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Children’s musician, writer presents anti-bullying message through song

CONNOR TOWNSHIP, Maine — Barry Lane, an author, teacher, and musician from Vermont, stopped by Connor Consolidated School on Dec. 20 to spread a unique anti-bullying message through song.

Connor Consolidated School first grader Jazlyn Dow dances to Taylor Swift during Barry Lane’s “Force Field for Good” presentation on Dec. 20. Students formed a circle and took turns in the center spotlight during the exercise, which was the final part of Lane’s presentation in the school gym. (Christopher Bouchard)

Lane’s message focuses on autonomy and positivity, encouraging kindness instead of focusing on bullying.

Principal Heather Anderson said she felt his message is unique because it doesn’t focus on bullying, where kids often walk away with the “message that they’re being bullied.”

“Instead, it’s a kindness message,” Anderson said, “and I think that’s what makes your climate improve, when everyone’s thinking about kindness and not just anti-bullying.”

In between songs during a morning performance in the school gym, Lane asked students why it is important to practice kindness.

“So people want to play with you,” said one student.

“To make them feel happy,” another chimed in.

Lane presented students with a device he called the “Force Field-O-Matic Energy Stick” a small cylinder that lights up and makes a noise when both sides are touched by a person simultaneously.

Connor Consolidated School students listen to a song from author and songwriter Barry Lane on Dec. 20 during an anti-bullying presentation. Students were told to raise their hands when he sang the phrase “to be free.” (Christopher Bouchard)

“This stick will prove to you that we are all connected,” he said before asking the group of roughly 30 to form a circle and hold hands in the gym.

With Lane and one of the students holding the stick between them and all other hands joined, the stick lit up and started making a sound. Lane then asked one student on the other side of the circle to let go of the person next to him for a moment. The youngsters were amazed that the light inside the stick died and then lit back up as soon as all hands were reconnected.

After the exercise, children took turns dancing inside the circle while “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift played over the public address system in the gym.

Anderson said she particularly enjoyed the impact the last two parts of the presentation had on her students.

About 30 students at Connor Consolidated School held hands in a circle for an exercise during author and songwriter Barry Lane’s “Force Field for Good” presentation on Dec. 20. When all hands were touching, a clear cylinder that Lane dubbed the “Force Field-O-Matic Energy” stick lit up and made a sound. (Christopher Bouchard)

“At first, kids were really cautious and shy,” she said. “They were afraid to go in and dance, but they eventually joined in. I think it proves that if you create a safe place, that everybody is willing to relax and enjoy themselves more; they don’t have to worry about bullying or how kids will think about them or treat them.”

After the hour-long presentation, Lane spent the rest of the day at the school, teaching a kindness workshop for grades one and two at 9 a.m, a journal writing and sharing workshop for grades three and four at 10 a.m., a writing workshop for grades five through eight at noon, and a “writing across the grades” workshop for teachers from 1-3 p.m.

Lane has been playing music since he was in his 20s, but said he only started writing songs in the last few years.

“It began with one song,” he said, “called ‘Know Your Higher Self.’ It seemed to make an impact on kids, so I wrote more songs along the same lines.”

In explaining the message behind his “Force Field for Good” lecture, the songwriter said he emphasizes self-control over simply following rules in his lyrics.

“If you’re just following rules and laws, which is something we all do in society,” he said, “and if you’re being kind just so you won’t get in trouble, then you don’t really understand what kindness is and what it can do, not just for you, but for everybody. That’s what ‘Force Field for Good’ is, learning that kindness is a universal good, and that what you would call civilization is built on that.”

Connor Consolidated School sixth grader Jayden Edgecomb dances in the middle of a student-made circle during the final part of Barry Lane’s “Force Field for Good” presentation in the gym as music plays over the PA system. (Christopher Bouchard)

Musically, Lane draws inspiration from folk artists such as Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie, citing the sixties folk revival and the “idea that songs can make an impression” as an influence on his work.

He also applies a bit of neuroscience to his presentation, and that changing a behavior has been proven to change the chemistry of the brain.

“If kids learn to take a breath instead of getting angry,” he said, “they’re not just learning some habit, they’re making it easier to do that the next time.”

He said that while some people believe there’s a positive catharsis to getting angry, it’s actually “creating neural pathways that makes you more likely to [get angry] next time.”

Anderson said she first met Lane just “a few weeks ago” at a writing workshop in Edmunds Township in Maine, and that she was “blown away” when he gave a performance at the school.

“We told him we wanted him to come to our school,” she said after his performance, adding that it was “everything we expected it to be.”

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