By Russ Pankonin
The Imperial Republican
When songwriter Steven Seskin co-wrote a three-minute song about being nice to other people, he never dreamed it would be as far reaching as it has become.
The song, “Don’t Laugh at Me,” became the basis for a character education curriculum that’s used in 27,000 schools in the country.
The curriculum focuses on teaching kids how to treat others with kindness and respect and to be supportive to others.
“I didn’t think of it as a song for schools or something that could do some good in the world,” Seskin said before his program at Chase County Schools Friday.
Seskin was in Imperial Thursday to perform at Imperial Live and followed up with the program Friday morning. The program was sponsored by Imperial Super Foods.
He co-wrote the song in 1999 with his friend, Allen Shambliss, after they were talking about how Chambliss’ 7 year-old daughter was being made fun of at her new school.
They reminisced about bullying situations in their own lives, how they took it and how they sometimes dealt it out.
That’s what led to the song and what Seskin called an “amazing journey.”
Country artist Mark Wells recorded the song, which went to #1 on the country charts.
The folk group, Peter, Paul & Mary, heard Seskin sing the song at a folk festival and they turned it into a character education curriculum. “This was right after Columbine,” Seskin noted.
Seskin does programs at about 80 schools per year and other performers all across the country take part in the program.
He said by combining music, art and theater, they are able to tie in lessons about respect and being kind to others.
“The song speaks volumes. Kids latch on to it,” he said.
Four little lines say at lot:
“Don’t laugh at me;
Don’t call me names;
Don’t get your pleasure
From my pain . . . .”
During his assembly, he asked the kids to recall what it feels like when someone bullies them or calls them names.
The kids offered a resounding “NO” when he asked them if that felt good.
He also reminded them to remember how that feels when they do the same to others.
He acknowledged people say things once in a while that they know they shouldn’t have said.
What he cautioned the kids about was saying those things on purpose. “We don’t need to have fun by making fun of other people,” he told them.
He noted some kids are good at some things while they struggle at other things.
He told them the last thing a kid needs when they are struggling with something is to have someone else trying to bring them down. “It’s about being a supportive community,” he said.
Seskin sang several other songs to reinforce his message.
He closed with having the kids join in on the refrain of a song:
“Together, together, everyone; we don’t leave out anyone;
We’re a community; we’re like one big family;
Working hard, having fun; together, together, everyone; we don’t leave out anyone.”
To learn more about the character education curriculum, go to www.dontlaugh.org .
An illustrated book on “Don’t Laugh at Me” has also been published. To see the illustrations with Seskin’s song, go to this site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTNVXlirF4Y&feature=related .