The Peter Principle

The anti-bullying industry has attracted everyone from serious scholars to scam artists to pop stars, including the old hippie who was a smash hit at Jefferson County's Patterson Elementary in August 2003.

Peter Yarrow, the Peter part of '60s folksters Peter, Paul and Mary, headlined an anti-bullying program at Patterson, breaking out a six-string to sing a message of peace, love and understanding:

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, 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 trying to overcome my past. You don't have to be my friend, but is that 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, someday we'll all have perfect wings, don't laugh at me.

I'm the beggar on the corner, you've passed me on the street, and I wouldn't be out here beggin' if I had enough to eat. Don't think I don't notice that our eyes never meet.

"We were so fortunate to have him here," says Patterson principal Susie D'Amanti. "He's such a promoter of civil rights and peace. He really touched the children; the children just loved him, and I think a lot of it is the music. It's something about that song."

D'Amanti thinks that song, and Yarrow himself, were major factors in Patterson's conflict incidents dropping from about fifty a year to fifteen under her watch.

Yarrow's anti-bullying program is called "Don't Laugh at Me" -- which seems like a name guaranteed to make kids laugh at you. D'Amanti admits that she was ready for the fifth- and sixth-graders to make fun of the program, but they didn't. They paid close attention as Yarrow dished out his curriculum -- an added bonus for a program that was already free to the school -- and loved it when he sang "Puff the Magic Dragon."

Like Bully-Proofing Your School and the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program -- two major players in the anti-bullying industry -- "Don't Laugh at Me" focuses on changing the behavior of the bystander. It's worked well enough in Jefferson County that when Colorado Trust announced its bullying-prevention grants two weeks ago, the Colorado Council for Community and Justice -- which serves Jeffco -- received $150,000 to implement Yarrow's program in more schools.

And that's nothing to laugh at.


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