We live in a world where sometimes, the punishment doesn’t always fit the crime. And in this case, people seem to be divided when it comes down to history. It was in September 2016 that five teens vandalized the historical site Ashburn Colored School in Virginia. The 19th century classroom which was once used as a school for African American children during segregation was spray-painted with swastikas and phrases like “white power”. Now, the teens’ consequences are a little unexpected.
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Judge Avelina Jacob’s first choice to punish the high schoolers was going to be community service. That was until she questioned whether or not they would actually learn anything from that sentence. Instead, Jacob decided to assign a list of books for the teens to choose from to read and write a report on. Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Wiesel’s Night, and Miller’s The Crucible are featured on the list. From racism to slavery to persecution, each book was chosen carefully to instill a lesson.
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The school has since been restored and is now a museum. However, one of the teenagers responsible told The New York Times about which books he read and what it is he learned from them. The Kite Runner, 12 Years a Slave, and Things Fall Apart are among the few that made him understand the significance of the words and signs he used in his offense.
I was wrong, it means a lot to people who were affected by them. It reminds them of the worst things, losing family members and friends. Of the pain of torture, psychological and physical. Among that it reminds them how hateful people can be and how the world can be cruel and unfair… I had no idea about how in depth the darkest parts of human history go… Everybody should be treated with equality, no matter the race, religion, sex or orientation… I will do my best to see to it that I never am this ignorant again.
Some of the authors whose books were listed were not pleased with their work being used as “punishment” while others were thrilled. Khaled Hosseini who wrote The Kite Runner had only hope for these students and the power of literature.
Engaging with characters that differ from us in race, religion or culture, helps us feel our immutable connections as a species,” Mr. Hosseini said. “Books allow us to see ourselves in another. They transform us. I hope reading The Kite Runner was a small step along that transformation for this young man.
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It seems like the judge was on the right path and perhaps the students are now too. Could reading really fix more than being locked up or serving the time? What books would you have assigned to these teens?
Feature Image Via SAFE Austin