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Compassion continues in Yarrow's word

Peter Yarrow, with son Christopher, speaks to Burnside Elementary School students Thursday about how they felt while singing "Don't Laugh at Me," a song which inspired Yarrow to start Operation Respect. (Republican Eagle photo by John Russett)1 / 2
Peter Yarrow gets the audience involved Thursday as part of his program to help inspire a caring school environment. 2 / 2

Peter Yarrow is no stranger to music intended to inspire change.

But when the folk singer and songwriter of Peter, Paul and Mary fame heard a particular song, it sparked within him something new.

Early one morning during the Kerrville Folk Festival Yarrow heard “Don’t Laugh at Me” for the first time.

The song, written by Steve Seskin and Allen Shamblin, inspired Yarrow to start Operation Respect, which is designed to promote the integration of character education and social and emotional learning principles into schools across the country.

To help achieve its goals, Operation Respect created the Don’t Laugh at Me Program and, on Thursday, Yarrow brought that program to Burnside Elementary School.

“(This issue is) very much the heart of what my life is all about at this point,” Yarrow said, adding it is a continuation of movements which he has supported for many years.

Along with his son, Christopher, Yarrow sang and spoke to students and adults about the importance of treating everyone with respect and kindness.

Yarrow recalled singing at the Million Man March with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 and said the sentiment still rings true today.

After playing “Blowin’ in the Wind,” the same song he sang with Peter, Paul and Mary at the march in 1963, he went back and talked about some of the specific verses in the song.

He explained how the song highlighted many questions those on the march and others around the country were asking at that time about war and civil rights.

Yarrow said his next song was about a new movement.

“It’s called ‘Don’t Laugh at Me,’” Yarrow said, which drew sound of excitement from the students.

As he settled in to start the song, a student asked how long he had been singing. Yarrow said he didn’t start singing seriously until after he was out of college, but Christopher had been singing with him since he was as young, if not younger than the students.

Yarrow started the song and the kids sang along from the start, but Yarrow stopped once they reached the first chorus.

When singing the lyrics to the chorus, from which the song derives its name, Yarrow said to sing quietly, empathetically, compassionately.

Sing gently, he said, because sometimes it’s important to be respectful of other people and their feelings.

After the song was finished a few students joined him on stage and he asked them what they felt when they sang the song.

One student said the song reminded her of her great-grandfather who had passed away.

Yarrow then guided the kids and showed them how to be compassionate toward someone, asking one of her fellow students to place his hand on her shoulder, tell her he was sorry and he was there for her.

“Puff the Magic Dragon” and “If I Had a Hammer” rounded out the show, after which Yarrow spoke to individual students, signed a baseball and posed for pictures with a few classes.

Burnside Principal Sheila Beckner said the program reinforced important lessons for not only the children, but for the adults as well.

Sing more with Red Wing Public Schools Foundation

Peter Yarrow’s visit to Burnside Thursday was made possible in part by a grant from the Red Wing Public Schools Foundation with the support of the Jones Family Foundation.

For the 2013-14 school year, the foundation has awarded more than $87,000 in grants to the district.

According to the foundation’s website its goal is “to generate awareness and donations to enhance our children’s school experience in Red Wing.”

Money is donated by community members, parents, and alumni, the website says.

The Red Wing Public Schools Foundation will have a fundraiser Nov. 9 call the Winger Whirl at the Sheldon Theatre. It is the largest fundraising event the foundation has taken on.

The variety show will feature emcee Stephanie Goetz, music, comedy and variety acts as well as an art exhibit and sale of work by Red Wing alumni.

For tickets, call the box office at 651-388-8700 or visit They are $25 for the show or $40 for the show and appetizer party.

All proceeds will support the foundation's efforts to enrich the educational experience in Red Wing schools.

Each year teachers can request funding through the form of a written grant. Grant requests can range from additions to curriculum, technology, or anything which could enhance the learning experience.

More information can be found at

John R. Russett

John Russett is a regional reporter for RiverTown Multimedia, covering a variety of issues facing RiverTown communities. Previously, he worked at the Red Wing Republican Eagle, where he reported on education as well as crime and courts. 

You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnRyanRussett


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