Can’t decide what to read this summer? Don’t know how to get the whole family reading?
Not sure what to suggest for your Changing Lives Through Literature group—or other book group?
This fun Summer Reading Flowchart will guide you to the right book! We thank Sarah Fudin for sharing this fantastic Teach.com visual.
Brought to you by Teach.com
Read Sarah Fudin’s accompanying article—Keep Reading Fun—also published on this blog.
Sarah Fudin works at an education company where she manages the community relations for the George Washington University’s online MPH degree, an innovative program that allows students to take public health courses online.
Lessons: Stories that connect from Stories Connect
By Sally Flint
People’s lives have been changed not only by reading and discussing literature, but by writing creatively too. In Exeter, England, this has culminated in publishing a book of linked short stories and poems. This book is Lessons and it comes from Stories Connect—a community project, similar in format to Changing Lives Through Literature, that takes place outside prisons to help ex-offenders, substance misusers and other vulnerable people get over difficult times in their lives.
In 2011, after reading Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads and Andrea Levy’s Small Island, discussions centred on the significance of characters in storytelling, how our lives interconnect, and how perceptions of one another can be very different according to our individual experiences. Rather than read more texts to illustrate this, both the participants and facilitators of Stories Connect began a collaborative writing experiment.
Each person invented a character—then got to know his imaginary person through answering a questionnaire which not only detailed a physical description and obvious things such as what the character did for a job, but also smaller things such as what the character kept under his bed. Once each character was firmly established in each writer’s mind the group discussed how the characters’ lives might overlap and be brought together. Part of the success of this collection is that each writer firmly took ownership of his own imaginary character and stepped into his character’s shoes.
However, to bring the characters together it was decided something more was needed—an event. Parties and weddings and all sorts of other occasions were brainstormed and somehow, out of talking about school reunions, the idea surfaced that the characters would all attend a memorial service for a recently retired headmaster, Keith Simon Lung.
Everyone discussed, debated and created—then each person wrote his character’s story in a way that linked to the headmaster and his memorial. The stories took months to shape, edit and bring together as an anthology. This process fostered an environment of trust and commitment. It motivated both participants and facilitators to further improve their communicative and observational skills. Everyone worked hard to make each story stand alone, while ensuring there are many intriguing links to be made across the whole collection and questioned by the reader.
Some of the contributors had never written a story or poem before while some had read and written lots. Perhaps what this book reveals best, and why the group wanted it published, is to show how the process of writing brought them together. The result, Lessons, proves that stretching imaginations and the practice of storytelling unites people at all levels, regardless of age, background, ethnicity or past histories. In the process of creating, the group encountered the unexpected and overcame challenges and, it has to be said, they all laughed lots!
“This is a consummate piece of group story-telling, a feat of cooperation and collaboration,” writes poet and broadcaster Matt Harvey in the book’s forward. He supports and works with Stories Connect.
Lessons is published by Dirt Pie Press, University of Exeter: www.riptidejournal.co.uk
For more information, e-mail either:
Dr. Sally Flint, facilitator and publisher: email@example.com
Louise Ross, Stories Connect co-ordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Mary Bell
Reading is definitely an escape from stress. It provides readers with an alternative world and imagination beyond recognition. It also provides information and different insights regarding recent and past issues that affect people of different statures. A relationship between readers and writers provide an ongoing cycle of demand and supply yet some are not aware of their rights as a producer and consumer.
Being a reader also has rights. Whether big or small, a bookworm can always be harassed into reading materials that he or she might not really want to entertain or acknowledge. Below is the list of rights of an avid reader. Knowing this might not only help them choose what to read, but also help them why and how to read. These may be obvious guidelines, but it will still help those who are still not aware of their rights.
1. The right to not read.
Like any other consumers, readers can choose what to and what not to read. You are not obliged to view materials that may be offensive or does notpertain to your field of interest.
2. The right to skip pages.
A reader may skip the pages of any book, magazine, leaflet, or handbook he/she buys. This exemplifies that the reader may not be entertained or satisfied with the contents of the page or the reader might have already read the contents of the pages already.
3. The right to not finish.
Whether it’s due to boredom or lack of interest, a reader may choose not to finish a certain reading material. He/she can always replace or put a book in the shelf if it does not satisfy his/her interest anymore.
