Anti-laughter

New York City’s public elementary and middle schoolers will be told not to make fun of each other. The New Yorker reports on “Don’t Laugh at Me.”

The program, which is the brainchild and heart’s desire of Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul & Mary, aims to combat bullying by emphasizing the moral lessons of folk music.

Yarrow heard a ballad at a folk festival in 1999.

Moved to tears by its swelling harmonies and first-person testaments to the effects of ridicule—“I’m a little boy with glasses, the one they call a geek / A little girl who never smiles ’cause I’ve got braces on my teeth”—he decided to incorporate the tune into Peter, Paul & Mary’s repertoire.

The program “is now used in at least twelve thousand American schools and camps.”

My daughter encountered “Don’t Laugh” when she interned with the California Education Department’s violence prevention unit. She thought the song gives tips on who to pick on for callow bullies who don’t realize that a classmate wearing glasses or braces is victim-worthy.

Number 2 Pencil lives in fear of “over-earnest old hippies writing drippy songs.” She also recalls Yarrow’s 1970 conviction for sexual misconduct with a 14-year-old girl. Well, he didn’t laugh at her.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Mr. Davis says:

    What’s next? Control of third grade boys making potty noises?

  2. As much as I was teased as a kid, and as much as I hated it, I do think it taught me one valuable lesson: how to deal with people who are jerks.

    Because, there are always going to be jerks in your life. As adults, maybe they don’t laugh at you because you wear glasses or are taller than your peers or because you have a slight lisp, but they find other ways to twist the knife.

    I tend to be of the opinion to let kids learn the resiliency to deal with bullies while young, rather than to quash those bullies as much as possible (because, you know, once you’re out of the classroom or off the school playground, they’re going to let loose, and probably even worse, because it’s all been bottled up).

    I can’t imagine that some song – by a group most of the kids have never even heard of – will make bullies go, “OoooooOOOOOOH. I get it now. It’s MEAN to make fun of other people and it HURTS their FEELINGS.” I think bullies already realize this on some level, and either don’t care, or they enjoy it.

  3. Mike in Texas says:

    We once had a presenter who told us rolling your eyes at someone was physical intimidation, and we should write up any student who did it.

    We all broke out laughing at the thought of a child with two previous discipline write ups being susupended for rolling his eyes at someone.

  4. Wow, I’d be in hella trouble then.

  5. I tend to be of the opinion to let kids learn the resiliency to deal with bullies while young,

    Such as by shooting them? Is that what you prefer?

    rather than to quash those bullies as much as possible

    Going by this logic, why bother punishing any crimes at all? In life, there is always someone who will try to kill you, and you need to deal with this; so why prosecute murderers?

    I realize that punishing someone for rolling his eyes at another is not only excessive, but also treating a symptom and not the disease. And there are many worse symptoms – see the April 13 blog, “Rape in the Auditorium”.

    (because, you know, once you’re out of the classroom or off the school playground, they’re going to let loose, and probably even worse, because it’s all been bottled up).

    No.

    Schools have a way of concentrating bullies, unrivalled by any other institution. The only other institutions that come close are prisons and slums. Of course, compulsory public schools themselves have prison/slum elements.

    Many of us have the image of a bully as a lone hulking psychopathic brute, himself an outcast. That’s the “Leave It to Beaver” sort of bully, and while they do exist, they are the easiest type of bullies for anyone to deal with. The hardest are the junior Hitlers, clean-cut, charming, hyper-conventional, popular with the elites, and preying on the unpopular.

    I also believe that the “socialization” and “self esteem” agendas, not to mention “zero tolerance”, encourage those sorts of bullies, perhaps by design. Educrats need a strict pecking order (but informal off-the-record social minefield of thousands of unwritten rules) worthy of Prussia and Sparta. Jocks, cheerleaders, gangsters with street cred, tyrannical ideologues, gossips and snoops – they all maintain some kind of order, and are vicious SOBs to the other students but deferential to the teachers.

    This applies to both “conservative” and “liberal” educrats. These psychic vampires all want a pecking order, are more interested in domination than education, and having children break other children into conformity. (They’re not allowed to touch the kiddies themselves, of course.)

    There is nothing wrong with natural leaders, providing they lead in a civilized manner, and take responsibility. Teachers need to set an example, and encourage it in students. Now here’s some irony. In the military, a commander is responsible for the actions of his troops. Not so with the peer leaders in public schools.

    That is how schools are not dealing with bullying. They’re just gilding the cage more, at public expense.

  6. Walter E. Wallis says:

    O.K., I’ll try not to laugh. Is it O.K. if I cry just a bit if I do it quietly?

  7. BadaBing says:

    Beeman, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. Anyway, why not offer help to bullied kids on a volunteer basis instead of trying to browbeat everyone into being a namby-pamby. I suspect that bullying in school has been blown way out of proportion, much like the homeless scare of fifteen years ago. There will always be bullies and those that are bullied. Kids need to learn (probably on their own) how to deal with it. I wouldn’t want Peter Yarrow anywhere near my kid.

  8. *sigh*

    There’s a world of difference between the kid who nearly strangles another kid in the back of the bus, and your garden-variety bully.

    By God, yes, get the “psychopathic” children out of class. But my point was, kids have been mean to each other, will ALWAYS be mean to each other, and there’s not a fat lot you can do about name calling and making up stupid songs about other kids and all that. In fact, I would argue that calling attention to the bullying behavior by singing songs about it and saying “Oh, it’s so bad, you must not do this” will only lend a certain cachet to that kind of behavior for certain things.

