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Punishment Books

April 27, 2014
Whether you're forced to read it, translate it, copy it, or drop it on your foot, there are many ways a book can be used as punishment.

Whether you’re forced to read it, translate it, copy it, or drop it on your foot, there are many ways a book can be used as punishment.

My youngest daughter complained this week that her teacher made her copy the entire dictionary entry for the word “talk.” It’s a long entry with lots of definitions, and my daughter’s hand hurt when she was done. It was punishment because my daughter had talked a lot in school that day. My daughter thought that I would complain to the school about that kind of unconventional punishment (I think other parents have complained), but I just laughed and told her not to talk without permission at school anymore.

Even when I was a kid, the dictionary was sometimes used for punishment. My meanest English teacher forced students to copy the entire entry for words like “talk” or “run” or if they got caught talking or running. It made sense to me. Kids who farted, however, were given other disciplinary measures, though one boy volunteered to copy the definition of “fart” 100 times. The teacher told him to shut up. Some critics might say that forcing kids to write definitions makes them hate dictionaries, but the kids who had to do the copying already hated dictionaries. I liked dictionaries, and I never was forced to copy definitions. Maybe that’s why I think it’s funny.

Sometimes the courts use books as punishment as well. A few months ago, an eco-terrorist in Portland, Oregon was ordered to read a Malcolm Gladwell book David and Goliath as part of his/her punishment/rehabilitation/sentence. I’m not going to use the eco-terrorist’s name.  I’m a coward. I admit it. I don’t want to make an eco-terrorist mad at me by mentioning the eco-terrorist’s name, so I shall refer to the eco-terrorist being punished simply as the eco-terrorist.

Anyway, the judge in this case hopes that the Malcolm Gladwell book will enlighten the eco-terrorist and teach him/her how to protest nonviolently. I’m a bit skeptical. I think most terrorists believe they’re already enlightened, and a mandatory book might not change his/her mind. Terrorists (eco or otherwise) are not known for being open minded.

I wonder how Malcolm Gladwell feels knowing that an eco-terrorist is being forced to read one of his books. Is he proud? Or does he roll his eyes and think, “Egads, I’ve just become one of ‘those’ writers.” I don’t know that Malcolm Gladwell says or thinks stuff like “Egads!” I’m just speculating.

Maybe the judge should have sentenced the eco-terrorist to copying an entire unabridged Merriam-Webster dictionary. It would take a long time. But it would also require a lot of paper, and the eco-terrorist might not like that. I don’t care what the eco-terrorist thinks (as long as he/she isn’t mad at me), but the eco-terrorist might have a point. Copying an unabridged dictionary really would be a waste of paper, and most environmentalists are against wasting paper.

I’ve read a couple Malcolm Gladwell books but not the one being used for punishment/rehabilitation. I read one Malcolm Gladwell book on an airplane while I was waiting for the legal drugs to kick in. One minute I was enjoying the book, and the next minute my wife woke me up telling me the flight was over. I’m not suggesting the Malcolm Gladwell book was boring. Legal drugs make me sleepy, which is what they’re supposed to do. The Malcolm Gladwell book kept my mind occupied while the legal drugs made me sleepy, and that was what the Malcom Gladwell book was supposed to do. I slept soundly on the airplane, which was what I was supposed to do. The eco-terrorist probably shouldn’t be allowed to take legal drugs while reading the Malcolm Gladwell book.

Even though I laughed at my daughter for getting punished with a dictionary, I’ve never punished any of my children with a book. I once punished them by forcing them to watch FOX News for an hour. I’m not picking on Fox News; any other the cable news channels would work, but “Fox News!” rolls off the tongue better. It was a punishment I had to use only once. For the next few years, whenever their behavior was getting out of control, I’d say “If you don’t stop, we’re watching Fox News!!” It worked. Other parents were amazed that it worked. But to get it to work, I actually had to watch Fox News with them for an hour.

Using a book as punishment might not work because it’s almost impossible to force somebody to actually read the book. It’s like the stubborn kid who refuses to eat his/her vegetables; it becomes a waiting game between the stubborn kid and the stubborn parents. The eco-terrorist could simply refuse to read the book (maybe he/she’s already read it, and it never got reported or I missed it). You can’t force a prisoner to read a book, just like you can’t force a horse to drink water. Except, I’m pretty sure a horse will eventually drink the water. It might not drink the water right away, but it will at some point. I’m not sure a prisoner will read a book, unless you deprive the prisoner of food, water, and porn, and civil liberties lawyers might have an issue with that. Or the prisoner could lie and say he/she read it. Or the eco-terrorist could get somebody else to read the book for him/her.

Music is much easier to use as punishment. There’s no way to ignore an annoying song, no matter how faint it’s being played. I won’t make a list of songs that could be used as punishment. That would be for a different blog, and I’m almost 50, so songs that make me cringe would make a young punk dance, so my punishment song might accidentally be a reward for my kids. I’m sure the songs I like make young punks cringe, so I have no problem with using music as punishment. And I’d have no problem using books as punishment, if I believed it would really work.

I might try to punish my kids with a book to see if it works, but I’m not sure which one to use. Should I use a book for pure punishment only, or should I go for a book with educational/moral value? What songs are good for punishing kids? Can a book make an eco-terrorist more enlightened? And does forcing kids to copy definitions make kids hate dictionaries?

26 Comments
  1. Its amazing that the teacher had a dictionary available for the use in punishment. It doesn’t quite work when you ask a child to google the meaning of the word Talk and ask them to copy out dictionary.com does it? And no, I don’t think it makes kids hate dictionaries, rather they might hate the teacher or begin to hate that class. There are far more effective ways to get a kid to listen (like better teaching? just a thought).

