This school year, twice a week, I have been reading together with a young friend. He is 9-year-old, very curious and intelligent, and has his own ideas about everything. He is also a new immigrant from Russia who needs some help with his Hebrew.
Since reading, even in a foreign language, is supposed to be fun we choose together enjoyable books and take turns reading aloud. My friend reads one page and I read the next. We usually read like that for half an hour (about six or seven pages), and then as a reward, I read to him till the end of the chapter.
My young friend is resourceful and always looks for the shorter pages to read out loud. So we negotiate and exchange a long page, which I read, with a shorter one which he reads.
Reading together is not only about improving his reading skills or his vocabulary. Of course we talk about concepts and unfamiliar words that appear in the text, but it is mainly a great opportunity to think of and develop ideas. We discuss our opinions and to share personal stories. This is how I learnt about a trouble in my young friends’ life.
Apparently, during the recess another boy hit him, and when my friend reported the incident to the principal, nothing was done. He was frustrated and the next morning, when it happened again, he literally jumped the high fence and ran away from school.
This is a classic children book story: in order to get the attention of the adult world, a child does something extreme. In real life it usually doesn’t happen. Thus, my young friend was punished for running away, his mother was called into the principal office, and he was suspended for one day. That was the arbitrary law
In books the outcome would have certainly been different, after the child was found he was reproached for making every one worried. Then the grownups involved, the principal, the teacher and the parents, apologized to him and asked forgiveness for not paying attention to his plight. This is poetic justice.
When we met to read again my friend was troubled by what had happened. Children know instinctively what is fair, and as literature is a great training for understanding concepts, he understood very well the difference between justice and the law.
Poetic justice is important to everyone, but it is extremely crucial for children in order to form a confident and positive outlook of the word. I am sorry that in this case the school chose to ignore it. Moreover, how is it possible that no one asked what made a little boy feel that the outside world was safer than the school, which is supposed to be the safest place for our children.
Reading literature is a great preparation for life, as it is made of examples, stories with characters and situations, it enriches the repertoire of responses and provides tools to analyze the world. Perhaps the grownups in the school: the principal and the teachers, should reread children literature in order to remember to treat children more fairly.