This is the fourth blog post in the ‘Obvious Truths We Shouldn't Be Ignoring Series.’ This series is based upon eight ‘Obvious Truths’ presented by Alfie Kohn in his "Ten Obvious Truths That We Shouldn't Be Ignoring" published in the September 2011 issue of The Education Digest.
"Students are less interested in whatever they're forced to do and more enthusiastic when they have some say.”
As discussed in the third post in this series, incarcerated students have very diverse interests. I also noted that students retain more of the information presented when they are interested in the topic than not. Now it's time to build upon the idea of student interest with the option of student choice.
In a prison setting, many freedoms are removed from residents, the inmates. These include: freedom of movement, expression, association, the list goes on ad infinitum. As such, the vast majority of prisoners – on some level – are almost obsessed with the concept of power.
From my personal observations, it appears as if the residents enter some kind of psychosis where they feel that they are the ones in control and that others better respect them because they are in charge. This is an odd concept when viewed in the light of the prisoner's real status of being subjugated to that of the prison staff and society in general.
Regardless of the derivation of this internal – mental – power struggle, the knowledge of it can aid the prison educator. This is because the educator can enter into a transaction of sorts with their incarcerated students.
Think of it this way: by merely allowing your students to exercise free will, and allowing them to choose and decide for themselves, you have entered into an agreement. Why? Because by allowing them the luxury of self-determination, you are deferring power. This deferment facilitates your students by holding their interest and at the same time requiring respect. This respect comes in the form of classroom participation, the completion of assignments, and the continuation of the transaction where free will is an option. After all, the option of volition can always be replaced with directives.
What I suggest is exactly what I've proposed. Allow your students to pick from a pre-approved list of books, assignments, videos, and so on. By doing so, the incarcerated student will feel as if they are in charge of their own education. Hence, interest and engagement will follow because students will feel empowered.
If you find that you're having trouble implementing solutions such as the ones presented in this series of blogs, I suggest that you pick up a copy of Locked Up With Success by Janice Chamberlin. It's available at Amazon and www.LockedUpWithSuccess.com. In her text, Ms. Chamberlin notes a number of ways to connect with students in a correctional education setting, how to take control of a classroom full of prisoners, how to nurture a healthy learning environment, and even a terrific organizational system which relies upon individual educational plans. Plus, she even provides forms that she's created for use in her prison classroom.