Juvenile prison

The boys were cutting words out of magazines while I was sneaking in reading time.

I landed on a piece in Harper’s magazine called Juvenile Injustice – photos of the juvenile prisons. They made me ill. There is no way you can look at those photos and not feel sick. I think the sickness comes from knowing I know and knowing I’m doing nothing.

Later I was reading about  slavery to my six year old. We read If You Lived When There Was Slavery in America. And I realized that slavery was, in some ways, better for black kids than juvenile prison is today. Because as slaves, the boys had monetary value, so someone had an interest in them. Right now no one has an interest in those boys in the juvenile prison. Also, slaves had to work every day, which, in almost all cases is better than solitary confinement every day.

These thoughts have stayed with me for a week. I think this is what people mean when they talk about the joys of learning with your kids. Real learning shakes you up. It scrapes your skin and makes you want to look. Makes you want to take action. And I think, in this moment, homeschooling did that for me.

11 replies
  1. L
    L says:

    Once you realize you want to take action or want to look how do you decide if you will take action? It sounds like you have resigned yourself not to take action. (which is fine but then did you ever want to take action in the first place?) I think for myself I would not necessarily want to take action however I would want to learn more about the prison system and slaverly and about societies in general. Unless by taking action you mean to become a better person.

  2. leftbrainfemale
    leftbrainfemale says:

    Of course you’re taking action – but sometimes that action must needs be limited to teaching values to one or two children at a time. Anyone who thinks that homeschooling is only of value to the child currently being instructed is *VERY* shortsighted. Contrary to popular thought, it does not take a village to raise a child, but a thoughtful and loving parent who raises a thoughtful and loving child may have an influence which will last through several generations! And as the article we read recently about those chi-chi schools in NY concluded, character matters. Character will help insure that your kiddos are not some of those who end up in juvenile prison!

  3. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    This post ranks among the best of your homeschooling posts to date.
    Real learning with your kids – one of the best arguments for homeschooling I’ve come across.
    As for the “I think the sickness comes from knowing I know and knowing I’m doing nothing.” sentence, I know what you’re saying but also agree with leftbrainfemale above. And now you’ve also home schooled your readers!

  4. Bee
    Bee says:


    I’ve been reading about homework lately, especially this post from the BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/3472467.stm

    I was wondering what your views on homework in conventional schools are. From my perspective, it’s just a source of stress and conflict as my parents used to stand over me and my brother and make us do it in their time and in their way. It was helpful after the age of about twelve, when we had to write essays that would have taken up a lot of time during the school day, but doing sheets of repetitive maths problems or colouring in maps was just pointless and always ended in arguments with my parents.

    Also, as I got older and had different teachers for different subjects, they never communicated. Half an hour is a reasonable amount of homework, thinks a teacher, but when you have eight subjects in a day each setting half an hour’s homework and I don’t leave school until four, get home until half five, that means I was up til eleven every night from the age of eleven doing homework. And I was one of the quicker and more dedicated ones!

  5. karelys
    karelys says:

    funny, today I woke up thinking about how inconvenient it is to do the right thing. So I just pretend I don’t know. Then at one single day it all hits me and then i don’t know what to do.

    I was pregnant for a bit. And it made me think that if I kept doing that then I’d teach my kids to do the same and how embarrassing if they ever asked me “why are you ethical at work and at home but nowhere else? why don’t you do something about modern day slavery? why do we talk about it, read about but do nothing?”

    I’m paralized at the prospect of not wanting to continue the same but not knowing what to do about it all.

    And I mean, real change. Not just buying a t-shirt that is “ethically made.”

  6. Karina
    Karina says:

    I think a great homeschooling exercise would be for your kids to interview some African Americans and ask them about this slavery vs. prison theory.

  7. Tymissha
    Tymissha says:

    I have been reading your career blog for close to a year now and have found some of your advice very insightful. I was intrigued when you started a homeschooling blog, so I started reading here as well. I don’t follow your “slavery is better than juvenile prison” logic. You assume that having a monetary value trumps possessing a feeling of self worth and therefore slavery is the better predicament. I would argue that both dilemmas (slavery and prison) seriously deplete self worth and cause severe psychological damage that is suffered for multiple generations. One could also argue that a lack of self-worth caused by the institution of slavery and subsequent Jim Crow laws may also be culpable for the disproportionate number of Black males in prison today. I hope that you did not pass on that little “nugget” of wisdom to your impressionable and sheltered children. Do better next time.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Of course both slavery and juvenile prison are heinous. But it seems remarkable to me that slavery might in fact be better for a kid than the juvenile prison system because there os so little activism against what’s going on in there.


  8. Tymissha
    Tymissha says:

    Didn’t Michele Bachmann make a similar argument a few weeks ago? I think she was talking about the state of the Black family today versus during slavery. I guess it boils down to what you consider “better”. If you think that having every aspect of your existence dictated to you by an oppressive force while you, family members, and friends are tortured, raped, and sold off to God knows where (never to be seen again) for generation after generation is better than juvenile prison, so be it. I think your logic is misguided and we will have to agree to disagree on that point. At first it was monetary value and now “activism” is the rubric by which to determine whether one state of existence is better than another. How does that work? Again, extrinsic value (public outrage) trumps intrinsic value (self worth)?

  9. Katie
    Katie says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for taking action by starting a dialogue about this topic. In order for change to happen and this institutionalized racism to be eradicated, we must first talk about it and acknowledge that it is there. Thank you for being brave enough to even mention it. I started reading your regular blog a couple of months ago and I think you have really smart advice, but what keeps bringing me back to read more is your bravery in starting the dialogue about some of the most difficult issues. Addressing racism as a member of the group in power is difficult – because we always don’t completely understand or get it exactly right. But that shouldn’t stop us from starting the conversation.

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