Campus Reform Higher Education Fellow Nicholas Giordano recently interviewed Brooke Allen, whose Mar. 5 article in The Wall Street Journal describes her experience teaching “at a men’s maximum-security prison.”
Allen is an author, editor, and professor at Bennington College in Vt., according to her faculty biography.
In her interview with Giordano, Allen describes how inmates thrive in her college courses despite their circumstances. They have no devices and a limited library. Most are imprisoned for violent, serious crimes. During the COVID-19 pandemic, students completed their classes by snail mail.
The students range from 25-year-olds to 60-year-olds, and some have been incarcerated for most of their lives. But the picture painted by Allen’s article and interview is one where, unlike many current students, these men take their classes seriously.
Giordano asks Allen about the distraction-free atmosphere. “The attention span is exquisite,” she says. “They sit there for two and a half hours, happy to be in that room.”
Most college students, according to Giordano, suffer from an engagement problem. He compares getting students to read seven pages of the Constitution to “pulling teeth.” Allen’s students will read 1,000 pages with no issue.
“I have them read the entirety of Tocqueville,” she says, going on to suggest that their ability to finish and understand these texts is in stark contrast to the typical college class. In her recent article, Allen quotes a professor who said that “teaching ‘Middlemarch’ to today’s college students is like landing a 747 on a rural airstrip.”
Allen told Giordano that her students will encourage other inmates to register for courses.
“Even if they’re not going to be released, even if they’re serving a life term, it will enhance their lives and make it worth living,” she says. “I’ve had people say that to me.”
Watch the video here.
Republished with permission from Campus Reform