Education as Punishment

Posted: March 11, 2012 by Ed Griffin in Prison, Reform
Tags: , , , ,

“This is my favorite class,” the young man said as we left the classroom. Of course, that made me feel good. But he did seem to do well in my creative writing class. His mind was always working and he often asked me to bring in new Canterbury Talessubjects. “Could you bring me some of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales?”

“Sure, I’d be happy to.” I’d never read them myself and here was this young man wanting to study them.

And figures of speech. “What’s a double entendre? What’s synecdoche?”

The next week I brought him a paper on figures of speech.

He met with some of the other guys during the week in addition to our weekly class. He always had something to read.

“I want to learn more about Russian literature. I have some Russian blood in me.”

Russian authorFine. I ordered $40 worth of Russian literature for the man. Solzhenitsyn, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky. I knew this would make him happy. Everyone likes to learn their heritage.

Something happened. He broke a rule in another program. The prison banned him from attending my class.

“What?” I protested. “You’re using education as a punishment? This is unheard of. Education is the proven way out of crime.”

Knowing the person who punished him, I was sure his infraction was minor.

I was called in and reprimanded for buying books for the man.

“But he was my student.”

“That’s no excuse. Your only contact with him was to be in the classroom. You are not to buy books for him, for anyone.”

I don’t get it. You find what works with a person and you enhance that interest. This young man loved to come to the educationwriting class.

This was three or so months ago. Things have gotten much worse. Of course, the young man responded in the only way he knew how – he broke more rules, ignoring the advice of his prison parole officer.

Prison often creates the problems they’re trying to correct.

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  1. Catana says:

    It isn’t accidental that prison and school are sometimes very much alike. I hated school when I was young and always felt as if I was in prison. And now schools (in the name of safety) are being treated very much like prisons. The statistics on arrests and various types of confinement and restraints on young children and teens are appalling. Schools aren’t really about education, they’re about training for conformity.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      How sad. You make an interesting — and frightening — comparison.
      Yet in the mess of schools and prisons, we find amazing individuals who overcome it all.
      There are men in prisons who are striving for higher education. That’s why I set up the bursary (see my website) for people who wanted something beyond post-secondary, but couldn’t pay for it. The man who wants an electric typewriter because he can’t have a computer. The man who’s finished most of the work on his masters in theology, but can’t pay for his thesis. And so on.
      But, I’m off topic. Prison educators are paid far less than their public school colleagues. Some of them are there because they believe in education and some because it’s a less stressful job.

  2. Joanne says:

    Wow! I was just talking about this topic today, talk about coincidence! Anyhow, I was told that some prisons are now using education as punishment in another way. Prisoners are being told that they cannot get their security level reduced until they have completed their education. Great way to make education something prisoners may want to pursue, eh? Just like Canata suggested, getting an education can be made to feel like a negative experience and forcing people to do anything does not usually achieve good results.

    • Ed Griffin says:

      How right you are, Joanne. I like your line about being forced to do things. The daily schedule in some Canadian prisons used to be a lot more relaxed. Now it’s more military. There are only certain times men may go from one activity to another. If you don’t go to work in prison industries, if you’re not taking a program or going to school, you’re locked in your cell all day.
      I had a friend who devised an exciting education program for a prison. He was rejected because “his program was not about education.” Go figure.

  3. Colin Soucy says:

    Wow! I’m almost rendered speechless by this Ed. Things have certainly regressed since I was there. Sadly, with our new “tough on crime and on criminals” Federal Government who have pretty much succeeded in convincing the public that they need to be protected from all the bad men out there, while at the same time making it seem as though trying to help a “bad man” better himself is somehow an undesirable thing, I only see our penal system regressing. I won’t be surprised when, in the not too distant future, we will see the attempted, and possibly successful, return of the Death Penalty. I can say with 100% honesty and pride, that taking your class while in prison was not only the highlight of my week, but also gave me a sense of accomplishment and a desire to improve my life in all areas. As someone who has completely proved the prison shrink and the parole board wrong about all the negative things they had to say about me, I urge people to look into how our prisons are actually being run. I would rather spend my tax dollars educating and reforming a prisoner than locking him in a small room and constantly beating his mind and self image into dirt. It just seems so blatantly obvious that education is the answer and it is just sad to see that those in charge blatantly continue to ignore this fact. Whew, I could go on but I’m sure that’s enough for everyone. Also, Ed is not responsible for my many writing and punctuation errors, those are all on me!! Thank you for all you have done and all you continue to do, Our country needs more people like you.

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