National Conference on Higher Education in Prison – Creating the Prison Classroom: From Policy to Practice

Below are my note from the session on Creating the Prison Classroom: From Policy to Practice. Some of my notes here are not as in depth, because this panel was so interesting to listen to! Take the time to check out their programs!

Brenda Dann-Messier, United States Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education

Brenda, being in a government, spoke to the audience as a government official, similar to a stump speech. While I could be more critical of what she had to offer, she did offer information about what the U.S. Education Department was doing for prison education. I would refer many people to check out their website and see what is available; especially the following:

Rebecca Ginsburg with Education Justice Project

Rebecca’s talk focused on creating a more humane learning environment in prison classrooms.

The biggest challenge we face in higher education in prisons is us; what we, outsiders going inside prisons, bring into our programs such as our attitudes and biases. Some of the ways to address these are to be aware of the following items:

  1. Micro-aggressions: These are subtle, demeaning insults against specific people that are verbal and often non-intentional. For example, if someone states “You are taking that too personally.”

  2. Cultural humility: This term is when one adopts a courious attitude with a humble approach to learn about others. This takes emphasis off of our own experiences. An example of lacking cultural humility is when you are speaking to a group of black men and you are telling them about what black men think.

No one works with a prison education program to hurt others feelings, but the question is: Can we come as we are? This is especially important if our privilege has never been challenged.

Suggestions to improve the learning environment is to create safe spaces where people can voice struggles and feelings, support difficult dialogues and the skills to talk about oppression, provide space to have such conversations, and build cultural humility.

Rob Scott with Productive Prison Landscapes Program of the Education Justice Project

Rob began his talk by introducing us to the higher education in prison list serve. He also made the clarification that though the conference had been using the term correctional center/institution we really mean prison, for our system is one that is clearly punishment focused and not one that has programs and services that really try to rehabilitate/correct those behind bars.

Rob introduced to many and encouraged to all the use of critical pedagogy in our work.

He also suggested that we reject and challenge sectarianism; Party A cannot liberate party B without party B’s involvement. We need to stop doing things to others but with others.

As we work together we need to reject positism. We can take a stance that it is not only recidivism that we focus on, because we also need to stress the importance of knowledge.

Keyes Stevens with Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project

Keyes project focuses on giving educational opportunities that giving educational opportunities that give students the insights to see that they are learners and that they can succeed in learning. See pictures from the project here (photos by Ann Hermes).

She stressed that we need to be just as compassionate to correctional staff as much as we are with our students.

With her program in Alabama, the DOC  as of a partner to her program as higher education institutions are to the point that they advocate for her program and have asked for it’s expansion.

Upcoming Event: Beyond Lines

‘Beyond Lines’ features art work produced by incarcerated artists at Danville Correctional Center, a men’s medium-high security Illinois state prison. Students at the University of Illinois’ Education Justice Project organized the exhibition and produced the accompanying  catalogue. Their goals include challenging popular assumptions about ‘prison art’ and stereotypes about incarcerated people generally. They warmly invite you to attend the exhibit and related events, which will be shared with the men at the prison via video.

Following Events are:
September 25, 7pm: Prisons in the Media
October 9, 5pm: Danville Writers’ Symposium
October 23, 7pm: Screening of Shakespeare at Danville
October 30, 7pm: Families of the Incarcerated

The event is sponsered by the Education Justice Project (EJP) and B00ks to Prisoners.

Below you can view the Shakespeare performance from Danville with the EJP: