Sometimes, it can be hard to teach a basic reading class to college students who don’t like to read. Most of the young students I have in my class are more interested in their cell phones and social media. They prefer to play video games than to finish the assigned readings from their textbooks. It’s nothing my students are actually doing wrong. It’s just the way things are today. Very few people enjoy opening up a book.
So before the start of the new term, I read through all of the stories in the basic reading textbook and choose the ones that I think the students would find the most interesting. Most of the students are in the Criminal Justice program, so I concentrate on the stories that reflect their field of study. I assigned several of the true crime and short story murder mysteries for the students to read. This strategy worked very well. The students were reading the stories and coming into every class ready to discuss the information. I really love it when students are excited to discuss the readings because it provides me with tremendous insight and amazing observations about the work and the students themselves.
So, last Monday, when the students were settled into their seats, we began to discuss the reading assignment for that day. The essay focused on the true story of Eric Clark, a teenager who is imprisoned for shooting and killing a police officer. Many people, including Eric’s mother, claim that Eric is schizophrenic. Eric believed that the city is full of aliens and the only way to stop them is with bullets. The essay considers if Eric is really troubled or if he is a cold blooded killer.
I was pleased that the students had a lot of different opinions about this situation and the discussion became very exciting as students continued to debate if Eric was mentally ill or guilty of his actions. This is what really brings me alive as an instructor. I love and encourage my students to give their opinions. Many of them are highly intelligent, some of them are hysterically funny, and others…well, just need to go back and read the assignment again. But as an instructor, I love it when students feel free and safe to share their independent thoughts and opinions.
After discussing Eric Clark for a while, the students began to discuss other cases that had been in the news. Jody Arias, George Zimmerman, Amanda Knox, even OJ Simpson all came up in the discussion. The students became very excited about who they thought was guilty or innocent. The students discussed who they thought should have gotten life or the death penalty and why.
Other than every now and then guiding the discussion and throwing in the few points of law I knew, I refrained from sharing my personal opinion. I wanted the students to think for themselves without being influenced by their instructor. Many students believed in the death penalty. I refrained from telling my thoughts on this. I don’t agree with the death penalty. Why not? Because I think it is too easy. I think that when people commit a crime, they should live out the rest of their days contemplating the evil act that they did. I remember hearing about one judge who ordered a convicted killer to write out and send a sympathy card to the family every year on the anniversary of his victim’s death. The judge believed it was a way to remind the convict of what he did. I agree. Instead of the death penalty, criminals who commit crimes should have some reminder every day of the crime that they committed and the people that they hurt.
I was influenced in my thinking by the book The First Man In Rome by Colleen McCullough. I love this book which details the start of the Roman Senate. The book stressed the punishments for criminals in ancient Rome. Instead of going to jail or being put to death, criminals were made outcast in society. The criminals were shunned. They lived in society but could not be a part of it. They could not get married, vote, own any property, hold jobs, have children. Criminals could not be talked to or acknowledged by the rest of society. The ancient Romans believed that this was the worst punishment that a citizen could endure. The enforced isolation caused the criminals to more away from the town or commit suicide.
I was thinking about this situation when one of my students suddenly exclaimed, “Casey Anthony was at the Palm Desert mall a few weeks ago. Yeah, the woman who got away with killing her kid, she was here in town and she was shopping at the mall.”
Several of the students turned to look at the woman who had spoken and asked her for details. “How do you know? Were you there?”
“No,” the first student answered, “but my sister works there. She suddenly saw this huge crowd of people in front of Charlotte Russe and was wondering what was going on. She walked over and found that people were circling around Casey Anthony.”
“Well, what happened?” Students all suddenly started talking at once. “God, what did they do? Man, she is so evil. Did your sister talk to her?”
“Oh, no,” the student responded. “It was really bad. People were gathered all around her, totally blocking her on all sides. They had her completely surrounded. Of course, some people were taking pictures. But the majority of the people were dumping their soft drinks on her and throwing food and other stuff at her. Everybody was swearing at her and, man, people were spitting on her. It was really gross. Just really nasty spit.”
“Was Casey upset?” someone asked.
“No, in fact, she actually stood there just laughing at everyone. It was a really nasty laugh. But people wouldn’t let her go. They kept surrounding her and trapping her. They were right in her face, screaming at her. Security finally had to be called to get her out of there.”
As I listened to the student’s story, I suddenly felt a chill go through my body. I suddenly felt myself in Casey Anthony’s place. For most of my life, I have been bullied and felt like a real outsider. It used to be a very painful situation. Fortunately, I like myself now, but I know many young people commit suicide for being bullied and targeted. I shivered as I thought of Casey Anthony being held up to public humiliation. What would it feel like to be trapped in a mob of people who surround you, scream at you, ridicule you, spit on you. Yes, Casey may have laughed, but we are all social creatures. Some part of Casey, some human part, has to be slowly dying inside. I suddenly felt like I was going to be sick. What could be more devastating than to be publicly hated? I’m not saying Casey Anthony didn’t deserve it. No, I’m saying, I think the Roman Senate had it right.