4. The right to reread.
Obviously, readers have the right to read a book over and over again. May it be for research or just pure entertainment, the bookworm has the right to read his/her books any number of times he/she wants.
5. The right to escapism
The reader has the right to turn the book into an escape from reality. Whatever topic it may be, he/she is privileged to venture into another world through the pages of a book.
6. The right to read anywhere.
Readers need not to worry about the place they read their favorite books, as long as they are not offending anyone.
7. The right to browse.
Readers have the right to browse through a book before purchasing it. This enables them to get a preview of what content the book holds and may help them in being interested about a certain topic.
8. The right to read out loud.
A person is entitled to read out loud unless an area or institution prohibits noise. Try reading out loud in your room, kitchen, bathroom or wherever you want. It helps to bring out the emotions of the material you are reading.
9. The right to write about what you read.
Book lovers are entitled to be writers too. They can write anything about the books they are reading as well as give reviews and insights on its content.
On a writer’s point of view, creating a masterpiece takes a lot of time and effort. They are usually criticized on how they write the storylines and what content they put into their hard bounded memoirs. If you are interested in becoming a writer, you should know your rights and should not be afraid to emphasize them while doing your work. Below are the rights of writers and journalists. May these lines be helpful to you and your work.
1. The right to be reflective. Every writer has the right to reflect on what he/she is experiencing at the time. Whether it is a happy or painful experience, writers have the right to stop and reflect on the issues they are interested in writing about.
2. The right to choose a personally important topic.
A writer is has every right to write about an issue that affects him or her mostly. Giving insights on a certain topic, writers may express their feelings and insights whether it is favorable or not to a certain issue.
3. The right to go “off topic.”
Writers may choose to explore other topics that may still be related to the issue they are writing about. This gives new ideas and insights to the readers as well as aspiring bloggers and writers.
4. The right to personalize the writing process.
Every writer has the right to be recognized for his/her writing style. Remember, no two writers have the same style in writing. If so, that would be plagiarism.
5. The right to write badly.
Being an imperfect being, writers are also allowed to commit mistakes. That’s why they have a draft of their works so that they can edit it before publishing.
6. The right to “see” others write.
A writer has the right to observe other writers. This is essential for their work and may help them finish a book or article that they are currently working on.
7. The right to be assessed well.
Writers have the right to choose their review panel in order to have a feeling of fairness.
8. The right to go beyond formula.
Writers have the right to go beyond the traditional style of writing in order to create interesting and unique topics and storylines that capture the eyes and hearts of readers.
9. The right to find your own voice.
Writers have the right to find their own unique writing style in order to catch reader’s attention. Nothing prohibits a writer from becoming unique and creating his/her own voice.
These are but just simple and obvious privileges of writers and readers. We should be aware of every right and make sure to apply them whenever we feel violated and offended.
Mary Bell is a law and business blogger. She is a freelance lawyer and a full time mother of two wonderful kids. You may likely find her writing about related subjects and/or writing for companies like BailBondsDirect.com that has been in the bail bond industry since 1999. She has recently blogged about Bail Bonds.
By Bettina Borders and Estella Rebeiro
One day several years ago, Katherine Knowles, the director of the Zeiterion, approached the Juvenile Court to offer the possibility for court-involved youth to attend Zeiterion performances. Ms. Knowles envisioned the Z as a valuable community resource and wanted to extend it’s reach to include everyone. In her mind, this also meant the kids most folks want to forget.
There are many words used to describe these kids, trouble makers, delinquents, “druggies,” problem kids, misguided, etc. Ms. Knowles thought that perhaps some of them could find something at the Z to facilitate “turning them around.” It sounded good to the court. Why not try it. By and large these were kids with little opportunity to attend the Z on their own resources. Thus through the vision of Ms. Knowles and the generosity of her board, an ostensibly unlikely partnership began. Under the supervision of probation, young people from our court, and often their families, began to attend the varied theatrical performances offered by the Z.
There were several permutations to this partnership, which is part of two alternative sentencing initiatives supervised by probation and the court. At one point Ms. Knowles identified an anonymous donor who wanted to have the kids attend the theater in style. A limousine appeared at the courthouse, picked the kids up and drove them around various scenic areas of the city before dropping them, and their parents, at the Z. Later they were picked up and returned to the courthouse.
