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.
By Jack Meyers
As alternative sentencing gains in popularity, many will wonder just how this form of “punishment” enlightens offenders. Instead of sticking people in jail to think about what they have done—usually devising better ways to be criminals—literature and support groups can help offenders realize how their decisions affect those around them.
Characters and stories in literature can impact how an individual processes information. A well written novel correlating to an offender’s specific crime can create more of a positive impact on the offender’s mind, compared to being locked up. How can literature be so inspiring to those who read it?
1. Caring about what happens
Well written novels can develop characters that readers can connect with on an emotional level. These connections can stir emotions as tribulations unfold within the novels causing readers to care about what happens to the characters.
Connecting with literary characters can lead offenders to emotionally bond with the stories. Understanding the characters’ decisions can help offenders begin to understand why circumstances happen and how to deal with them in ways other than breaking the law.
2. Analyzing the affects of actions
If offenders can discover how their actions affect the world around them, it could lead to enlightening realizations of how their actions hurt those involved.
The imagination is a powerful tool. It can create objects of wonder or items of destruction. Using their imaginations could help them realize the damage they have wrought with their actions. By helping offenders analyze their circumstances in relation to literature, there is a good chance that they will have an epiphany about their own experiences and how their surroundings were affected.
3. Getting support
One of the most important aspects of alternative sentencing through literature is the presence of supportive individuals who help offenders discuss the nature of each chosen novel.
Most of the support groups using alternative sentencing methods consist of visits by parole officers and the judges who sentenced the offenders. This could be a vital piece of the puzzle—it shows the offenders that there are those that care about whether they succeed or not.
Whether it is the Bible or a coveted novel, the stories and characters in books can reveal a lot about who you are. This isn’t saying that books can cure all criminal intentions, but they can go a long way in helping some offenders see how their actions can lead to a ripple effect in the pond of life.
Jack Meyers is a regular contributor for www.nannybackgroundcheck.com. As a detective he wants to spread the knowledge of the terrible things that can happen when people don’t fully verify the credentials of a caregiver or any employee. He also writes for various law enforcement blogs and sites.
Happy New Year!
We’d like to know your opinion. Please take this quick poll by clicking the link below. Thank you!
–Nancy, blog editor
As we approach the end of 2012, let’s take a moment to reflect on this year’s successes—big and small—of Changing Lives Through Literature and other alternative sentencing programs.
We are the official blog of Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL)—an alternative sentencing program “based on the power of literature to transform lives through reading and group discussion,” as well-stated on the official CLTL website.
The main purpose of the Changing Lives, Changing Minds blog is to support CLTL. This blog provides a place to discuss:
- CLTL and other alternative sentencing programs that reduce criminal recidivism or change lives for the better—share news, concerns, successes, difficulties, and ideas
- Literature—recommend stories that inspire; talk about literary events that enlighten
- Criminal justice reform and other relevant criminal justice topics of today—discuss what works and what changes still need to take place
A milestone reached: 200 posts
We reached a milestone this year—we published our 200th post. Please continue to join us as we embark on our next 200. Also, while CLTL has been around since 1991, this blog turned four years old last month. Let’s look forward to the next four years and beyond.
Thank you for contributing your thoughts, experiences, and insights to this blog. Also, thank you for reading it! We hope you find its content meaningful and valuable.
A call to action: share your 2012 success stories
We invite you to share your CLTL (or similar program) successes of 2012. We encourage you to use this blog to share your answers to any of these questions:
- How did your CLTL group or similar program succeed in 2012?
- What breakthroughs were experienced?
- What piece of literature did you or someone in your program find most inspiring?
For shorter comments, please use the leave a comment link at the top of this post and enter your reply. For longer comments, or to include images, submit up to 700 words to firstname.lastname@example.org for publication on this blog.
We also welcome your thoughts on what you’d like to read on this blog for the upcoming year.
Again, thank you for helping to make this blog, CLTL, and similar programs a success.
Nancy E. Oliveira
Editor of Changing Lives, Changing Minds—a Changing Lives Through Literature blog
Photo taken by JoAnne Breault.
Listen to Dr. David Sherman of Brandeis University interview Changing Lives Through Literature co-founder Dr. Robert Waxler. They talk about the relationship between literature and jail in this “Convicted Reading” Literature Lab podcast.
Zinovia Canale is the English Department Chair at Rogers High School, Newport RI, and has been teaching for thirty years. She is currently enrolled in the Masters Program in English at the University of Rhode Island.
I’m one of those teachers with whom high school kids like to hang around. They like to tell me about their problems and they like to listen to my stories, especially when I share my human side of being a parent who yells at her kids to get up, to get off the “machines,” and to get their work done. When they hear stories about my love for The Grateful Dead and the fact that I still go to concerts with my deadhead husband to catch Bob Weir and Phil Lesh they nod in approval.
I’ve also been able to amuse my students with my dance of the “chicken noodle soup,” appreciation of the art of the rap (writing one is more difficult than one imagines), and my enjoyment of Beyonce, and Rihanna. I’m great at picking up new dance steps and am always open to learning new moves. I have a good time listening to my students’ jokes, learning their language, and trying to understand the dilemmas of their world, especially those kids of the “down-trodden,” I say with trepidation.
