. This sounds like a powerful book, and a story that needs to be told – it is awful to think of the terrible and long-term impact caused by a handful of kids on this woman’s life.

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    • It made me wonder what sort of adults they have become….

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  4. Workplace bullying, that’s an interesting concept. It would be interesting to see a differentiation between acceptable management behavior and bullying. “Underground Time” by Delphine de Vigan is an excellent fictional work about bad office politics.

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    • Well, yes Tony, there’s been a bit in the media about workplace bullying of the management kind, but there’s also the kind that goes on amongst the staff who are theoretically equals (as schoolkids are). There was a recent case here in Melbourne where a young girl was so relentlessly bullied in a cafe that she took her own life, and also a young apprentice who was bullied so badly that he’s ended up permanently disabled. I think this is part of the point that Lisa Eskinazi is trying to make, that bullying can escalate into really serious harm.

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  5. This sounds like an intriguing and important book. Bullying is one of those problems that thrives under the radar — which is why it is so vital to talk about it and make people aware of it. Sadly, cyberbullying (or “trolling”) appears to be rife regardless of age/sex/country. And I was horrified to read a news story the other day (can’t remember where), which suggested children bullied others via text messages. In my day, they just pushed you around a bit or called you names — and you could always run away from that. But when the bullying comes to you on a phone (or a computer) it must feel impossible to escape from it.

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    • Yes indeed Kim, and it’s not just something that happens to kids. Have you come across the DtJ (Destroy the Joint) Facebook campaign? It’s Australian based but it would be great to see it spread. It’s a social media campaign to stand up against sexism, bullying, and hate speech online and in the media generally, enough is enough we’re saying and let’s have standards of common decency in public discourse.

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