The following is a synopsis of a web panel discussion that took place in New Bedford on September 17, 2009 and included Judge Bettina Borders, Professor Bob Waxler, probation officer Stella Ribeiro, defense lawyer Bob Schilling, Police Captain Joe Cordeiro, and Reverend Robert Lawrence. Many others participated in the discussion from around the country. Follow the link below to listen to the entire discussion and view the accompanying PowerPoint presentation.
*Changing Lives, Changing Minds will return to the normal weekly schedule on January 20.
The panelists discuss the essentials for how to start a CLTL branch in your district, book recommendations for both juvenile and adult programs, and the research (both quantitative and qualitative) that supports this 19 year old program.
Judge Bettina Borders got involved with Changing Lives Through Literature because she noticed that a lot of the kids in her courtroom “just didn’t have any tools available to them to affect change in their own lives… Things happened to these kids, not the other way around, at least that’s how they perceived it, and in a large part that’s true.”
She noticed that a lot of the kids “didn’t have any quiet in their lives.” They had no time for personal reflection; they were used to “intolerable noise, screaming in their houses and in their streets.” They had no place to observe things quietly.
To Judge Borders, that opportunity for observation, reflection, and imagination is a human right. Access to other perspectives, possibilities, and realities is a must:
“We want our kids to be introduced and acclimated to and perhaps embrace and alternative reality from their own.” People connect through books and learn from each other, says Borders. Readers “experience beauty through description, and through their imaginations.” Reading and discussion provide program participants with a set of tools that, as Borders says, they have a right to.
What is Judge Borders’s key tip for getting a CLTL branch started? Make sure your judge is on board!
Professor Robert Waxler puts the program in context and explains why he believes in it so strongly. He and Judge Robert Kane wanted to do something about the “turnstile justice” they saw in the court system. The program started with the idea that “literature is the most powerful tool we have” to “build a good human community.”
Professor Waxler also points out the “doubleness” he sees in the act of reading. Readers have the opportunity to “experience the narrative” and a view of life outside of themselves. At the same time, we “automatically become more self-reflective.” Reading is beneficial, but “not easy” says Waxler. It requires us to take an active role in the stories we read.
Probation Officer Stella Ribeiro calls CLTL “the most exciting part of my job.” Just imagine, she says, participants “sitting around the table with a judge that has previously sentenced them, their probation officer who has to enforce their laws, the ‘po-po,’ and an attorney, and they are all equal, and everybody is valued, and whatever they have to say is equally important.”
Ribeiro recommends single – gender class groups, particularly for juveniles, and emphasizes keeping groups to no more than ten participants. She also suggests dividing the class into groups of two for one-on-one interviews on the first day. That one student who ends up paired with the judge will be positively surprised to find that “the judge is a real person.”
Attorney Bob Schilling discusses the life-long value of reading as a child. “We live in a digital media age,” he says, there are “tremendous numbers of people who do not read.” So what are they missing out on?
Childhood books initiated a lifelong love of reading for Schilling. Reading with his kids, he got to see their imaginations grow and impact their involvement with the world. As Professor Waxler also pointed out, the act of reading requires just that: action. Our tv screens just don’t ask that of us.
Police Captain Joe Cordeiro brings a unique perspective. “I didn’t know what to expect” he says of his first experience with CLTL. But as Cordeiro entered into rich discussion with the program participants, his understanding changed, and he developed a “healthy compassion” for the people he works with as a police officer. Cordeiro describes the classroom discussion as “dynamic, therapeutic, and fluid,” adding, “It was very powerful for me as a police officer to see them in a different light.”
Finally, Reverend Robert Lawrence, church leader and philanthropist, makes the argument for CLTL and for philanthropy. When he uses the phrase “it takes a village,” it carries substantial meaning. Rather than summarizing Lawrence’s words, I suggest you click the link at the top of this post and listen for yourself.
The panel discussion linked at the top of this page is admittedly pretty long. Still, it is a great introduction for anyone wanting to learn more about CLTL, and invaluable for those of you hoping to start a new branch. This post itself can also serve as a useful discussion tool for you to ask and answer questions about CLTL.