We recognized the name and remembered him as a member of a very famous folk singing group from the ’60s. In fact Carol had seen them in concert while she was in college. It did not seem unusual that Peter Yarrow, the Peter in Peter, Paul and Mary would branch out on a solo career. Many performers have done it, some successfully. Even though he sang and played the guitar, the program he gave for a breakfast meeting at the National Newspaper Convention in St. Paul, was not the launch of a new solo career. The music and his remarks were designed to draw people’s attention to the important issue of respect.
In 1999 Yarrow’s daughter heard a song at a campfire jam session in Texas. The next morning she brought her dad over to hear it from the songwriter’s mouth. Yarrow said the song written by Steve Seskin changed his life. Soon after that morning performance Yarrow’s trio, Peter, Paul and Mary started performing the song. “Don’t laugh at me” became the inspiration for a non-profit organization Yarrow founded called Operation Respect. Since 2000 it has been working to make schools, camps, and organizations that serve children safer, more respectful and more compassionate places. Through education and training programs, it seeks to teach children and teens how to manage their emotions, handle conflict peacefully and overcome ridicule and bullying.
A Newspaper in Education supplement produced by McClatchy Newspapers and distributed at NNA said respect is something everyone wants. More importantly respect is something everyone needs. Respect brings people together and increases understanding. It highlights what people have in common, and teaches an appreciation of differences. Through its Web site - www.operation
respect.org - the organization offers free materials on respect for students, teachers and parents.
Several months ago an article in Parade Magazine said bullies used to be big kids who picked on the smaller ones either on the playgrounds or in the school halls. That is probably the image most parents and grandparents have of bullies. They seem to have been around forever and they remain alive today. They have been joined by a new version in the world of young people today and it is far more pervasive. It is called cyber-bullying and it can be as frightening as face-to-face aggression. The modern bullies use e-mail, instant messages, cell phones, text messages, photos, videos and social networking to humiliate and threaten others. The statistics are alarming. According to the magazine article, 90 percent of middle school students have had their feelings hurt online, 75 percent report having visited a Web site bashing another student and 40 percent have had their passwords stolen and changed by a bully. The technology and Web sites like MySpace, Facebook and YouTube have made bullying so easy and tempting because of the anonymity the Web provides.
Whether it is the thug in the school yard extorting lunch money from smaller and physically weaker students or a member of the “In-Crowd” putting down a less popular student on the Internet, the basic underlying cause is the same; it is a lack of respect. Peter Yarrow has been using music to draw attention to important issues like civil rights, peace and equality for women his entire career. He said he knew that he had discovered a song that could become an anthem of a movement to help children find their common sensitivity to the painful effects of disrespect, intolerance, ridicule and bullying. Through his organization’s efforts, “Don’t Laugh at Me” is sung in thousands of schools around the country.
I’m a little boy with glasses, the one they call a “geek”
A little girl who never smiles cuz I got braces on my teeth
And I know how it feels to cry myself to sleep
I’m that kid on every playground who’s always chosen last
A single teenage mother tryin’ to overcome my past
You don’t have to be my friend but is it too much to ask
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
Some day we’ll all have perfect wings
Don’t laugh at me
Operation Respect has programs for grades 2 through 5 and for grades 6 through 8, and they have a third one for summer and after school programs. The 16-page Newspaper in Education supplement that was given to all of the newspaper attendees was an effort to introduce the Don’t Laugh at Me program into NIE programs. If the large group joining Yarrow in the singing of “Puff the Magic Dragon” at the conclusion of the program was any indication, I think the effort was successful.
Robert Brincefield is vice president and publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Sunday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.