A Program Review By Christina Lemmo
A member of the cleftAdvocate Family
Published at cleftAdvocate with permission of the author.
© 2002 Christina Lemmo All Rights Reserved
After eight years of being a social worker I have finally found a way to combine my personal likes, skills and experiences. This combination led me discover a great resource for social workers, educators or community workers. Partly my discovery is based upon my personal preference for folk music in general and specifically for Peter, Paul and Mary. As a member of this popular trio, Peter Yarrow has become involved in the "Don't Laugh at Me" (Operation Respect) project.
The original version of the song "Don't Laugh at Me" was written and recorded by Steven Seskin. His original recording was nominated for a Country Music Award. Since then the trio has adapted this song somewhat from the first version and has included it in their concerts.
The main message behind the DLAM project is instill "tolerance" at an early age so that it can branch out to the greater community at large. In order to develop tolerance for others one must learn to treat others with respect as well. With its belief that tolerance and respect can be taught, one of the main objectives of DLAM is to provide the necessary tools in the form of educational curriculum(s).
Before using the educational curriculum(s) in order to teach tolerance and respect, there has to be a way of sensitizing individuals towards the need for these qualities. Philosophically, Peter Paul and Mary feel that music is "the glue that holds people together." Music provides the way to stir emotions that most people can relate to. It is for this reason that this particular song has been included in their concerts and usually met with standing ovations. Listening to the lyrics, it is easy to "see" or "hear" the universal feelings and experiences that most of us have encountered as individuals:
"I'm the little boy with glasses, the one they call a geek
A little girl who never smiles 'cause I have braces on my teeth
And I know how it feels to cry myself to sleep"
Or as members of a larger group:
"The kid on every playground...always chosen last A single teenage mother trying to overcome my past You don't have to be my friend, but is it too much to ask"
And then comes the request:
"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."
Listening to the song, it is easy to recall the times that we have been made to feel left out, unwanted, disrespected or not accepted which are painful experiences. From there comes the next step, which is to create a "ridicule free zone" within the classroom, organization or community center. Within this "ridicule free zone", treating others with disrespect is a clearly unacceptable behavior. In these "zones", DLAM's curriculum, as appropriate, can be explored and implemented. DLAM provides curriculum(s) for grades 2-5, 6-8 and a "camp" (community organization) format. These other groups could also include faith communities or groups.
DLAM has created a website as well as a promotional media release. Through registering at the DLAM website at http://operationrespect.org/index2.php, a clinician/educator can receive the free resource from McGraw-Hill. Provided through the website is the link so that the curricula can be downloaded and printed out.
This promotional package includes a videocassette as well as a musical CD. In the first segment, of the videocassette the theme song and selected photos are displayed for emotional learning. The other two segments of the video offer explanations to the "educator" and to the "children". On the music CD there are several popular songs which are performed by Peter Yarrow. These songs are familiar to both child and adult alike which easily lends them to "group participation" and singing along to reinforce the concepts of the program.
As a social worker, I have both a personal and professional interest in promoting the growth and development of respect and tolerance. This interest is because of my cleft lip and palate, as well as memories of being teased throughout my life. DLAM teaches, those willing to learn, to look at the humanity inside and then build outwards. This is a great and valuable resource to all.