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Don’t Laugh At Me: Project Respect

Thursday, November 15, 2001 at 12:30 PM

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It's tough these days to be the schoolyard bully. Time was when bullies enjoyed a relatively free reign. Kids will be kids, adults rationalized, and, more often than not, let it go. Not any more. The shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado drove home to educators across the country that harassment and ridicule can profoundly affect children, sometimes with dire consequences. Many are adopting programs and concepts into their curricula that teach kids the value of respect and dignity. One such program - and the legendary singer-songwriter who created it - got a warm reception last night in Brecksville. 90.3 WCPN's Bill Rice prepared this report.

Peter Yarrow- The work that I’m here to describe and discuss became ever more important after 9/11. Before 9/11 there was a grave question that remains. And I’m going to sing a song about that because it was a song that brought me into the arena of being here to make this presentation.

BR- That’s folk music icon Peter Yarrow - of Peter, Paul and Mary fame - speaking to an audience of parents and educators last night at Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School. A veteran of the peace and civil rights movements of the 1960s, Yarrow has devised a way to bring his message of peace and tolerance to schoolkids. His Don’t Laugh at Me music and video project is used in classrooms across the country. It was inspired by this song.

Don’t Laugh at Me was penned by songwriter Steve Seskin, and was drafted by Yarrow to be the anthem of what he calls “Project Respect,” a character education curriculum that’s been adopted by many schools and summer camps. Backstage, he says just as songs like If I Had a Hammer and Blowin’ In the Wind galvanized activists of the civil rights movement, Don’t Laugh at Me inspires children to connect with each others emotions and feelings.

PY- And when they sing it and see the video and other songs are sung they have the opportunity to make a new kind of exchange, an openness with each other, so they can begin to construct a more compassionate and caring environment.

BR- Yarrow recalls that he was taunted as a child. But today, he says, the atmosphere at schools can be far more threatening, and the impact can be seen statistically. 160,000 children stay home from school every day, he says, because they’re afraid of being harassed.

PY- It’s really about kids living a very painful existence because they have an atmosphere that’s intolerant and not understanding and not kind. But that can be changed, and it can be changed by using certain tools for kids’ emotional and social growth.

BR- The Don’t Laugh at Me project gets high marks from Phil Binckley, executive Director of the Ohio Middle School Association, which brought Yarrow to Brechtsville-Broadview Heights High School to present the program to area educators. Binckley says such character education tools are necessary to curb disrespect and even violence in schools.

Phil Binckley- It’s extremely prevalent, it was that way when you and I were in school. That doesn’t mean that we just ignore it and accept the fact that it exists. We need to do the best we can to convince kids this is not the way to behave toward each other.

BR- Peter Yarrow says he’s been making similar presentations to parents, teachers, and even legislators for the past two-and-a-half years, mixing music and narrative to make the case for his particular brand of character education. It’s not all somber. Yarrow clearly loves to perform, and totes out an old gem for a little sing-a-long (Puff the Magic Dragon).

Yarrow, who has a background in psychology as well as music, says he is not out to make money. The “Don’t Laugh at Me” curricula is distributed to schools for free. In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3 WCPN News.

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