At another time, the youth participating in an alternative sentencing program, Changing Lives Through Literature, read “To Kill a Mockingbird” and later attended the play, courtesy of the Z. There have been plays, musicals, storytelling, dance, theater and magic performances these youth have had the opportunity to see. But the question remains: What has it meant?
For most of these youth and their families, this is an extraordinary experience. First, they are having a wonderful experience together, one that most of us take for granted. The probation officers who accompany these youth have watched while the demeanor of these kids transforms as the evening unfolds. They are indistinguishable from the rest of the audience; polite, engaged, attentive, well behaved, well dressed, inquisitive, mesmerized by the magical extravaganzas they are watching. They are out of their “comfort zone” and yet “belong” in this new environment. It is wonderful to hear about as the probation officers report back to the court.
But the transformation does not end there. The youth are asked to write about their experiences or discuss them in groups. Each youth is excited, energized and articulate when dissecting the play or gushing over the virtuosity of dancers or musicians. Many “thank yous” by letter and by mouth are sent by the youths. Another lesson learned. These are experiences we want for all of the youth in our community and Ms. Knowles and the Board of the Z must be commended for making them accessible to those teens least likely to find their way to the beautiful Z.
Art, we know, can transform people, all people. Ms. Knowles and her board have set a high standard for accessibility to art. One that can be replicated in many other areas of our community, particularly for youth. Our youth have much to learn from its leaders and the places frequented by them. Our court certainly appreciates the efforts made by the Z to include these youth. As Ms. Knowles says at the beginning of a performance: “Let the magic begin.” Perhaps she is on to something.
Honorable Bettina Borders is first justice of Bristol County Juvenile Court in New Bedford. Estella Rebeiro is senior probation officer. This op-ed was originally posted in the South Coast Today.
By Jeffrey Roe
Most people intending to become librarians often have strong memories associated with their school libraries and the people who worked in them. Those memories are likely what draws some librarians back to primary school, where they work to foster and promote literacy, learning, and, simply, a love of books. Others opt to go into research, working in high profile special collections with fragile documents full of unique information or of particular significance to history.
Few library students probably envision working in a prison library as their ideal place of employment. Contrary to what you might think, working as a prison librarian isn’t a maligned path so much as an overlooked one; it’s simply not a job on most people’s radar. This is unfortunate, as working in a prison library offers librarians a unique environment, one that is proactive in promoting education, literacy, and civic engagement, among other ideals closely related to the mission of libraries everywhere.
Becoming a prison librarian isn’t particularly difficult. As with all professional libraries, prison librarians must have a degree in library science, generally at the master’s level (MLS). Experience working in a civilian library (such as a school or public library) is also generally required. Some experience working in corrections is also ideal, but not required; it’s simply a good idea to understand the constraints that prison puts upon both the incarcerated and those who serve them. You could accomplish this by volunteering at a prison.
It’s important to understand what a library is to someone who’s been incarcerated: It is a place where inmates escape from the drudgery of day-to-day life, where they learn to improve their literacy, write letters, watch instructional videos and so much more. Prison libraries don’t differ much from public libraries in terms of content, though some do have dedicated legal sections. Prison libraries even sometimes host book clubs! Library services can be integrated with other services for the incarcerated, like visitation.
Prison libraries, like public libraries, suffer at the whims of state finances, but differ from their public counterparts in other significant ways. Internet is often unavailable to inmates or librarians; when it is available to librarians, it is only during hours when inmates are not present. Prison librarians also act as corrections officers, taking on the responsibility of supervising both the inmates working in the library and those using its services. Generally, inmates tend to treat librarians with a degree of respect since the services the library provides offer prisoners a respite from prison life and a way to better themselves and their situation. Prisoners who engage in educational programs, such as library services, tend to stay out of prison upon release at higher rate than those without access to such programs. Just another reason to consider becoming a prison librarian.
Jeffrey Roe is the community manager for the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education. USC Rossier Online provides current teachers and those working on becoming a teacher with the opportunity to earn a masters in education completely online. In his free time, Jeff enjoys attending concerts and developing his talents as a videomaker.
By Sandy Atwood
“The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.” – Michael Brunner, Retarding America: The Imprisonment of Potential.
As a Research Fellow at the National Institute of Justice, Michael Brunner drew a very stark link between poor reading skills and criminal conviction. A recent (2010) study has shown that 85% of all persons who are remanded to juvenile courts are functionally illiterate. Among adults, 70% of all inmates cannot read above the 4th grade level, and 60% are functionally illiterate. It is, of course, only one symptom of a matrix of conditions which lead to crime, but it is at least an area in which concrete improvement can be made and, perhaps, through such improvement the matrix can be changed.
