Monday, March 29, 2010

the best way out

I follow someone on Twitter called @thedailylove, who populates the twitterverse with a variety of uplifting quotations and statements, some of which resonate with me. Today's daily love includes a quotation by the beloved poet Robert Frost.

"The best way out is always through."

"Out" is a place my students long to be, and some of them even earn this before they leave the program by demonstrating good behavior and strong commitment to education. If they play their cards right, they can qualify for home passes, and some of them manage to earn the chance to get home on a handful of weekends before they graduate. Still, a 36 hour home pass is nowhere near the same as the sustained freedom of being OUT. They pine for this. Wistfully, they talk about life on the out as if they are permanently marooned on a desert island, yearning for a mouthful of fresh water.

Up until recently it seemed that although they wanted nothing more than to return to life on the out, they were unwilling to take seriously the academic and clinical work required to complete their programs of adjudication. They wanted the fruit without doing any of the labor. Some have gone to extremes to try to avoid the direction of "through" by jumping out of second story windows and limping for their lives. Most stay put physically but show clear indications that they intend to go right back to their gangbanging, streetwalking, drug-selling ways. They're here, and they go through the motions, but they're going around, or under or over, not through. But I've noticed something happening lately in my classroom. My students are engaged in learning. You can see it. They're becoming willing readers. These oppositional boys, whom I have seen in full blown fits of rage in varying stages of bipolar freefall, are settling down to read. With me. In my classroom. Wow.

I feel an enormous sense of accomplishment, but I'm not the one that owns it. What I really want to do is this: take a picture of each class, each combination of boys, and blow it up to a large size that anyone and everyone can see. This is newsworthy! I want the world to know what changes have happened here in the clink! Look at what you boys can accomplish when you allow yourselves to go through the juvenile justice system. Above all, I want them to see themselves. This is what you look like when you're learning, I want to tell them. Isn't it beautiful?

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