27 May 2009

Penitentiary Life, Week 9

I have to tell you, last week I gave a tour to a group of students that blew me away. They were visiting Eastern State as part of a civics class. It was a group of 7th graders from a Catholic school in New Jersey. Besides the fact that they were very polite and well-behaved, they actually seemed interested in what I was telling them! (Maybe it doesn't happen that often, so that when it does, you can really appreciate it ...)

Anyway, we got to Death Row, and after they had a chance to see it, they were asking about prisoners who had been there. I mentioned that one person was considered to be the mastermind for the 1961 uprising where the inmates took over the prison. One girl asked if he was then put to death, and I said that no, he was still in prison somewhere else in Pennsylvania, but he had been beaten so badly after the 1961 event, that they had given him last rites. Then she asked what "last rites" were, when one of the teachers cut in and said, "Sacrament of the Sick," (which is what last rites are called in the Catholic Church). She wondered if he "deserved" last rites, since it "didn't sound like he was truly sorry." At this point, the other students, as well as the teachers and chaperones, started discussing who "deserves" forgiveness, whether or not it is only up to God, and if there should be a death penalty at all. After a few minutes, one of the teachers said, "See - this is good, and one of the reasons we wanted to bring you guys here. When we get back to school tomorrow, we should do some serious research on these topics, and have a discussion about them."

I have been thinking about those kids ever since, they (and their teachers and chaperones) really impressed me. The kids seemed to have a true idea that there are issues larger than the ones like where did they leave their cell phones, or who is going to what party, etc. And the teachers and chaperones seemed willing to discuss these things with them, rather than shy away or change the subject. Granted, the students were 7th graders, so a lot could change by the time they become adults. But I would like to think that if they are that articulate and thoughtful at this stage, they will become adults who are actually willing to address issues and problems that they will be very likely to inherit.

7 comments:

Marie said...

Wow! That leaves a whole lot of questions in your mind. I'm going to think about that. Thanks.

Lisa said...

I remember grade school vividly and the lasting impact several of my teachers--including one or two nuns--had on me simply because they were truly interested in teaching us to think that there were many possible answers to one question and not to rely on black and white.

Channon said...

Ahhh... HOPE. Thanks for that.

I had teachers like that growing up, including in (all women's Catholic) college. It's good to think and ponder and move ideas around.

Mr Puffy's Knitting Blog: said...

Interesting. When I got to the part where they brought up G-d I had to double check what school they were from because to even utter anything about religion out here in California is soooooo taboo. Yet,being able to freely discuss issues of morality and religion are important to developing thinking, questioning, and well educated citizens. It's nice to know it still happens some places.

Carrie K said...

It is nice to know that it still happens. There's hope for the future after all. :)

knitseashore said...

I second what Mr. Puffy said. There are still some very talented teachers and curious students out there who want to make a difference. Yay!

KSD said...

Children like this give me hope for the future.