Do Our Kids Need to Go to Jail to Think?

2013-05-12 11.03.04Reading is thinking. Good reader’s are good thinkers. That’s the main lesson I’ve learned so far in my reading license program. As a special ed teacher at a juvenile detention center, I feel my main job is to teach deep thinking by encouraging good reading. The environment is conducive to lots of reading, well, because the kids have nothing better to do. But what about the unlucky kids out there who don’t get to go to jail?

As a child, I remember times as when I was stuck, trapped, literally backed into a corner. There was nothing on TV, on the four channels we had, no internet to goof around on, no smart phone to tweet with, no YouTube to stream, and I was totally alone, in my room, with nothing but a book. So I read. Sometimes reluctantly, but typically with growing speed and interest and concentration until something magical happened. Total engrossment. Those were life changing moments. I learned to think deeply, to focus for hours on a single topic, to contemplate big questions, to think by myself, for myself.

Unfortunately, this does not happen for many young people today. There’s too much going on. I try to protect my own kids from this bombardment, but still, they never have to worry about having nothing to do.  They can stream a favorite show on Netflix at any second (and this is dangerous for busy parents). The internet is full of “learning” games, (and unlearning games). The city is full of indoor trampoline parks and highly interactive museums (which are wonderful, but they do fall in line with the modern rule that flashier, techier, wilder is better).

So kids always have a million things to do.  Unless, of course, they go to jail.

It’s one of the sad pleasures of working at a correctional facility, watching a kid come in, come down off whatever high he came in on, high on anxiety, media, violence, drugs, streets. They come down, get fed a decent meal, get a night of real sleep, and then they are stuck just like I was as a kid, forced to read, and therefore, forced to think. That’s when great things can happen, change can occur.

I just hope, for all the kids of the world, that they won’t have to go to jail to have these moments.

Take some quiet time today, with your kids, in front of your kids, near your kids.  Show them that it is okay to sit and think, relax, read, stare, and just let the great world spin without you for a moment.

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