While literacy programs, particularly prison-based, are not panaceas, they can benefit criminal offenders. In order to motivate offenders to improve their literacy, however, there must be some clear benefit. The following four advantages for prison inmates can be presented as inducements for inmates to improve their reading skills and to begin to read on a regular basis. These incentives are arranged from the most personal – even selfish – to larger and more long-term benefits.
Doing Time Between the Covers
Incarceration is boring. Yes, there is always the potential for violence – sometimes punctuated with active onslaught – but, for the most part, it is a life of monotony. This is why, for generations, the slang term for being in prison has been “doing time.” Entertainment of any kind is valued, which is why sports, games, hobbies and television are appreciated to such a high degree. If an inmate can be convinced of the entertainment value of reading as a pleasurable (and non-violent) means of spending time, the incentive for striving for better reading skills to enable him or her to read for enjoyment is that much greater. It allows an inmate to indulge in one of the great positive values of reading: Escapist fiction.
All human beings – and perhaps especially criminal offenders – have a tendency to believe that their situations are unique. Obviously, by being in prison, an inmate shares a common experience with many others, but there is still an isolating feeling that they are experiencing something that has never, quite happened to anyone else. Literature, biographies and history texts are replete with examples of others who have not only shared any individual convict’s experience, but have risen above that situation. It can be called “inspirational” reading, in the sense that the reader can experience a way out of his current situation; by reading about how others have overcome adversity can motivate him to attempt to do the same.
Even beyond individual isolation, criminal offenders are often socially and geographically isolated. They often grown up in and lived in a narrowly bound area – a defined neighborhood – and have a limited number of friends and acquaintances. No medieval villager has ever lived so bounded a life as many modern criminal offenders, even outside prison. By improving their reading skills, and practicing them, an inmate has literally the entire length and breadth of human history – and beyond – and all the earth – and beyond – to explore. This is more than escapism, it is a revelation that there are other possibilities, other places and other futures than what they had ever considered before.
A Library Ladder
If, as is often the case, a criminal offender has not experienced much success in a formal classroom setting, literature can provide a self-guided, self-motivated and self-taught course of education. Auto didacts can often achieve amazing results in broadening their knowledge, language skills and motivation for a less painful life. This is particularly true if, once a reader realizes what a treasure lies at their fingertips, they have a mentor to guide them on some of the possible styles, authors and genres they might have otherwise missed.
There is an old saying, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, all the problems look like nails.” Literature can provide criminal offenders with an entire toolbox from which to choose solutions. No, literature is not a single remedy for all the troubles of the world, but it can add to the value to a troubled life.
By Aniya Wells
All the arts have their own unique virtues and strengths: the tactility of sculpture, the grace of dance, the vividness of cinema, the interactivity of gaming. None of these can be entirely replicated when a concept is adapted from one medium to another, no matter how skilled the adaptation.
With all the proliferation of new high-tech art forms since the Industrial Revolution, what is it in prose fiction that has not been bested or replaced? I would argue that it is the psychological depth of understanding, the interior experience of another, dissimilar person’s life.
It’s interesting to note that if anything, this faculty of fiction only deepened with the dawn of the modern era – just as phonographs and kinetoscopes and other newfangled devices that would change our media landscape were appearing, Henry James and others were drilling ever deeper into the human psyche with more novelistic sophistication. This tendency only increased to its logical limit: stream of consciousness. A temporary rebuke followed in the form of an avant garde who rejected the notion of literary character as we had known it, most prominently Alain Robbe-Grillet and the nouveau roman, but also certain American postmodernists.
But the fact remains that we read to experience being someone else. Allow me to suggest that this is another, more optimistic view of what is sometimes pejoratively called “escapism.” To be sure, it is a dubious proposition that we are morally enlarged by putting ourselves in the rather dapper shoes of, say, James Bond. But nevertheless, even in the tritest cases, reading remains an out-of-body experience, a stepping-stone to a more selfless or expansive awareness.
