For parents, connecting and building healthy relationships with their teenagers can be a challenging task. For an incarcerated parent, it can be downright daunting.
Phone calls are prepaid, expensive and limited to 15 minutes. Some families must travel hundreds of miles for a few hours of visitation in a crowded room. The travel can cost hundreds of dollars, limiting visitation to once or twice a year. The remaining means of communication, letters, can take weeks to make it through the prison’s mail censors.
Great Books for High School Kids: A Teachers Guide to Books That Can Change Teens’ Lives (2004) Beacon Press Boston, www.beacon.org, is a great resource for teachers and the incarcerated parent.
Authors Rick Ayers and Amy Crawford give teachers and incarcerated parents tools to guide maturing teenagers by engaging them on themes like abuse, identity, race, culture, violence, and spirituality.
“Revenge is an extremely dangerous thing to be a part of, and it has a lot of consequences for you and even your family”
The power that lies within Great Books is that it uses the show don’t tell method – allowing teachers and incarcerated parents to reach teens without telling them how to feel, think and live. Great Books permits teens to compare their own life experiences, knowledge and values to real-world issues through fiction and non-fiction.
“The stuff we were dealing with was real,” Ayers says, in reference to a class assignment asking students for an example of a revenge cycle similar to Aeschylus’s Oresteia.
One student, Francisco, reflects on how many of his friends have been victims of gang violence and, in turn, sought revenge. “Revenge is an extremely dangerous thing to be a part of, and it has a lot of consequences for you and even your family,” he says. “The cycle… keeps going… both are living the life of (The) Oresteia.”
“Francisco dug right into the sense of futility and frustration engendered by the cycle of violence in his life and found pieces of Aeschylus’s writing that speak directly to him,” Ayers commented.
Great Books empowers students by giving them analytical skills to think independently, make safe judgments and decisions in their life, all while instilling a value system within them to consider the impact their lives have on family, peers, the environment, and community.
Through class discussion, each teacher discovers students, even the quiet and hard to reach, are filled with an abundance of curiosity and desire to learn and express themselves. They have a wealth of knowledge and valid opinions concerning real world issues.
Certainly a teenager’s journey to adulthood can be fraught with risk and mistakes. During this period of life, youth absorb their environments, shape their own identities, and seek to establish their independence.
Great Books is a valuable resource for educators and incarcerated parents to influence the growing minds of teenagers, without imposing any added pressure.