    We can’t legislate that people must be kind. We can legislate that if they physically injure each other, they are removed from the population (well, at least in some schools that’s the case; in others, the violent kids often get to stay in class and their victims are encouraged to switch schools). What I was talking about was NOT “decriminalizing” physical injury to other people, but rather, not “criminalizing” every taunt and unkindness – because eventually people get into the grown-up world where, unfortunately, some people don’t always behave like grown-ups, and it’s a whole lot easier to draw on the resilience you developed a long time ago, than to have to develop it jolly quick when you’re dropped from the protected hothouse of the school atmosphere into the jungle of real life.

    (I think you may have been deliberately misunderstanding me; I think the only bullying I talked about was verbal.)

  9. But my point was, kids have been mean to each other, will ALWAYS be mean to each other, and there’s not a fat lot you can do about name calling and making up stupid songs about other kids and all that.

    Please realize that verbal and emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse – especially to children. It may surprise you, but I am a great believer in free speech and intellectual freedom. But does free speech include slander? There must be a line somewhere.

    We can’t legislate that people must be kind.

    No, but we can legislate against harmful actions. And we can hold schools, teachers, and other responsible adults responsible for what goes on their supervision.

    and it’s a whole lot easier to draw on the resilience you developed a long time ago, than to have to develop it jolly quick when you’re dropped from the protected hothouse of the school atmosphere into the jungle of real life.

    In all my experience, the schools are the jungles, and the civilized workplaces are the hothouses (at least in comparison). Nowhere have I seen workplaces as barbaric as the typical public middle school!

    Much of the problems here are endemic to the public school system. Read some John Taylor Gatto; although he writes little about bullying, he writes much of the other abuses caused by the anti-educational prison/slum structure of public (and many private) schools.

    Plus, I fail to see how cramming hundreds of immature kids in schools, in large groups with little adult supervision, can build up their social and moral skills. That’s how, IMHO, most normal kids learn to be mean, violent, cruel, authoritarian, etc. And they have the spend their college and employment years unlearning it!

  10. Bullying is a common, serious problem in many schools but a competent admininistration can irradicate it.

    Fifteen years I’d hear racial name calling at my school at least five times a day. These days, maybe once a year. Why the change? We got an administation that stopped saying, “Kids will be kids.”

    Bullying isn’t a fact of life. It thrives only where it’s tolerated.

  11. Yeah, I’m not sure folk songs are the best method of reducing bullying, although I personally like PP&M. However, there are programs out there that have been shown to reduce bullying. Unfortunately, kids are really good at hiding what they do from staff, so we don’t always see a lot of stuff — not to mention what’s going on outside of school. At the high school level, most of the violence I deal with originates out in the community as some argument that happened at a party or between families, etc.

    In any case, ideally, you handle it from both ends — counseling (or cracking down on, depending on the age and infraction) the bully while counseling the victims on how to not to be a victim. You don’t want the bully to continue that sort of behavior in school or as an adult. Grown up bullies are those people who play vicious office politics and emotionally or physically threaten their families. Children who are victims need to learn assertive behavior to thwart the inevitable bullies they will encounter during their lives. Yes, it is inevitable, but you don’t send the message or accept that just because it is inevitable it is OK.

    A book called _Odd Girl Out_ does a really great job talking about girl bullying, which can be pretty awful stuff.

  12. Robert Wright:
    Bullying is a common, serious problem in many schools but a competent admininistration can irradicate it.

    How very true. There are a few schools with competent administrations that dealt with bullying in an effective manner.

    But, the real issue is how to define “competent”, and who gets to define it, and who profits the most. In schools (and other institutions) with heavy bullying, the administration themselves are the worst bullies, complete with a dominator ethic. Domination wins over education.

    Too many schools are judged “competent” by their clean-cut image, their football teams, their sports facilities, and the Hummers in their parking lots.

  13. RCC: Children who are victims need to learn assertive behavior to thwart the inevitable bullies they will encounter during their lives.

    What if they are already assertive? And what if such assertiveness already threatens those in power by exposing their ignorance, corruption, viciousness, hidden agendas, etc?

    It’s the old dominator strategy – if you have no case against your enemies, accuse them of weakness, and call them “wimps” and “fags”. It makes me wonder who can be so afraid of productive moral citizens who mind their own business but stand up against injustice?

  14. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    Read Michelle Malkin’s recent column “Namby Pamby Nation” for the definitive word on this idiotic ‘feel-good’ program. Once again, current and older Lefties simply cannot confront evil in the world…and child bullies can be just as evil as adults. Reminds me of when I was an 11 year old girl at summer camp and was harassed by a boy named ‘Evan’, who used to call me names, pull my hair and hit me for no reason. After about a week of turning the other cheek, pleading for mercy, and attempts at verbal persuasion (to no avail), I finally summoned up the courage and kicked him hard in the gonads. He didn’t bother me again. Speak softly and carry a big stick.

  15. It must be an uphill battle to reach contemporary kids with folk music. I’m quite a bit older than they are, and even I find folk music annoying.

    I gotta say, though, I’m surprised about Peter Yarrow’s conviction for sexual misconduct. He doesn’t seem the type. I guess it proves again that there really isn’t a “type.” “Sexual misconduct” is such a nebulous term–it makes me suspect that maybe he decided to plead down from something far more offensive.