In many cases, this can take an overtly salutary political dimension. How many young consciences have been informed by the inclusion of To Kill a Mockingbird on syllabuses across the country, opened just a little to a bigger idea of justice? True, many other mainstays of high school literature classes are more groaningly didactic than that lovely book, assigned in hopes of much the same effect, but this hardly need be the case for reading to be edifying.
There is a sort of spiritual stretching that takes place when we take seriously the lives of others. We see it in those whose provincial prejudices are stretched by real-life friendships with those outside their in-group. We see it too in the sensitivity of the avid reader, hungry for the experience of new perspectives.
This is not to say that the well-read are automatically more moral; to be sure, there are many impeccably educated villains in this world. Moreover, the purpose of fiction is not ultimately to edify but to be beautiful and entertaining. Plato understood this and was suspicious of poets for this reason. It’s important to keep our awareness of this line between aesthetics and morality. But I would maintain that they more often go together in the end, that to enter into the mind of another is to be given a glimpse of something larger.
Aniya Wells is a freelance blogger whose primary focus is writing about online degree programs. She also enjoys investigating trends in other niches, notably technology, traditional higher education, health, and small business. Aniya welcomes reader questions and comments at email@example.com.
By Colin Ollson
If you decided to sit your child down and announced that today you were going to give little Jacob or Emma a lesson in compassion, what do you think his or her reaction would be? More than likely, it would not be squeals of delight and a question about whether there would be a quiz at the end. Whether children realize it or not, learning how to be compassionate toward others is something they can start developing when they are quite young. The five books that make kids more compassionate listed here are great choices to help them learn that lesson without making them feel as if they are in school.
Milton’s Secret by Eckhart Tolle
This book, which is written for 4-8 year-olds, focuses on a young boy who is worried about the possibility of encountering a bully at school. Children learn compassion for the child who may be a target and through discovering this book with their parents can start a discussion about the bigger issue of bullying, why some children (and adults) behave that way, and how it makes the target of this type of behavior feel.
Another theme of this book is that we must learn to take each moment as it comes, without worrying about the future. This idea of being fully present in the here and now is one which will benefit a youngster as he or she grows into adulthood.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
The idea behind this beloved story is a very simple one. The main character is a tree which simply gave everything it had to a boy out of love, including simple things like shade to help keep him cool in hot weather or a larger request like a place to build a tree house. Children aged 4-8 will learn that giving out of love is the right thing to do.
Unexpected Treasures by Victoria Osteen
Author Victoria Osteen explores the theme that being kind to other people is the right thing to do, even when circumstances are difficult. In this story, Pirate Fred and Curly Beard are rescued from a sinking ship by Captain Jon and First Mate Sue. The rescued pirates are grumpy at first, but learn about friendship and sharing as the story moves on. This story is a good choice for children between the ages of 3-7.
The Ant Bully by John Nickle
The Ant Bully is a story about a bully having the tables turned on him by finding out how his actions affect others. This story, which is a good choice for children aged four and up, focuses on Lucas, a kid who is taunted by another child who turns on his bully with a squirt gun and uses it on an ant colony as well.
The ants use a magical green potion to shrink Lucas down to their size and sentence him to hard labor. He learns his lesson while living among the ants and children will learn the lesson that treating someone else badly because of the actions of a bully is not a way to show compassion for others.
The Recess Queen by Laura Huliska-Beith
This is another story which would be appropriate for children ages four and up. Its plot focuses on Mean Jean, who simply was the Recess Queen. No one on the playground did anything unless Jean told them it was all right to do it. She ruled the roost, until one day a new girl came to school and everything changed.
Katie Sue was not intimidated by Mean Jean. She asked Mean Jean to jump rope with her instead. This simple act of friendship (and compassion) made the difference in the story and it is an effective way to teach children that reaching out to others can be a way to diffuse a situation.
When you are exploring these five books that make kids more compassionate with the young people who mean the most to you, don’t forget to ask questions about their experiences as you read the story. The book can be a wonderful starting point for this ongoing life lesson.
Colin is an in-house copywriter at http://www.essaypedia.com/. He specializes in writing of custom research papers and essays on history and arts.
By Tam Neville
After lunch the group heard a presentation on “Research: Does it work?” led by Ron P. Corbett Jr. He began by saying that evidence-based practices are used in many settings.
Is there empirical support for what you do?
Is it having the effects you want on the people you work with?