In fact, forgive me for labeling a group as the “down-trodden” which sounds so snobbish and evokes such an attitude of superiority. Yet, to ignore the truths about the conditions with which some of these kids live is to ignore the truth about their hearts, minds, and souls and as an English teacher there is where I want to reach. I can’t bring them into a more expansive world of literature if I do not meet them where they reside-emotionally, physically, and socially.
Jenni Baker is the communications specialist for Goodwill Industries International in Washington, DC. This is her final post as marketing and media advisor for Changing Lives Through Literature.
Anyone afforded the opportunity to participate in Changing Lives Through Literature will speak of the change it enacts within every person around the table.
Some talk of the affirmation they receive from knowing they are not alone in their thoughts and in their life struggles. Men and women who participate in this program as part of their probation sentence habitually note the affirmation they receive from voicing their insights on an equal playing field with individuals they never considered as equals.
My time in the program taught me that this affirmation works both ways. As a student of English, I entered the program familiar with literature’s potential to change. I was inexperienced, however, with the power of reading and discussion to overcome obstacles of gender, race, and class.
Just as the participants who had spent time in the justice system thought they knew the judge and probation officers they now sat beside, I brought my own preconceptions to the table that first night. After spending years discussing literature with college peers and academics, I confess I entered the sessions with classist thoughts — I wasn’t sure what kind of valuable conversation I could have with individuals who in many cases did not finish high school.
The answer to that question kept me coming to session after session. Seeing literature change the lives of these criminal offenders week after week was certainly inspiring. On a personal level, however, I was more moved by the connections and conversations that strengthened with each meeting.
Julia M. O’Brien is Professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary in Lancaster, PA. She is the author of Challenging Prophetic Metaphor: Theology and Ideology in the Prophets and several commentaries on the prophetic books. This entry is adapted from her on-line project, Reading the Bible as an Adult, a guide for book clubs, Bible studies, and anyone else who wants to read the Bible like a grown-up, found at her website: http://juliamobrien.net.
Great writing can guide souls. Many voices over the centuries have advocated the ennobling power of the well-told tale.
Theirs is a soapbox on which I can stand. Having taught Bible to undergraduates and now to seminary students, I’m convinced that teaching students to read Bible as literature helps it become more, not less, relevant to their lives.
Reading the Bible purely as an instruction book gets in the way of the reading process. While of course the Bible does offer some explicit rules, most of it, especially the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, is narrative and poetry. Reading a story or a poem only for its moral bottom-line not only leads to odd doctrine but also but makes readers to miss what stories and poems do best: incite the imagination and let people lose (and find) themselves within the worlds they create.
And yet, I’m equally convinced that the critique of great literature can change lives. I can affirm that multicultural interpretation and ideology criticism also touch people’s deepest concerns.
David Clemens, author of “Great Books 2.0” sharply contrasts a curriculum focused on “fine literature” with “militant multicultural and squash-you-all-flat postmodernism.” He defines his mission as “to save students who want to study only pop culture from teachers who want to teach only pop culture and administrators who want only packed classes.”
In his moral universe, the choices are stark: either lift students up to the mountaintop of meaning by nourishing them on the great Western classics or throw them into murky, meaningless swamp of postmodernism. Suddenly, I hear echoes of Harold Bloom’s 1994 manifesto The Western Canon and Frank Lentricchia’s announcement several years ago that he was tired of theory and just wanted to read literature.
I’ve witnessed too much to the contrary to believe Clemens, and I can tell stories that challenge his own.
Christopher Schaberg recently received his Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Davis, where he wrote a dissertation on the textual aspects of U.S. airports. In August 2009 he will join the English Department at Loyola University in New Orleans, where he will be Assistant Professor of Contemporary Literature and Critical Theory.
My favorite part of teaching literature is getting students to really linger on short passages. I like to teach students how to enjoy the liveliness of language, how the sounds and shapes of words can come alive on a page; and in turn, this liveliness affects how we think about life off the page.
To study literature with attention and intelligence requires a slow pace that is difficult to maintain: it demands re-reading, asking the same questions over and over, and as my mentor Timothy Morton once put it, “daring to be dumb.” The literature classroom is a sort of protected zone in which these increasingly rare activities can thrive. What I love about the literature classroom is that I get to sit around with a group of other minds and work together with textual matter, and to see how far we can slow down without stopping altogether. Such perpetual deceleration results not in final truths, but in inquiry without end. I’m more confused than I have ever been about what literature actually is, and I’m thankful for this confusion: it lets me approach texts afresh and be spontaneous when my students see things I had not seen or even imagined in a text.
About a year ago I started a blog called “What is literature?” This basic question is one that I return to again and again in my classes, and it is a question that strikes me whenever I notice literary allusions in films, in magazine articles, or in other pieces of cultural ephemera. In my blog I try to keep a record of these literary problems that pop out of culture at large. My blog, which I maintain in a minimalist but consistent fashion, has been a fascinating experiment that has challenged me to write in new ways: more aphoristically, less argumentatively. I often end up writing in the form of cascading questions.
I decided to teach an advanced composition course in which everyone in the class (including myself) would create and write on our own blogs—and we would read and comment on each other’s work online, not on paper. This class was a success not only because the students generally seemed to like writing ‘posts’ rather than papers or essays, but also because the medium fostered dynamic textual interactions between students. In other words, on a public blog one simply cannot write for a single reader (i.e., the professor). The online forum requires accountability on behalf of one’s use of language; suddenly, that old retort about ‘audience’ is starkly real.