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Prof Claims Her Maximum-Security Prisoners are Better Students Than Today’s Undergrads

Prof Claims Her Maximum-Security Prisoners are Better Students Than Today’s Undergrads

“They tend to read each assignment two or three times before coming to class and take notes as well.”

Brooke Allen teaches college courses to male prisoners and suggests they are more serious and engaged about their studies than most of today’s college students.

She writes at the Wall Street Journal:

College Should Be More Like Prison

Many of us who care deeply about education in the humanities can only feel despair at the state of our institutions of “higher” learning. Enrollment in these subjects is plummeting, and students who take literature and history classes often come in with rudimentary ideas about the disciplines. Interviewed in a recent New Yorker article, Prof. James Shapiro of Columbia said teaching “Middlemarch” to today’s college students is like landing a 747 on a rural airstrip. Technology such as messaging apps, digital crib sheets and ChatGPT, which will write essays on demand, has created a culture of casual cheating.

Never have I been more grateful to teach where I do: at a men’s maximum-security prison. My students there, enrolled in a for-credit college program, provide a sharp contrast with contemporary undergraduates. These men are highly motivated and hard-working. They tend to read each assignment two or three times before coming to class and take notes as well. Some of them have been incarcerated for 20 or 30 years and have been reading books all that time. They would hold their own in any graduate seminar. That they have had rough experiences out in the real world means they are less liable to fall prey to facile ideologies. A large proportion of them are black and Latino, and while they may not like David Hume’s or Thomas Jefferson’s ideas on race, they want to read those authors anyway.

They want, in short, to be a part of the centuries-long conversation that makes up our civilization. The classes are often the most interesting part of these men’s prison lives. In some cases, they are the only interesting part.

Best of all from my selfish point of view as an educator, these students have no access to cellphones or the internet. Cyber-cheating, even assuming they wanted to indulge in it, is impossible. But more important, they have retained their attention spans, while those of modern college students have been destroyed by their dependence on smartphones. My friends who teach at Harvard tell me administrators have advised them to change topics or activities several times in each class meeting because the students simply can’t focus for that long.


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“College Should Be More Like Prison”
This was predictable.
Of course, it will start in elementary and high school first.
For The Children.
Nice prisons.

There should be more college and vocational classes available in prisons. Prisoners who are enrolled in college courses rarely cause trouble in the prisons, and when they leave with an AA or vocational degree, they rarely come back into the prison. The degree gives them access to jobs and legal ways of earning a living.

Simply from a taxpayer standpoint, college classes are a good investment. It costs as much to keep someone in prison as it does to send them to Harvard. Recent studies show that for every $1 spent on education of inmates, taxpayers save $7 on those educated inmates staying out of prison once they are paroled.

healthguyfsu | March 7, 2023 at 4:33 pm

Prisoners to Presidents…this generation is really blowing their shot at doing anything meaningful when the incarcerated are crushing them in individual responsibility and ambition.

daniel_ream | March 7, 2023 at 6:54 pm

Apparently they no longer teach PHIL 100 in the humanities, because she’s confusing correlation with causation. And there’s a fair bit of projection going on there, too.

These men are such great students because prison has socialized them to obey and conform. That’s not a bad thing, but saying they “want to be part of the centuries-long conversation that makes up our civilization” is pure fiction. They’re behaving well because it gets them time off for good behaviour.

BierceAmbrose | March 7, 2023 at 10:57 pm

They’e better students because it takes more focus and execution to get into max security than those squishy snowflakes will ever have.

The Bard Prison Initiative has been doing the same for years. The BPI Debate Team has had great sucess.

“College Should Be More Like Prison”

Uh, no. But college ~students~ should be more like her prisoner students.