Has anyone ever made fun of you? Or have you watched someone being bullied and did nothing to help? Perhaps you were the one laughing at a person who was ‘different’?
If your answer is yes, then you’re not alone. But imagine if you could turn negatives like these into a popular song and help lots of people by sharing your experience?
That’s what Dolly Parton did! And in the process, she showed us how music (and books) can be used to change lives and make the world a better place in which to live.
Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colours
In her 1971 hit song ‘Coat of many colours’, Dolly (Ms Parton) describes an incident from her childhood when she was picked on for wearing a patchwork jacket that her mother had made to keep her warm. Instead of being embarrassed or upset like some kids might have been, Dolly was confused. She simply could not understand why the other kids were being so rude about her precious coat.
In fact, Dolly was so happy and confident (despite her family not having much money) that she tried to explain to her peers that you only have to feel poor if you choose to and can instead be rich in other ways.
I recommend listening to the song – even if you don’t like country and western music. (There are lots of versions on Youtube, e.g. here with Dolly singing alone or here with Shania Twain.) The lyrics have also been published as an illustrated children’s book (here).
Dolly’s jacket sewn with rags and a whole lot of love is now proudly displayed in the Chasing Rainbows museum at her theme park, Dollywood. This remarkable woman continues to fend off sexist and potentially insulting interview questions – despite her success as a singer, songwriter, businesswoman and philanthropist. In so doing, she demonstrates the value of having a positive attitude, loads of self-confidence, and a good sense of humour.
For example, when asked if she ever gets tired of dumb blonde jokes, she cheerily responds “No, ‘cause I know I’m not dumb and I know I’m not blonde!”
I’ve just read Dolly’s latest book ‘Dream More’ (2012), and heartily recommend it to anyone who would love a speck of Dolly’s energy, enthusiasm, wit and wisdom to rub off on them (here).
A story with many applications
Teachers all around the world have used Dolly’s song as a prompt to educate their students about emotions and social skills, sticking up for themselves and their values, and the need for tolerance and respect for others.
Some fantastic colouring-in templates and lesson plans are available on the internet on this topic so you don’t have to start from scratch.
Free resources such as these can easily be used by parents who are concerned that their child may be being bullied at school or online but don’t know how to start the conversation. They would also work really well as a creative and educational activity during school holidays. And there’s no need to stick to the templates provided. Why not take some inspiration from this fabulous collage of Dolly’s ‘Coat of Many Colours’ by a Canadian artist – with its 94 colourful hearts arranged in the shape of a jacket and ‘bound’ together by buttons and a giant needle and thread?
Or create a life-size patchwork ‘coat of armour’ that kids can picture themselves wearing whenever they need protection from bullies in future? (Check out this truly magnificent technicolour coat – here.)
(There’ll be lots more ideas like these in my next post.)
Other coats of many colours
The original ‘coat of many colours’ story dates back to Joseph in the Book of Genesis.
Instead of growing up in a loving family like Dolly’s, Joseph had lots of brothers that were jealous of the magnificent coat that their father, Jacob, had given to his favourite son. They threw Joseph in a pit and then sold him into slavery. (Fortunately, they were convinced by the eldest brother not to kill him.) Against the odds, Joseph ended up becoming a great ruler and a dream that he had years earlier of his brothers bowing before him eventually came true.
Many creative souls over the years have used and adapted this theme in their literature, songs and artwork, including Andrew Lloyd Webber in his musical ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’.
In Carole King’s song ‘Tapestry’, a passerby also had a coat of many colours. However, he appeared to be lost, could not grasp something golden hanging from a tree, and turned into a toad (e.g. here). Both Joseph’s and the ‘Tapestry’ traveller’s stories remind us that there are worse things that being laughing at.
But when you are young, being singled out as being different can be a traumatic experience that may result in long term adverse impacts on a child’s self-esteem and influence their future success and happiness. Bystanders can also be affected.
