I’m of two ways about this court punishment that we’ll talk about today.
From the human perspective, I’m all about this punishment right here. For a summary of the article: five teens were given a reading books punishment for vandalizing an old building with Swastikas and “White Power.” The “old building” was the original “Ashburn Colored School” which makes the boys’ vandalism that much more disgusting.
Their punishment from a judge (the judge’s mother is a librarian):
What I didn’t appreciate about this article was that the attorney said the boys, “didn’t know what they were doing” and they were “just pranksters.” Nah, fam. That’s unacceptable today. In Common Core, WWII is mentioned multiple times, across grade levels and depths. I did everything I could to get Maus or Night into my lessons every year I taught 9th or 10th grade English. I harped over plans using Primo Levi’s poetry every year and my students came in with a range of knowledge on the Holocaust.
However, saying that these boys were “pranksters” is unacceptable when they blatantly disrespected, not only the African American students that attended and supported that school, but African Americans of today and the past, and also every Holocaust victim and survivor. Oh, and we should probably mention every non-white person ever. They knew exactly what they were doing.
Let’s not sugar coat for the good ol’ white boys.
I’m real sick of the phrase “boys will be boys” with all of it’s root depth.
This isn’t even the reason I chose to write about this for Newsday Tuesday. While I believe this is a phenomenal punishment that has the ability to open doors for these boys across cultures, schisms, and clearly blurred lines, I also just think back to the idea of punishment and the affect of rewards and punishment on the psyche.
I never punished a child with writing in my classroom. Because by making writing a punishment, it immediately eliminates it as a value. I encouraged my sister-in-law to stop using handwriting practice to punish my nephew because by making it something he’s disciplined with, he will never connect in his brain that this is a privilege, a right, an honor, a truly noble act of putting words on a page.
We’ve all heard the stories of having to write the same sentence over and over as a punishment. Heck, Harry Potter had to write the sentence with his own blood.
This has been scientifically proven to be a bad idea. I fear the same is true for reading. Right now, our students live in a culture where neither reading or writing are valued. Kids come into my classroom every year and announce, “I HATE reading” on the first day and my job as a teacher is to slowly chip away at this notion. I do it in numerous ways, like all teachers, in hopes that by the end of the year, each child has found at least one redeeming quality about being a book nerd.
There have been countless articles about the amount of television the POTUS watches and the very few articles, and books, he reads. He has even come out and said he doesn’t read. I wouldn’t go as far to say he isn’t “intellectual” because he doesn’t read, because come on, that’s a ridiculous blow, but I think reading brings about a certain level of humanity to a person’s world. I’m sure there are brilliant math minds, or science minds out there that don’t value the beautiful poetics of Sylvia Plath, or Shakespeare, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t intellectual, or that they don’t see the essential worth of reading a good book, or a poignant political poem, or a well-said essay.
We also live in a world of “instant gratification.” When you can watch a thirty minute show and feel entertained, it takes students a lot more patience, and a lot more long-term thought to follow a book through to finish. Just think about the pacing of a novel, not everything is packed with action and not everything is meant to drive the story. Sometimes those small moments are the most meaningful for the reader, but have little to no affect on the plot. Without the value of books, where are our students learning empathy? And how can we push them to understand that books have both entertainment value and worldly value. I’m not sure that’s through punishment.
While this punishment is going to open these boys up to new worlds, new ways of thinking, and *fingers crossed* new perspectives on their water, and the lives of those that also exist in the world, it might not keep them reading, or sustain the habit. The intrinsic value of reading a good, good book, might be missing here. I worry that training these boys to see reading as only a means to finish a court sentence will make them even less likely to take these books (and the stories within) seriously. I hope that some of their essays about each book get around to the news channels as well. I would like to know the scope to which they take to each book, the corners-turned, the pages dog-eared and quoted, and the means with which they use the author’s words.
(Side note: I literally got distracted by a Tweet while writing this. Today is Sylvia Plath’s death anniversary and someone tweeted that a new book of her letters is forthcoming, but didn’t tweet the publisher so I could ask for an ARC. BAH. Then I spent like ten minutes googling and I think it’s Faber & Faber).