Sentenced to read
In a recent case where a group of teenagers defaced a school with insensitive graffiti, the judge threw the book at them.
While a book wasn’t literally thrown, the phrase is much more apt here than in the usual sense of giving someone a severe punishment.
The judge ordered the minors to read a book a month from a specific list and write a book report on it (they can also watch movies from a list and review those).
Book ’em, Dano.
I am torn on this one, and I’ll be very interested to read your comments.
I think a lot of it will have to do with what you think the outcome of a conviction should be.
If you think that the goal should be to rehabilitate the guilty parties, then the judge’s requirement seems like a reasonable one.
I do believe that reading books tends to improve one’s empathy, and there has been evidence to that effect.
One of the books on the list is
The book helps you see other’s points of view. When you read dialog “spoken” by a character, you are, in effect, looking out through that character’s eyes. You will naturally try to understand their thoughts in that situation, to better understand the dialog and the book.
If we say that these teens lack empathy, and that at least certain books can improve empathy, then ordering these teens to read books is not all that different from making a condition of parole that someone attend a chemical dependency program.
It could be treatment.
It could also be education (like required attendance at traffic school after a moving violation), which could be considered to be part of treatment. If you believe that the defendants really didn’t understand the impact of what they were doing, educating them could be helpful.
I recall two instances from when I was a young child where I said/did something out of ignorance that would be considered offensive.
My family was very involved with the civil rights movement, and I don’t think I was particularly prejudiced…that would have been unlikely, I would say, when I was under ten years old being raised in that environment and around the types of people I knew.
Still, I mentioned to my Significant Other recently that I only easily recall a very prejudiced parody version of a TV theme song, not the actual original version. It had the “n word” in it, but I literally did not know what that word meant at that point. I had a vague sense of it being something mythological, like a unicorn. When I said the word, I had absolutely no intent to be saying anything bad about anybody. I didn’t relate it to real people, and I had never heard the word around the house, I’m sure.
I also recall being in Mexico as a kid and seeing a translated version of the comic book “Blackhawk”. I excitedly said something like, “Oh, ‘n*gro’ means ‘hawk’ in Spanish!” I’d forgotten that in Spanish, the adjective comes after the noun. I thought it was a cool, powerful image.
I debated with myself just now censoring that word, which is a Spanish word for a color (it means ‘black’). It has many legitimate uses in Spanish, certainly, and it’s used in a lot of contexts in the USA (there is an Oscar-nominated documentary about James Baldwin ((James Baldwin))with it in the title this year), but some people find it offensive so I figured I would err in that direction.
If you believed that these 16 and 17 year olds didn’t know what a swastika actually was, then educating them would make sense. I find that hard to believe in this case, though. When you look at the target and what was said, it certainly seems that they understood the context.
If you are looking for rehabilitation (and education can be a component), then this sentence makes sense (it also includes visiting some specific museums and writing about it).
In that perspective, I like the sentence.
The other major perspective on “crime and punishment”, though, is punishment.
Many people think that punishment and deterrence is the purpose of the law, and I’ve seen that suggested in the comments on this blog, by people I consider to be intelligent and compassionate.
That’s a big concern for me with this story.
It could easily be interpreted that reading is being used as a punishment, especially when children might hear about it. They are going to tend to think that a judge punishes, not heals (a jail term isn’t a vacation, and a fine isn’t a present)…and this then tells them that reading is an onerous task.
Regular readers also know that I’m unconvinced by required reading in school…encouraging reading, absolutely, but I think many people didn’t like books they were required to read in school…even though they may like them when they re-read them years later.
Will being sentenced to read make it less likely that they become regular readers later?
I do like that the judge is giving them a list, rather than a specific assignment each month. The teenagers will, I think, have a hand in choosing the book to read, which invests them in it to some extent.
Having thrashed my way through this in this post, I’m comfortable with the judge’s intent…but I’m still not sure about the collateral effects it may have.
What do you think? Do you agree with the judge’s sentence? Does it make a difference that these are juvenile offenders? Would you do something different for a 25 year-old…or an eight-year old? Can reading books improve people’s empathy…and would that reduce this kind of activity? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.
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