All in Changing Lives Through Literature believe that it does change lives. A recidivism study has recently been done at UMass/Boston by retired professor Taylor Stoehr, Professor of Sociology, Russell Schutt, and Associate Professor, faculty member of the Criminal Justice Program, Xiaogang Deng. The study showed a reduction in offending for CLTL graduates.
Do we have the ability to help people reduce offending sometimes or altogether?
There was an experimental group and a control group. We looked at behavior 18 months before CLTL and 18 months after CLTL. There were 600 participants in the study. There was a 60 % drop for CLTL participants and 16% for others. Both the number and severity of incidents were reduced. Also the participants worked with a parole officer and took one other program (such as substance abuse, batterers, etc.).
What is it about Changing Lives that leads to a reduction in offending? What is the link between graduates of the program and those who offend less? Stoehr reports on this study:
“This group was larger than the Jarjoura/Rogers study and ran for a longer time. We had five jurisdictions: New Bedford, Lynn/Lowell, Dorchester, and two smaller courts. We had a larger range of information.
For the probationers, someone was paying attention to them. This is what was missing from their lives. In the Dorchester men’s class we have big groups so we break them up into smaller groups. Once in a class discussion, we had five guys who were great talkers, all talking at once. Then one held up his hand and said, “This is what our problem is, we don’t listen, we just talk.” Moments like this begin to happen in the third class. The process is unpredictable. You let go of controls. In Dorchester we don’t stick so hard to the text. The main thing is what happens in the classroom.
In the Dorchester program, we have a set of questions that we work with that go in a sequence. For example: What does it take to grow up? Does anybody ever learn things in school? And towards the end of the semester – What does it take to hit bottom? The questions get bigger and bigger.
In mid-semester we ask, “What is your evaluation of street smarts?” By this time there is trust. On street smarts – almost all are proud of their street smarts. The staff has a different view: street smarts prevent you from learning anything new. Many students cling to street smarts. The most important thing about Changing Lives is that people belong to a community that has the same concerns that they have. We have so little of that in America – where does that happen in your life? That makes a huge difference in what you do with your life.”
Books bring universality. A student realized, “I’m not the only one with this problem.” Through books students learn how to fight with words, not fists. They build a community together.
Reading is a cognitive behavior intervention – it makes thinking more flexible and more expansive, more empathetic.
The program boosts self-esteem too. To have a conversation with a judge can boost a student’s confidence. A student completes an assignment, voices an opinion, and is listened to.
Judge Kane said, “We’ve had the program for 20 years and there has never been a scary incident in these years. We get gratitude from our students.”
Judge Dever said, “People come into the program looking at life subjectively. In this program, through literature, they start looking at life objectively. This changes their ability to communicate. This then may help them with job interviews, things they thought were unattainable.
Reading slows you down – you have to find a quiet place and be by yourself. This is new for them – it leads to self-reflection.”
Stoehr talked about juveniles saying, “They don’t’ have a place to go with no noise and they’re full of hormones. Think of something you can do at the meeting, very short things (maybe rap), something that gives them a little challenge at the moment.”
Teresa Owens (PO, Taunton Division) said, “CLTL gives them a safe setting. One thing that always came out of the Dorchester women’s class was the question of choices. Were there other choices I could have made? Or, you can go to someone else to ask and say ‘I don’t know what to do.’ Also, people in class were accountable to each other in terms of doing the reading, homework, etc.”
CLTL is a team experience. When people have a chance to reflect on choices, this is their time, a time they can actually think. They don’t have that luxury in their lives. In CLTL they learn that there are more options, more choices.
Professor Waxler said, “We collectively make a community. The activity is primarily verbal. Reading brings engagement with narrative – you see that you are connected to other people. The story that I just read is my story too. Then discussion with everyone sitting around a table, there’s an open relationship between our experience and narrative. Story gives us meaning and helps us put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.”
To begin the final session, a probation officer new to the program spoke using herself as an example. She said, “Say I want to start a program. How do I get a judge involved, a facilitator, and probation officers?”
Judge Kane answered her on the matter of judicial involvement. “At least have someone who will let you run the program. You will need a judge’s support to get POs behind it. Having a judge is very important.”
Jean Trounstine added, “Get a judge talking to a judge. This will increase the chance of their going to class. You then have to go out and find facilitators.”
Someone else commented, “You have to get the judge to commit to an incentive if CLTL is not a condition of probation.”
