I really don’t know how I feel about this, on a number of levels. First there’s an issue regarding the quality of the journalism. “I’ve been asked to refer to them by their first names to protect their privacy,” the author notes parenthetically, in a paragraph right next to a video of the kids?! Thanks for the description of the same young man as, “sporting an over-sized red hoodie and a slight shadow of facial hair,” I see exactly who you’re talking about.
Second, I’m not a big fan of Shakespeare as punishment. Equating Shakespeare as something *worse* than prison is not terribly helpful, in my opinion. That’s why I grabbed the subject line that I did, it’s a quote from one of the kids. A judge has just told him that he is *not* going to juvenile hall, he is instead going to do Shakespeare, and that’s his reaction. That saddens me. This is ten times worse than “Memorize the balcony scene because I’m your teacher and I said so.” Forget about fear of a failing grade, now you’ve got the weight of the courts mandating you to drag your feet through it.
“This program is not designed to fix them,” the director says. “That’s not our goal.” Awesome. Apparently the entire goal is to give the kids an outlet for their anger. In the video voiceover (I do not see this bit in the article text) he also points out that Henry V was chosen specifically for the physicality, rather than a Hamlet where you sit around talking. (Insert obligatory joke here about that year they tried Titus Andronicus and the chaos that ensued 😉 ). The above-linked “Shakespeare Behind Bars”, in comparison, takes on The Tempest – a play with almost no violence at all, instead populated with magic, fairies and monsters.
I don’t really see the difference between this and those programs where you’d take kids down to the gym and let them punch the heavy bag for a little while, or take up karate. Shakespeare teaches these kids self control? So would a black belt martial arts instructor who put them on the ground every time they got out of control. Maybe this is a good thing and I’m just too far removed from that end of our world that I don’t see it. I see irony in the director quoting Macbeth’s “I have no words, my voice is in my sword.” When they quote a student who punched his locker instead of his friend as if this were a good thing I think, “How about getting to a place where he doesn’t punch anything?”
“Am I allowed to say whatever I want?” asks one kid who’s obviously just doing whatever he can to stay out of jail. “It just gives me something to do after school so I’m not selling drugs.” There will be people that read that and say “See? He’s not selling drugs!” All I see is “Ok, he’s not getting anything out of it other than a place he’s required to be for a few hours, and when his sentence is over he’ll go right back to doing what he’s been doing.” The people running the program, who clearly state “We’re not therapists,” acknowledge that the kids might re-offend.
Maybe it’s a good program and a terrible article. This “Shakespeare in the Courts” program has been running for 10 years, apparently. Where’s the story from the graduate of the program who’s gone on to do great things with his life? Have you got even one kid who got turned around? Any success stories? Any?