Instead of wrapping kids in cottonwool and pretending that bad things don’t happen, we need to encourage kids to embrace difference and feel good about themselves and provide practical skills to help them deal with bullying and other difficult situations.
We should also teach kids about respecting others and help them to understand that their individual and combined words, actions and other choices have consequences – so that they are less likely to become bullies or bigots themselves.
Perhaps we can even stop a few potential stars and future leaders from turning into toads!
A scheme of many books
As storytelling and books are very effective tools for building self-confidence and exploring complex and sensitive issues, such as bullying, it makes sense that Dolly is passionate about inspiring kids to read more. (I only just found out that she is known as ‘The Book Lady’!) Dolly’s incredibly generous Imagination Library (here) provides young kids with access to high quality age-appropriate books free of charge.
Initially set up to benefit children in her home county in East Tennessee, this program has now expanded throughout the USA, Canada, UK and Australia and has sent out more than 70 million books so far.
All it takes is someone who is willing to partner with Dolly to support the scheme locally. Children in the region can then register to receive a book every month from birth up to the age of five, regardless of their families’ income.
The rationale for the program was based on Dolly’s observation that many children are already behind the pack when they start school if their family is not willing or able to expose their children to books from an early age.
(In Dolly’s case, her father never learnt to read or write but her mother often read and told stories to her twelve children.) A long journey of many small steps
Creating a culture of tolerance and respect takes time and effort. We can all help to make it a reality by taking action, such as:
- Setting an example of tolerance and respect ourselves and lifting people up rather than knocking them down.
- Taking a leaf out of Dolly’s book and resolving “to dream, learn, care and be more”!
- Buying a copy of ‘Dream more‘ to read or giving a copy to someone we care about. (Here)
- Checking if the Imagination Library scheme operates in our region and encouraging parents and guardians with kids up to five years old to register. Or finding out how to set up a local Imagination Library. (Start here)
- Reviewing our school, workplace and other relevant anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies to make sure that we understand what sort of behaviour is and isn’t acceptable in different contexts, and know where we can seek advice and support or refer others (if required).
- Wearing a beautiful patchwork coat or other colourful item of clothing to arouse people’s curiosity and give us an opportunity to share Dolly’s coat of many colours story.
- Sharing this post (or writing your own) to help spread the message that bullying and discrimination is not okay.
- Looking out for my next post with its links to templates, lesson plan and other ideas for learning from and being inspired by Dolly’s humble patchwork coat.
- Sticks, stones & songs – Free ‘Coat of Many Colours’ teaching resource about bullying & respecting difference
- We can all be cheerleaders
- Strine (Part 4) – Aussie racism, the economy & picking up wogs
- Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library website (Various pages. Accessed 18-20 July 2015)
- ‘Putting an end to bullying: It starts in the elementary years’ Published by Capital Region BOCES Communications Service, Albany NY
- Coat of many colours, Dollywood – Taken by Bekka. Published at http://www.blanketforadventures.com on 17 Dec 2014. Reproduced with permission (All rights reserved). Check out Bekka’s post about her day at Dollywood – here.
- Dolly Parton at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville – Cropped version of File:Dolly Parton in Nashville april 2005.jpg, original source is defenselink.mil, specifically 20050425100502_050423-f-7203t-185.jpg. Photo taken by Tech. Sgt. Cherie A. Thurlby, USAF on 25 April 2005. Uploaded by Wedg. [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
- Coat of many colours collage – Artwork by Victoria Scobbie (2010). http://www.VictoriaScobbie.com. Reproduced with permission. (All rights reserved)
- Joseph – © Prawny via Dreamstime.com (All rights reserved)
- Male Green and Golden Bell Frog (Litoria aurea) – Photo taken by LiquidGhoul (Own work) on 27 March 2007 [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons
- ‘Dream more’ book quote & Imagination Library ad – Taken from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library website. (All rights reserved)
- ‘Cinderella-inspired Dolly Parton & her dress of many colours’ – Artwork by Pip Marks (2015)