Well Rounded Students: Acculturation and Critical Analysis (Part 1)

By Christopher Zoukis

"Who is the Republican front runner?"

"The Vice President?"

"Head of State?"

"Secretary of the Treasury?"

All of the above questions should easily be answered.  Yet, my students can't answer them.  I'd imagine that most undergraduates would be able to, but why not incarcerated GED students?  Did I even know these answers when I was in high school?  If not, why?

The other day I was reading the New York Times and I found that I wasn't truly reading it.  I was scanning it and only reading a few select articles.  The same I found was true of my alleged reading of USA Today and the Wall Street Journal.  As I reflected upon this trend of mine to just scan and select, I tried to remember an article of real importance.  While I could come up with a few, these were restricted and specialized; certainly not readings of general knowledge.  I thought, if this was true of me, it must be true of others, too.

Thus, I took myself to task for my failure to properly educate myself about current events.  (All of a sudden my 9th grade Current Events class made sense...there was a purpose to reading all of those newspapers after all.)  I pledged to read my newspapers through and through.  Well, not necessarily cover to cover (e.g., the Sports section of USA Today might not be necessary), but certainly Section A of each.

Within a short period of time my eyes started to open.  The little island which I call FCI Petersburg no longer seemed so remote.  All of a sudden there were other islands (or topics) such as Israel, Vladimir Putin, Google, 7-Eleven's Slurpee Lite, Bahrain, Romney, and even a strange new concept called tweeting.  Even more important than the islands were the bridges.  These islands started to interact and even affect each other (think Twitter and the Arab Spring).  The seemingly distinct topics became an interconnected mesh or web.  All of a sudden I found that I wasn't simply informing myself -- or justifying the cost of a New York Times subscription -- but engaging in a critical analysis and acculturation exercise.  I was beginning to understand the world around me.

As is true of this eye opening event in my own life -- I'm only 26, so please pardon my ignorance -- this is also applicable to that of most people; incarcerated students in particular since they are already so isolated.  If incarcerated students see themselves as on an island, connections can't be made or facilitated.  And without connections, ignorance and a closed mind ensue.  These are detrimental factors to any person; the disenfranchised particularly so.  This is exactly what formal education attempts to rectify.