Founded in 1999 by Peter Yarrow of the legendary folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, and Dr. Charlotte Frank, then Senior Vice President, Research and Development, McGraw-Hill Education, Operation Respect was first inspired by a private moment between father and daughter. Bethany Yarrow, now a singer and activist in her own right, told her dad that he absolutely had to hear a song called “Don’t Laugh at Me”. It had been sung at the campfire at the 1997 Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas, and it brought everyone to tears. She believed that it was exactly the kind of movement creating music Peter, Paul and Mary stood for. Written by Steve Seskin, now an Operation Respect Board Member, and Allen Shamblin, the lyrics of “Don’t Laugh at Me” set in motion an effort and movement that truly speaks to the remarkable way music has the power to energize, reach people’s hearts, and catalyze change.
Peter, Paul and Mary did record and perform the song in concert and in a performance at a National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) Conference. Inspired by the overwhelming response, Peter sought out Linda Lantieri, Founding Director of the Resolving Conflict Creatively Program (RCCP) at Educators for Social Responsibility, to help develop a social and emotional learning program, focused around the song. The Don’t Laugh at Me curriculum (DLAM) uniquely incorporates elements of music and the arts to reach the hearts of practitioners and students alike, creating a strong sense of community, encouraging acceptance of differences, and sparking a vital and affirmative school spirit.
Since the fall of 2000, Operation Respect has disseminated over 180,000 copies of Don’t Laugh at Me, free of charge, throughout the United States and across the world. The lessons have been translated into Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic, Japanese, Cantonese, and Ukrainian and used in countless classrooms, after-school programs and camps.
In addition to classroom-based curricula, Operation Respect offers professional development workshops for teachers, counselors, school administrators, parents, and other community stakeholders and arranges presentations and assembly programs in schools. Since Operation Respect’s inception, our team of speakers and performers has addressed over 500,000 educators, educational leaders, parents, students, policy makers and community members throughout the world. Operation Respect professional development workshops and coaching provide educators with the skills and confidence they need to launch DLAM successfully in their schools and communities, to sustain a caring learning environment with related efforts like restorative justice and peer mediation, and to foster student engagement in the creation of ridicule free zones. To date, over 45,000 educators have participated in these workshops throughout the United States and in Canada, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Ukraine, Hong Kong, Japan, Bermuda, and South Africa.