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TV Preview: Comedy and catch phrases aimed at ending school violence

Sunday, April 30, 2000

By Jane Elizabeth, Post-Gazette Education Writer

Just when you start to suspect that comedian Michael Pritchard's show "Saving Our Schools" is simply his vehicle to continued fame and fortune, he hits you with a message:

"Saving Our Schools from Hate and Violence"

When: 3 p.m. today on WQED.

Host: Michael Pritchard.


Tragedies like the shooting spree at Columbine High School cannot simply be blamed on the shooters, absentee parents, violent video games, slasher movies or uncaring teachers.

The fault really lies with the other students -- the "popular" students, the students who tease and taunt the "different" kids to the point of hopelessness, suicide and even murder.

"The root of all violence is disrespect for each other's pain," Pritchard tells students gathered in the auditoriums and libraries of public schools.

Pritchard, a former stand-up comedian and probation officer, is a large man with a big voice who quite evidently commands the attention of teens in the latest in his line of videos. In this two-part PBS program, airing today at 3 p.m. on WQED, he visits students in two California high schools.

There, he throws out self-help one-liners aimed at kids: "Hurt people hurt people." "Character is what you do when nobody's looking." "If you can point a finger, you can lend a hand."

You might begin to believe that the primary purpose of the show is promoting his HeartLand Media company, his www.savingourschools.com and selling his videos -- a total of 60 minutes for $179.95. But then, Pritchard prompts heartbreaking confessions from the kids.

"I was teased and beaten up through my middle-school years," one boy tells Pritchard and several students gathered for filming in the school library. The boy said he'd lock himself in his room, leaf through his high school yearbook and choose "the people I would kill."

Another boy talked about being harassed because he was more interested in art and music than sports. What did the other kids say to him?

"They call me faggot, loser, retard, weirdo," said the boy. "I would get beat up for what I was wearing."

One group of kids told Pritchard about one small, quiet boy who was taunted so incessantly that one day "he snapped," as one student said.

"He grabbed the podium and started to throw it," said the student. "That's how much adrenaline he had."

Pritchard asked, "What would have happened if that had been a gun?"

From the look on the kids' faces, it was clear they hadn't thought about that. Now they will, thanks to Pritchard, who opened the show by saying, "I want you to feel safe at school."

Still, the kids seem to open up to him. He entertains them with his sound effects and character imitations (everything from whizzing bullets to Arnold Schwarzenegger to a scared 7-year-old boy), his teen talk ("Talk to the palm, you ain't the bomb") and his frankness.

Looking concerned and perhaps ashamed, the kids listen as he tells them that bullying and teasing "create a pain that can have terrible consequences."

And frankly, it appears his "Saving Our Schools" audiences consist mostly of "the populars," as one girl calls them -- the kids who have found a relatively comfortable niche in school.

Know a child who might fit into that group? If you can't sit him down in front of PBS on a Sunday afternoon in the spring -- rather odd time, considering the target audience -- tape the show.

If you can't, Michael Pritchard will tell you how you can buy the videos.

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