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Vandals Forced to Study Poetry of Frost

Susan Notes:

I regard this as Good News because it is an attempt to bring a sense of restorative justice, which includes individual responsibility, to this incident. It is well worth listening to Jay Parini discuss on NPR what he was attempting to do with students who vandalized the Frost home.

Vandals Forced to Study Poetry of Frost

Below is newspaper account. I wish they hadn't stuck on this headline, reinforcing as it does, poetry as punishment (an unfortunate term the NPR commentator also uses). This seems to me to be a remarkable attempt to help young people take responsibility in an up close and personal way. I was curious to see what kinds of comments would be posted in reaction to the article online. So far, nothing.

Rutland Herald
From bad to verse
Robert Frost house vandals get penance in a classroom

By John Curran--The Associated Press

MIDDLEBURY ΓΆ€” After more than two dozen young people trashed a former residence of poet Robert Frost during a drinking party, the dilemma was how to punish them.

A jail term might be too harsh, community service too easy.

So a prosecutor decided on some poetic justice instead ΓΆ€” sending them back to school for some classroom training about the celebrated New England bard. Using "The Road Not Taken" and another poem as jumping-off points, Frost biographer Jay Parini hopes to show the vandals the error of their ways ΓΆ€” and the redemptive power of poetry.

"I guess I was thinking that if these teens had a better understanding of who Robert Frost was, and his contribution to our society, that they would be more respectful of other people's property in the future and would also learn something from the experience," said Addison County State's Attorney John Quinn.

The incident occurred at the Homer Noble Farm, in Ripton, where Frost spent more than 20 summers before his death in 1963. Now owned by Middlebury College, the unheated farm house ΓΆ€” on a dead-end road ΓΆ€” is used occasionally by the college and open seasonally.

On Dec. 28, a 17-year-old former Middlebury College employee who knew the farmhouse planned a party, giving $100 to a friend to buy beer. Word spread. Up to 50 people descended on the farm, the revelry turning destructive after a chair broke and someone threw it into the fireplace.

When it was over, windows, antique furniture and china had been broken, fire extinguishers discharged, carpeting soiled by vomit and urine. Empty beer cans and drug paraphernalia were left behind. The damage was set at $10,600.

Twenty-eight people ΓΆ€” all but two of them teenagers ΓΆ€” were charged, mostly with trespassing.

About 25 ultimately entered pleas or were accepted into court diversion provided they undergo the Frost training. Restitution was ordered in some of the cases, and most were ordered to perform community service in addition to the classroom session. The man who bought the beer got a three-day jail term.

Parini, 60, a Middlebury College professor who has stayed at the house before, was eager to oblige when Quinn asked him to teach a class to them, donating his time for the two sessions.

Last week, 11 turned out for the first, with Parini giving line-by-line interpretations of "The Road Not Taken" and "Out, Out" seizing on parts with particular relevance to draw parallels to their case.

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood," he thundered, reciting the opening line of the first poem, which he called symbolic of the need to make choices in life.

"This is where Frost is relevant. This is the irony of this whole thing. You come to a path in the woods where you can say, 'Shall I go to this party and get drunk out of my mind?" he said. "Everything in life is choices."

Even the setting had parallels, he said, "Believe me, if you're a teenager, you're always in the damned woods," he said. "Literally, you're in the woods ΓΆ€” probably too much you're in the woods. And metaphorically you're in the woods, in your life. Look at you here, in court diversion! If that isn't 'in the woods,' what the hell is 'in the woods'? You're in the woods!"

Dressed casually, one with his skateboard propped up against his desk, the young people listened to Parini and answered questions when he pressed. When court diversion manager Sharon Tasker-Dalton asked them to describe the impact of their involvement, their arrests and the subsequent publicity, they got to talk.

"I've heard people (in the case) say, 'From now till forever, if you Google my name, this is going to show up," Tasker-Dalton said.

Some seemed repentant. Others focused on the trouble they'd gotten into as a result.

"I was worried about my family," said one boy. "I'll be carrying on the family name and all that. And with this kind of thing tied to me, it doesn't look very good."

"After this, I'm thinking about staying out of trouble, 'cuz this is my last chance," said another.

"My parents' business in town was affected," said a girl.

When the session ended, Tasker-Dalton offered snacks ΓΆ€” apple cider, mini-muffins, sliced fruit ΓΆ€” but none partook. They went straight for the door, several declining comment as they walked out of the building.

"It's a lesson learned, that's for sure," said Ryan Kenyon, 22, of Salisbury, who was among those charged in the case and whose grandmother worked as hairdresser in the 1960s and knew Frost. "It did bring some insight. People do many things that they don't realize the consequences of. It shined a light, at least to me."

— Robert Siegel and John Curran, Associated Press
NPR /All Things Considered and Rutland Herald



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