Marilyn: Please give a warm Neil Cummins Hawks welcome to Mr. Michael Pritchard.
Michael: Oh, thank you, Marilyn. Oh, you're awesome. I love you. [applause] How many of you know a boy or girl here at school who gets picked on and left out and never included and laughed at all the time? Raise your hands high. High. Look around the room please. Hands down. This is not how we want to live or how we want to treat each other. This is not how we want to be.
Narrator: Michael Pritchard is a commanding presence, even in an auditorium full of normally noisy students, teachers, and parents.
Narrator: He served as a medic in Vietnam, and has won awards as both a stand-up comic and a probation officer in San Francisco.
Michael: I love it when babies walk. They go--
Narrator: Over the years, he and his wife have helped raise more than 100 children, including three of their own, adding a wealth of material to the comedy routines he has performed in nightclubs and on TV.
Michael: My little boy comes in at like three o'clock in the morning. "Dad, I don't get any mail."
Narrator: And whether he's making them laugh.
Michael: [laughs] You are so stupid.
Narrator: Or making them shout.
Michael: The good you do--
Students: The good you do--
Michael: Will come back to you.
Students: Will come back to you.
Narrator: His message is always the same.
Michael: And no matter what we teach your brains, love is more important than knowledge.
Narrator: Pritchard spends most of his time these days traveling around the country, taping PBS specials as he talks to and listens to young people to find out what they are thinking and feeling.
Marilyn: At one point, Michael asks kids to come forward and share how they've been hurt, or maybe to apologize to others. And when he asked them to do that, I thought, "They're not going to do this. I mean, in front of all these kids, they're not going to come forward." I have to tell you, I was amazed at how free they were to come forward and really share their experience in a way that I truly did not expect.
Student: When I first moved here a year ago, no one really wanted to play with me and all the fifth graders called me names.
Michael: What was it doing to your heart?
Student: It just made me feel really bad.
Michael: And what I try to teach the kids is that we have to be more real about our emotions. And back to the time of Macbeth, Shakespeare said, "Always give sorrow words. Grief that doesn't speak whispers to the over-fraught heart and bids it to break."
Student: My main thing that's gotten me through all this is empathy. I-- when the-- I was being bullied, I tried to feel how they were feeling and that's why they were-- and why they were bullying me.
Michael: And what did it do for you to put yourself in their shoes and know that they were hurting you because they were hurting?
Student: They-- I could feel their hurt really deep down, and I wanted to help.
Michael: When I was a kid, I guess I learned that the most powerful gift I could do for my friends was to help them with their emotions, to be there and listen to them talk.
Chloe: Well, last year, when I was in my other school, people used to call me names because I was anemic.
Michael: And what was it doing to your heart when they were saying that, Chloe?
Chloe: It was putting my heart and my mom's heart really bad. It hurt.
Michael: We get sick if we try to hold all the pain in. And then the unaddressed grief turns to anger, and the anger to rage. And it has two directions, out to the community or inwards towards the self and self-destructiveness.
Student: I'm really shy right here.
Michael: You can do it.
Student: My friend was really hurt because they called him fat. And I didn't want that to happen, because it wasn't [inaudible].
Michael: Was it fair to him or fair to you?
Michael: How should we treat each other?
Student: Very well. Because if we treat each other really bad, we won't like get along or be friends or like be part of a big family.
Michael: You know what? You go home and you tell your mom-- look at me. You have corazon, amigo. Yo te amo. I love you.
Michael: All right. Por nada. Okay. A big round of applause.
Narrator: After the assembly, Pritchard shared lunch with members of the school student council to reinforce some of the lessons they had just learned.
Michael: Why do you think sometimes kids choose to be bullies, and how can we help them choose not to be bullies?
Student: Kind of walk up to them and say, "could you please stop that?"
Michael: Yeah. Why is it--
Marilyn: Creating an environment in which kids feel comfortable, in which they are productive, in which they treat one another well, is not a one-shot thing.
