There has been a lot of press lately about tragic outcomes due to bullying. This is an issue that we all need to take seriously. The most successful anti-bullying programs take a comprehensive approach by training both teachers and students to recognize bullying and successfully intervene. One-time programs have not been shown to be as effective. That being said, songs that deal with issues of bullying, when paired with discussion and other anti-bullying programs, can enhance student understanding and empathy. Music can sometimes affect people at a deeper level, reaching the heart and not just the head.
As the performing group Two of a Kind, we have often presented assemblies and workshops on the topics of anti-bullying and conflict resolution. We have a number of songs that deal with these issues and can be used as discussion starters. One of my favorite songs is called, “Hey, Little Ant,” by Hannah and Phil Hoose. This song (and the book which was made of it) is about a conversation between a kid and an ant. The kid is about to squash the ant, so the ant tries to get the kid to see things from his/her perspective. By the end of the song, the kid is having second thoughts about killing the ant. The song ends with a question:
Should the ant get squished?
Should the ant go free?
It’s up to the kid, not up to me.
We’ll leave that kid with the raised up shoe
What do you think that kid should do?
Younger kids may be thinking about this song literally as being about a kid and an ant. However, older students can realize that the song has deeper messages about how we treat each other and the value of seeing things from different perspectives. When we do this song for an audience of children, we usually ask for a show of hands at the end from the people who think the ant should go free and not get squished. We almost always have an overwhelming majority of hands raised in positive response to that question, even though we’ve often heard a lot of kids yelling “squish it!” before that point. That gives us an opportunity to point out that the loudest voices (the bullying voices) aren’t always representative of the majority. This is an especially important lesson (for adults too) when the airwaves are filled with loud, bullying voices that don’t necessarily represent most people.
We often like to pair “Hey, Little Ant” with a song that we wrote about making good choices called “When I’m Strong.” The idea behind this song is that although it can be difficult to make the right decision when others around you are trying to push you in a different direction, it feels good and strong to do the right thing. The verses have examples about boys excluding girls on the playground, being pressured to buy things like cards or video games to continue a friendship, and opening a present that was hidden in the closet. The Chorus goes:
I feel good
When I’m strong
When I decide for myself
What’s right and what’s wrong
Additional songs that deal with accepting differences include “Love Makes a Family” by Two of a Kind, celebrating all kinds of families; “So Many Ways to Be Smart” by Stuart Stotts, about different learning styles and multiple intelligences; “Jennifer Montgomery” by Stuart Stotts, about a deaf girl who is excluded, but creates friendship and understanding through teaching her classmates to sign; and “The Colors of Earth,” a beautiful song by Sarah Pirtle about celebrating all colors, by comparing skin and eye color to things found in the natural world. There are many more examples of songs that can be used to start discussions and reinforce programs to help students, teachers and parents reduce bullying in and out of school.