Reading as Punishment

Jayden was recently banished to a corner in his school room to “read a book” as a punishment for acting up in class. Jayden is five and a half. When did “reading” become punishment? Was this the Zen move of a modern Br’er Rabbit kid who tricked his teacher into inadvertently making him do what he really wanted to do anyway, or an example of dis-education?

A Tuck and a Story

I spent an evening at a family weekend event at which Jayden was running around interacting with everybody occasionally stopping to act out imagined scenes with his action figures. It had been a long and busy day so everybody was ready to turn in early, including Jayden.

I ask him if he would like to be tucked in and he said yes without looking up from his action figures. I challenged Jayden with a grin, “Do you know how to tuck?” He stopped playing and gave me a stern look of impatient certainty. “Of course, everybody knows how to tuck!” he said confidently. I had his attention now and playfully responded, “Will you tuck me in and read me a story?” Our adult/child rolls were inverting. He promptly responded with his best adult “okay,” smiled and then led me through the house to my bed room where he expertly pulled down the corner of the cover and sheet and said “hop in” like he was the adult.

I played along and got in with my jeans and shirt still on. As he hopped up on the edge of the bed, his attention was seized by a bird-of-prey mobile sculpture hanging from the ceiling. His eyes glistened as a story idea popped into his head. “What about a dinosaur story,” he blurted out, using his hands as fighting puppets. He quickly improvised a short story.

Synopsis: Little dinosaurs fight each other over little food, and are taken over by larger dinosaurs that eat them for big food, and then fight among themselves to be in charge. Finally cave men come on the scene and take over—“The End.”

Jayden jumped down after telling his story, turned off the light and said “It’s time for you to go to sleep now,” still acting the parent. I said I was afraid of the dark and he calmly said, “Well, you can turn on the TV for just awhile,” and left. He seemed extremely proud that he had completed his mission.

This was the active and creative young mind that had been made to sit in the corner of his class room to read a book as punishment for acting up.

You Can Shut a Mouth but Not a Mind

I knew how Jayden must have felt because a similar thing happened to me in the second grade. My mouth was taped shut by my teacher for talking in class. With tape over my mouth, I continued to “talk” by moving my eyes around looking at my class mates making them explode into laughter. Mrs. Berry, my perpetually angry gray-haired teacher with fat jowls that shimmied and shook as she waved her finger at me, would have none of this. This Nazi teacher got furious and threatened to punish the whole class, reducing them to frozen silence. To make her point she announced that I would be made to stay after school for additional “private punishment.” It turned out that all I had to do was write on the blackboard 500 times: “I will not talk in class.” She taught me a lesson I never forgot, but not the one she intended.

Language Dreaming

I slipped into the twilight of sleep after Jayden left. I thought about the pain Jayden must have felt sitting in the corner, and imagined the painstaking steps people must have taken throughout history to create humanity’s greatest technology—language. All that early humans had to work with at the beginning was their experience with nature and each other, and survival. My mind raced back through in time. Let’s see…

• First, we shared crude stories of our survival experiences using grunts and gestures.
• Next, we imitated images and sounds from nature as our first languages began to evolve,
• Then we converted them into short-hand graphic symbols to make simple meanings,
• And assembled them into words, sentences & numbers with rules to make complex meanings,
• Which we used to write books of knowledge & meaning that were read by much of civilization,
• And finally, we are converting all of this into a new language of zero’s and ones accessible by all.

I snapped back to the present. The enormity of this accomplishment by humanity suddenly made me feel indignant. I felt anger for Jayden and my 6-year old self. How dare any “teacher” use “reading books” (or mouth taping) as a punishment and still be called an educator, especially when dealing with very young impressionable minds! “Why, this could even be seen as a crime against humanity,” I thought, “at least for Jayden.”

Let’s see, what should this teacher’s punishment be? Some of my Jewish friends believe the name Jayden comes from Jadon of Hebrew origin, meaning “God has heard.” Maybe so, but why not invoke the Golden Rule and make Jayden’s teacher stay after school and be punished by writing 5,000, or even 50,000 times, “I will never use reading books as punishment again.” I like the math of this penalty—500 times compounded anually by inflation since the time of Egypt really adds up. “Jaden in Egypt” pops into my mind. I remind myself to do some Name/Egypt research in the morning. Now, to sleep as the ping pong balls in my head quiet down.

Jayden in Egypt

As a gift of remembrance for my Jayden (and all the Jayden’s in the world) to celebrate the joy of reading and writing, below is his name written in Egyptian Hieroglyphics symbols in terms of IMAGE, ACTION, and LETTER-SOUND lineage:



Thank you Jayden for the wonderful bed time story you made up for me (may it be the first of many), and for inspiring me to write this story (may it not be the last of many).

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