The question of incentive: Outcomes are more positive where a court can create incentives such as six months off probation period, discount on supervision fees, etc. This information is in the literature and on the website. Dee Kennedy pointed out that, “Many students start off by saying, ‘I never would have taken this without the time off’ but by graduation, their attitude has changed.”
To find a facilitator ask Jean Flanagan. Jean Trounstine added, “Try to find a facilitator who has a connection with a school. It’s good to have a school as a place to meet. Call an English department. We can help you – you don’t need to do this in a vacuum.”
Ideally, a university campus is the best place to hold a class. The students get a taste of college life and it makes them proud to go to a college campus. This is especially important with juveniles.
To start a class, ask probation officers to recruit students from among their probationers. Myrna Thornquist (PO, Waltham District Court) advised, “I check a person out – do they like to read? What is their education? In the beginning I don’t tell them what I’m thinking – that they would be a good candidate. I do a little research on a person. Then, are they interested? Sometimes it takes 6-12 months to be sure of someone as a candidate.”
On books, Jean Trounstine said, “We give the students the books, they don’t buy them and the facilitator is reimbursed for these. We also encourage every student to get a library card.”
How many students should be in a class? We have had classes with 5 or with 13. Taylor Stoehr said, “One day we had 50. We split into two groups, then used small groups of 4 to 5.”
Any staff has to be regular. It’s important that all the staff agrees on the class ground rules. If we have an issue sometimes we talk about it afterwards. For the most part we tell the students, be sober and straight, do your homework and be on time.”
For the graduation ceremony, the Lynn/Lowell programs hold graduation in the court house during the first session. Those in the dock witness graduation. The graduates receive books and a certificate. It’s a day for celebration.
This meeting was a very successful one and we now have several courts who are interested in starting a program. We need facilitators. If you, or anyone you know, would like to facilitate a Changing Lives Program please get in touch with Jean Trounstiine at: TROUNSTINEJ@middlesex.mass.edu
By Tam Neville
This program is a great experiment about what democracy can mean. All masks, roles, hierarchies, fall away. There is a moment of beauty. In a class we have the voice, the breath of human beings, the flow of the human heart.
Dr. Robert P. Waxler
On May 10, 2012, Judges, probation officers, and facilitators of the Changing Lives Through Literature program met at the Worcester Law Library. The purpose of the meeting was to assist potential participants in starting new programs. There were many new faces in the room and familiar faces too. Despite losing our funding in 2008, we are still going strong with ten programs running in Massachusetts and hopefully, with gatherings like this one, more will follow.
The day began with a presentation of the history of the Changing Lives Through Literature Program led by Hon. Robert J. Kane and Dr. Robert P. Waxler. Judge Kane talked briefly about the first CLTL class that took place in New Bedford with a group of men, all of whom had serious convictions. The idea was to try the new program on the toughest candidates. If it worked on them, that meant the program was sound.
Judge Kane said the program works because “the act of reading and writing allows people to learn, to learn to listen instead of just reacting.”
All programs have autonomy. Dorchester may use just one text, supplemented with stories, Roxbury may use poems, and another program may use film.
Classes democratically respond to works of literature and this dialogue leaves a deposit in everyone. Judge Kane said, “This was dramatically illustrated by a man with a rough history that we had as a student. He was scared and wanted to stir something up. We gave this turbulent student a different point of view that gave him the chance to reflect. I saw him the other day – he gave me a smile and handshake. This student got a different view of a judge. We, in turn, learn to drop any facile notion of what brings an offender into court. Changing Lives brings me energy and a sense of curiosity. CLTL is a vocation. I’d like to thank Ron Corbett whose great support gives us renewed spirit for the future of the program.”
Next Prof. Waxler spoke about the programs history and its implications.
“The center of the program is literature. Literature is one tool we have that can keep people human. Every time we walk into a class we have that possibility. Our program has a different effect than an anger management or a job-hunting class. The program began in l991 with those who had a major offence. We saw how the men in this first class changed. Watching them walk on campus – after 6-7 weeks they looked different, they looked much more like the other students.”
An independent study (the Jarjoura/Rogers study) was done and was helpful in the beginning of the program. It demonstrated that CLTL graduates had a lower rate of recidivism. 45% re-offended in the control group and of the CLTL group only 18% re-offended.
Not only do the students change but probation officers and judges change as well. Judge Dever said, ‘It has been the joy of my judgeship.’”
