Note: We bring you an account of last year’s annual Changing Lives Through Literature conference in advance of this year’s conference on February 26, 2009. The deadline to register for this year’s conference is February 12. For more information, stay tuned on the blog or send an e-mail to Tam Lin Neville at tamlin(at)rcn.com.
by Allan McDougall
On January 29, 2008, the Changing Lives Through Literature annual conference brought together the Executive Director and Co-Director of the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, the Director of Consulting and Training from the Center for Teen Empowerment, a representative from the Maine Humanities Council, five English professors, one Theatre Studies professor, one Education professor, three representatives from the Connecticut Center for Non-Violence and Peace Studies (including a professor of Peace Studies), 23 probation officers, four judges, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, one attorney, and three graduate students. I was the only non-American.
This post will highlight key questions raised during the conference and initiate a dialogue about the progress CLTL made during 2008. This post will provide discussion questions based around the 2008 conference; for a comprehensive review the conference, see Tam Lin Neville’s detailed meeting summary in the Spring 2008 issue of the CLTL Newsletter (available by emailing Tam at the address listed at the top of this post).
Bob Waxler’s welcome speech began by posing a question: is CLTL an organization? “Its uniqueness,”said Waxler, “is both its problem and its beauty. There is no CLTL chart, no Mission Statement, no usual structure imagined for a program of its kind. There is also hardly any funding.” Jean Trounstine’s welcome speech called CLTL’s current system a “loose structure” and posed a different question: “CLTL needs leadership development and training programs, is this possible?” Next, the panel discussion began with two questions, which were opened to the group.
Ann Watt, a panelist and Co-Founder and retired Co-Director of Primary Source, began by discussing sustainability. Watt shared that the mission of CLTL is comprehensible within its own domain, but may be unapproachable for outsiders. She asked, “Where can CLTL find committed people and how does it foster diversity?” And further inquired, “Does CLTL require a Board of Directors?”
Maria Karagianis, panelist and CEO of Discovering Justice (DJ), shared that her organization’s success hinged on its status as a crime prevention program, rather than an alternative sentencing program—the latter being less approachable (and fundable) for hard-line incarceration advocates. She stressed the importance of inter-organizational partnerships, citing DJ’s partnership with Citizen Schools, government officials, judges, and local celebrities. David Tebaldi, panel moderator and Executive Director of Massachusetts Foundation for Humanities, said that CLTL takes place in a classroom or courtroom away from the public eye. He advised CLTL not to “hide your candle under a basket.” Has CLTL formed any new partnerships in 2008? Are we ‘hiding our candle’?
Sapna Padte, Director of Consulting and Training from the Center for Teen Empowerment, felt that a Board of Directors is critical for any organization like CLTL. “For CLTL,” argued Padte, “this would provide a network, a way to sell the program and raise funds.” Like Karagianis and Tebaldi, she felt CLTL needs a better system of reporting reduced recidivism. Tebaldi continued, “in the funding world this is called outcomes assessment. People need to see that their dollars have made a difference.” Has 2008 generated any new ways for CLTL to report reduced recidivism?
Kristin O’Connell, a board member of the Clemente Program, discussed Earl Shorris, the program’s founder. “Earl is an energetic, charismatic leader,” said O’Connell, “but recent health concerns have forced the board to consider the future of our administration.” “Founder centrism,” said Karagianis, “is a concept that Discovering Justice is moving away from.” Both O’Connell and Padte agreed that the Clemente Program and the Center for Teen Empowerment are struggling with this as well. O’Connell continued, “This has brought up such questions as: what will happen after the retirement of core personnel, how do we replace the genius of our founder, and how can we maintain a central vision as we move into a new administration?” “Founders,” Karagianis added, “tend to be visionaries. But a program also needs those who can implement and sustain it.” Is CLTL set up for this future challenge?
A lively discussion ensued upon the end of the panelists’ presentations. The first topic was hiring CLTL staff. I assume the byproduct of this is the hiring of grant writer/blog meister, Jenni Baker. Have other staff been hired? Will there be more hires? Job descriptions and consultancies were also discussed. Have job descriptions for all volunteer and paid positions been written? Have we established the need for a consultant’s five-year plan?
Much of last year’s discussion centered around money. Probation Officers pay to participate in the program—in the form of parking and gas. Taylor Stoehr brought up that the small amount of government funding available shows that at least the government believes in the vision, but the state should be funding more. Stoehr wants to use probationers themselves as volunteers. The men he works with want to be working with us, but there are legal reasons why they can’t. This is a huge resource that is seen as inappropriate for this type of work. How is CLTL’s funding position? Has anything changed? Have any new funding initiatives been made?
Waxler asked, “Why is raising a lot of money so important? I’m not convinced there is a need for it,” he continued. “The program is developed from inspiration; it is a grassroots organization. There isn’t a need for a great deal of money. The challenge is convincing judges and courts to support this program. The money isn’t the main issue. Again and again, the issue is communication and recruiting judges.”
“But,” Tebaldi replied, “effective communications are expensive.”
To me, the most important issue for CLTL at present is what David Tebaldi called outcomes assessment. At the CLTL Annual Conference, I was in a room of experts in teaching, law enforcement, and fundraising; but where were the empiricists? Where are the statisticians or the psychologists who can demonstrate the reasons why this program is so successful? Must it only be qualitative accounts and research that disseminate this program? Certainly, the Jarjoura paper is one example of quantitative evidence for the program’s success. And I think there is exciting work being done in the psychology of reading and aesthetics that can contribute greatly to CLTL’s outcomes assessment. But, from my perspective, the main problem is access to information. These aren’t guinea pigs; these are people. How can further studies from different theoretical standpoints provide added depth to this program?
Allan McDougall is a graduate student from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Allan is a staunch believer in language as social action, with a focus on reading and writing. Allan is currently writing his MA thesis on Changing Lives Through Literature, and writes about professional and academic issues on his blog: allanmcdougall.wordpress.com.