Book Review: Out of the Well, by Lisa Eskinazi
Posted by Lisa Hill on November 3, 2012
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
Source: Kingston Library
Fishpond: Out of the Well: My Battle with School Bullying and Severe Depression
This review is cross-posted at ANZ LitLovers.
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