Reading and writing as punishment? There is something inherently wrong with seeing the word punishment in the same sentence as reading and writing. Outside of academia, or reading to self-learn something, most of us look at reading as something relaxing, an escapism, something to get lost in or something that takes us to a place or time that becomes somewhat real. Again, outside of writing for scholastic purposes or work, writing is a form of expression, something pleasurable, something creative. So where does punishment fit in and where am I going with this?
I read often as a child. We had an extensive selection of books at both my house and at my grandmother’s daycare center where I spent a lot of my time. We read, my mother would read to us, and we played with writing. My mother was big on that which could be expected since she was a writer. Besides the usual assortment of children’s books, we had classics, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and stacks of National Geographic Magazine. We read them all. One summer when I was around 12 or 13, I got in trouble for something and subsequently became grounded for a month. My punishment: reading and writing.
I grew up in a small mining town on the Mexican border that has long since reinvented itself as a tourist attraction with quite the artistic community. Since I sill regularly stay in contact with many of my childhood friends, I see pictures they post of my childhood home. One picture in particular immediately made me smile and took me back to that summer and my month long punishment. It was a picture of the library that I was sentenced to for a month: The Copper Queen Library, Arizona’s oldest library.
For one month, I was required to check out a book each week, read it, write a complete book report on it, and if that wasn’t bad enough, I had to write down twenty vocabulary words from the book along with their meaning. Four weeks, four books, four book reports and eighty words. Summer vacation had started off with a bang. Oh, one other stipulation to my punishment: the books had to be non-fiction. OK, it wasn’t like I couldn’t go out and play with my friends that first week, miss my baseball games, or do other things kids want to do in summer, I just had to show my mother the progress I was making on reading, my list of vocabulary words, and notes I was making for my book report. Playing privileges for each following week were dependent upon successful completion of the prior week.
Since we were in the southwest, and I recently had a relative of Cochise come and speak at my school, I browsed the library and chose a book about the Apache leader Cochise. My second and third books were about the Apache leader Geronimo. My last book was Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. I did as my mother asked, was able to play each day, and didn’t miss any baseball games. Four weeks, four trips to the library, four books , four book reports, and eighty words later, I had completed my punishment and was not grounded any more. Freedom…
Week five. I asked my mom to punish me some more and we all headed off to the library. I checked out The Outsiders and read it over a few days. That summer we went to the library once a week, and each time, I got a new book. My little brother even got in on the punishment and got a book each week. I even continued writing book reports and keeping a notebook with vocabulary words. For free.
Best punishment I ever had in my life? Reading and writing.