Michael: What is his tactic? Fear?
Student: Yeah. He's scared, so he takes it out on other people.
Marilyn: So our responsibility as adults that work with kids is to reiterate that lesson. To keep it focused in their minds so that it isn't something that's easily forgotten. And it's been my experience it takes three to five years to really change a school culture to the point where that is the expected norm and where kids will uphold it. And it's a learning process.
Student: It shouldn't be a world of hate, it should be a world of love.
Narrator: While students at elementary schools are generally open to discussing their feelings, students at most high schools are not.
Michael: --helping us know that life is about the choices that we make. And we care about you.
Narrator: At Castlemont High School in Oakland, California, two students were wounded in a drive-by shooting in front of the auditorium last year. And the initial reception for Pritchard here was icy.
Michael: You're ugly. No, I mean for real, ugly.
Narrator: He began the program with some of the same jokes he used on the fourth graders.
Michael: You look like you fell out of the ugly tree and hit every limb on the way down.
Narrator: But his material soon changed tone.
Michael: Little kid at West Paducah, Kentucky, had never fired a gun before, but he had an eight-round capacity and he played a lot of point-and-shoot video games. He hit five of his classmates in the head. We're talking to your hearts today.
Michael: Well, I'll tell you why I'm here. Because I have two young African American youngsters that grew up with me and my family and I love them, and I'm worried about their lives. You don't know that about me. You don't know anything about me. I'm just the big fat guy telling you jokes. But listen, I'm just telling you, this isn't anger, this is love.
Narrator: When it came time for students to talk, the first volunteers were greeted with a mixture of laughter and taunts.
Student: Hey, I'm going to just keep it real.
Narrator: But one by one, other students found the courage to speak from their hearts.
Student: I love my mom, but my mom got serious problems. I'm like, serious, right? I actually took from my mama. I took 300 dollars from my mama just so she couldn't smoke. You feel me? By me doing it, I mean, it hurt her, because she wanted to smoke, but it hurt be because I didn't want her to smoke, feel me? So I'm trying to help her, but I'm hurting her at the same time.
Student: Everybody's talking about, "Yeah I'm fixing to go home and eat this and eat that." I was fixing to go home and look at the TV because it ain't nothing in my refrigerator but some ice cubes and water. That don't feel right at all. And see, people think that's funny because it sounds funny. But when you got to walk and step in them shoes, it ain't funny. And it ain't cool, because I got a seven year old brother. I got a seven year old brother. Little boys like to eat. They like to eat, because they're hungry.
Student: Seeing as how dudes call girls like rippers and renders and bitches and stuff like that.
Michael: Listen please.
Student: It opened my mind not to judge girls, because they're going through stuff. I learned like one out of every three girls has been sexually assaulted. And that's all I'm saying.
Michael: They always say, "Oh, nobody will get up," and the parents-- and this tells you I think in a lot of ways how disconnected parents and teachers can be from the courage of children.
Student: You all might think my life is perfect. I have both of my parents, sisters, or whatever. And I'm talking to all of you all dudes out there that have some kind of addiction, because my dad has an addiction. I've always had to live with a father that would get his paycheck Friday, go into a bar, and not come back until three in the morning or not even come back Friday night. And waiting up for him.
Michael: What has it done to your heart, hon?
Student: It hurts, because I love him, and I don't want to feel all this-- all this-- all these negative feelings towards him. Because I love him, but at the same time, I hate him so much for what he has done to my mom. He wasn't there for her, and he barely was there for me. But I'm going to be somebody. I'm going to be what my sister wanted to be, I'm going to accomplish her dream.
Michael: That strength of character to get up and stand up for yourself and others and to help others try and be more compassionate, if we can tap into that as a resource for the world, this apathy, this neglect, this indifference is going to end. And that's the beginning of peace.
Michael: Shh. Listen please.
Student: I just wanted to apologize to two young ladies--
Narrator: For more information on what works in public education, go to edutopia.org.