Don’t laugh at me
Don’t call me names
Don’t get your pleasure
From my pain
In God’s eyes we’re all the same
— Excerpt, from the song “Don’t Laugh at Me” by Steve Seskin & Allen Shamblin
Recently, Peter Yarrow of the legendary trio Peter, Paul and Mary has devoted much of his time and energy on a program he created – “Operation Respect: Don’t Laugh at Me (DLAM),” which teaches children how to respect themselves and others.
After 40 years of involvement in the basic issues of our times — civil rights, women’s rights, antiapartheid, peace and environmental movements — as both a solo artist and member of the trio, the co-author of “Puff the Magic Dragon” is now campaigning for compassionate, safe and “ridicule-free” classrooms, and, to that end, has introduced his program to schools across the United States and abroad.
The program employs a DLAM kit that is designed to help students develop both self-respect and respect and compassion for others. Integrating powerful video images and music with a conflict resolution curriculum, the program sensitizes children to the painful effects of bullying, ridicule, and other forms of emotional and physical injuries that they inflict upon one another.
The DLAM program includes professional development workshops for teachers and counselors, classroom curricula and all-school assemblies for students and evaluation tools.
Last Friday, Yarrow and his daughter Bethany brought his crusade to Franklin Elementary School in Santa Monica and transformed the athletic field into a sea of waving hands and smiling faces.
Yarrow had contacted Franklin principal Pat Samarge and offered to bring his program to Franklin. As word spread, the Franklin faculty and parents enthusiastically embraced the idea. Many of the teachers introduced their students to the “Don’t Laugh At Me” song, the musical cornerstone of the program.
Friday Samarge introduced this latterday Pied Piper to the crowd of about 800 students, parents, and grandparents.
On Friday morning, Franklin’s 800 students had joined Yarrow in singing “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “Don’t Laugh At Me,” after which he called students forward to act out difficult bullying behaviors and experiment with DLAM’s approach to defusing such confrontations.
Friday evening, students returned with their parents and many grandparents for a picnic dinner on the field and an hour-long concert with Yarrow and his daughter Bethany, who originally brought “Don’t Laugh At Me” to her father.
As he had done in the morning, Yarrow invited students up to the stage and talked to them about their hopes for the future. The children’s most frequently expressed hopes were peace in the world, an end to pollution, being kind to the planet, and being compassionate to other students.
Yarrow and Bethany warmed up the crowd with old Peter, Paul and Mary favorites — “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” and “This Land is my Land,” and Yarrow spoke passionately about the need for constructive change and peaceful co-existence everywhere – from the school playground to the world stage.
Explaining his inspiration for the program and its seemingly idealistic goals, he said, “Through my life’s work, I’ve come to the conclusion that music, particularly folk music, can inspire people and join their hearts together. It can give people the courage they need to carry on when they feel discouraged in an effort, like the Civil Rights Movement. In the same way, music can be an inspirational tool to help children grow up in a safe, caring, ridicule-free environment. If students are fearful of being made fun of as they go to school or raise their hand in the classroom because they’re worried they might get laughed at, then nobody in the school can really function well.
“I believe Operation Respect, with its school-based program, ‘Don’t Laugh at Me,’ uses music to show ways to resolve conflict without saying mean and hurtful things to others. Operation Respect helps children grow up to be peacemakers, not only in their personal lives, but also as young people who will grow into adulthood learning to appreciate differences.”
The children and the adults gathered on the Franklin playing field seemed to agree with him.