    • I think my daughter likes this teacher but just didn’t like the punishment, which is fine by me. Kids aren’t supposed to like the punishment. This teacher is kind of old (older than me), so she might be more likely to have real dictionaries in her classroom than some of those hip, young punk teachers, but I don’t know if it works that way.

  2. Oh it is an awful idea!

    • Which one? Copying a dictionary entry? Reading a Malcolm Gladwell book? Watching FOX News? Or are all of them bad ideas? I have first-hand experience, forcing kids to watch cable news for an hour helps prevent future bad behavior, but maybe it is still an awful idea.

      • No, no. I meant it was great that you were in agreement with the teacher for reprimanding your daughter for talking. Lots of parents would fly into the classroom like crazed maniacs threatening to kill the teacher for daring to stifle (insert girls name here) creativity and ability to express herself.

        Be careful about having them watch FoxNews. They may end up enjoying it and then where would you be?

  3. I like the approach this judge took. Especially when a crime is commited in the name of an ideology. I think the achilles heel of any dogma that is absolutist is ideas and thoughts expressed in writing. This was demonstrated in the fear the Catholic church had of the printing press, and books, and is present today in groups like the Taliban who kill little girls for going to school. Although an eco-terrorist is a strange cat. We had a family living here in rural Alberta who were running around blowing up oil wells. I don’t know if a book would have helped but it certainly couldn’t have hurt.

    I’m surprised any teacher ever punishes any kid ever for any reason. Do they not care for your daughters self esteem?! You had a great attitude even though your daughter may now, and in the future, need counselling, and therapy, her own segment on Dr. Phil, and those pills you took on the airplane.

    • I’m curious if the Malcolm Gladwell book had any effect on the eco-terrorist too. And though my daughter might need the counseling/therapy later, she probably won’t need the legal drugs. She handles flying much better than I do.

  4. My mom used to use a dictionary to see how good of speller I was. Then look up the definitions. Although I hated talking in front of others, I came away with a great vocabulary.

  5. detectivefdrrr permalink

    I read Moby Dick once for school. It wasn’t a punishment, but it sure felt like it lol

    • I think every book I read in school felt like punishment, even the good ones, but you’re right about Moby Dick.; that one was especially punitive.

      • I was assigned Moby Dick in high school sophomore English class (that would be 1961). My teacher Miss Annie O’Donnell–who sported blue hair, house dresses and a genuine Irish brogue–looked over my report and asked if I’d really read the book. “I looked it over,” I replied. To which she responded, “You mean you overlooked it!”
        Some fifteen years later I really did read Moby Dick–and thoroughly enjoyed it. Dear Miss O’Donnell. How I miss your kind!

  6. If you want to use music as a punishment, pick those songs that made you cringe when you were as old as your kids are now.

    • When I was their age, I hated a lot of songs in musicals, but I have daughters and they love musicals, so that wouldn’t work.

      “The hills are aliiiiiive…. with the sound of….”

      Ugh, that would only hurt me.

  7. laurajosephineauthor permalink

    I think my neighbour is currently punishing me with music. Then again, I’m not sure what I could have done that deserves punishment every single day!

    I think that most books are there to make people think, and it would be pretty hard to read a good book without getting a whiff of what the author wanted to say.

    I find it hard to believe that any narrow-minded person is also a well-read person. A reader gets to jump into a person’s skin and take a good long walk in it every time they open a book. That kind of person does not jump to the conclusion that everyone has the same beliefs as them or that everyone should think like them. I hope.

  8. I’ve never heard of copying words from a dictionary as punishment. I guess it’s better than corporal punishment though. I love watching FOX News as punishment. It’d work on me. 🙂

    • As a parent, I’d prefer the dictionary punishment over corporal punishment. And I don’t mind watching cable news in small doses, but kids? And I warned them that if they complained, I’d add another hour. I wonder if teachers could use that instead of the dictionary (or corporal) punishment.

  9. Great post, had me laughing out loud. Especially since similar little pills for flying. I too remember having to copy out definitions in school. I didn’t mind it, but then I preferred to write over sitting and staring into space in silence.

    • I could see it at least keeping a kid occupied. And my daughter (this one, anyway) is very task-oriented. This punishment probably wouldn’t work for all kids (or their parents).

  10. alexandercasillas permalink

    This post was so funny! Good work on it, and I suppose that I am one of those young punks, being only 18 years of age, and I wouldn’t mind copying definitions. Although I do like to write and learn new words… However I do know that I am probably only one of a few who would actually complete this form of punishment, even though I don’t think I would ever be forced to because I don’t do anything against the rules. Fantastic post though! I really enjoyed it!

    • 18 is probably a little old for compulsory definition copying, I’d think. If you’re old enough to vote, you’re old enough to not have to copy definitions. And thanks for the comment. I’m glad a “young punk” can find humor in what an (almost) “old fart” writes.

  11. ceising4 permalink

    Good punishment songs:

    –“Moves Like Jagger” (Maroon 5)

    –“Benny and the Jets” (Elton John)

    — “This Afternoon” (Nickelback)

    –“The Lazy Song” (Bruno Mars)

    …And there are probably two hundred other songs I’ve missed.

  12. Reblogged this on Adam Depew and commented:
    At what point does a punishment purpetuate bad behavior? Interesting thoughts on consequences in the classroom…

  13. I don’t like dictionaries and I was never punished with one. I think it’s a corollary not a cause. Most young people would think that classical music with a lot of violins would be unpleasant.

  14. Anonymous permalink

    I’m totally without any musical ability and my singing – so I’m told – is tuneless. Perhaps I could’ve punished my kids by singing at them! Wish I’d thought of it at the time.

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