Waxler continued, “CLTL is a movement, not an organization or institution. We have 12 states that are involved: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, Kansas, Texas, Arizona, California, and one program in great Britain. The goal is to have a program in every state, every court. We have three books written about the program, a website, and a blog.
I think the program works because people get excited about reading. Thinking and self-reflection (through the process of reading) can be more exciting than dealing drugs. After the third session one of our roughest students said ‘I never thought I would find anything as exciting as being out on the street selling drugs – but I have.’ Reading and being able to come in and engage in discussion with PO’s, other students, and a judge, was inspirational for him.
This program is a great experiment about what democracy can mean. All masks, roles, hierarchies, fall away. There is a moment of beauty. In a class we have the voice, the breath of human beings, the flow of the human heart. People find their own voice and also participate in a communal voice. Many people are stuck in a perpetual present, repeating the same behavior. As Franz Kafka said, literature can break through that frozen sea within us. When that happens through narrative you feel a stirring of desire. You see the future and remember parts of the past and break out of the prison of present moment.
I will tell you about one night in class, we were reading Sea Wolf by Jack London. The hero is a tough guy, but with some narcissist elements. He believes that might makes right and is stuck in this, can’t move off his own center. In the midst of discussion – one student said, ‘I used to be just like Wolf Larsen.’ He recognized himself but was also saying ‘I am now free of that personality.’ Stories can open things up. People are always more extraordinary than the stereotypes. People in the program feel they are not good people. They are down-and-out and believe others see them this way. As we read we see something different – complex human beings – and the students realize that they have that complexity.”
The second session of the day, led by Jean Trounstine, was on program modeling, or how to teach a particular book or story. The discussion was based on Toni Cade Bambara’s short story “The Lesson.”
Trounstine began by asking, “What’s the lesson and who learns it?”
One participant said that Miss Moore exposed kids from a poor neighborhood to the outside world. She took them to F.A.O. Schwartz and here they began to learn about a larger world. Here there were new toys with high prices. The children learned that such things existed and about the inequality in the world.
Sylvia was one of the strongest characters of the story. She learns what she didn’t want to see and she says – “Why am I feeling ashamed when I walk into this store?” She didn’t fit in – she felt, “They are better than I am.” In her own world she ruled the roost. The story shows the limitations of poverty and how it’s difficult for people to see beyond it. Sugar expresses the inequality, “You know Miss Moore, I don’t think all of us here eat as much in one year as that sailboat costs.” Miss Moore is a radical in her own way. She was trying to show children that these inequalities exist and that you can work with them.
What was Sylvia’s world view before she goes to F.A.O. Shwartz? Sylvia’s view is, “My world’s ok, don’t rock the boat,” a predicable response. Now she has to look at a bigger picture and this “rocks Sylvia’s boat.”
Sylvia is angry because of her background. This is connected to our own classes and the question of how to draw students out of anger.
When they first go into the store, the children feel, “White people, crazy, wearing fur coats in the summer. But if everything you see glorifies a certain standard of living . . .” The children are frustrated by Miss Moore who says “Where we are is who we are.” She challenges them with the question of how to change this.
Do you like or dislike Miss Moore? She challenges them not with words or morals but by letting them have their own experience. Miss Moore doesn’t care if the children like her. The kids have a grudging respect for her. She is confrontational and persistent.
Taylor Stoehr asked, “What do you do with that anger? You have to learn this yourself. The lesson for us in this story is that the best you can do is open up the world. There is an analogy between Miss Moore and what we do in this program. In CLTL students are self-obsessed but without any self-esteem.”
Jean Trounstine said, “Let’s focus on what I would do with this in a CLTL class. You’re in a room with chairs in a circle. This is a good story to use at the beginning of semester. No one knows anyone. I have everyone read the story together. The students get over any fear of not understanding. Then I ask, ‘What did you get out of the story?’ Then we would start a discussion. It’s important not to instruct, but to choose a story good enough to make them think.”
Waxler added, “I’ve used this in a regular college classroom. Why does Miss Moore have to put it right in their faces – that they are poor? We are left with questions. Unlike other disciplines, literature doesn’t work for solutions.”
Ron Corbett asked, “Is it important that the characters have some characteristics that students have?” Trounstine answered, “I always pick things I think students will relate to. We used Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Once they come to class, they see the book differently.”