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sara.gladwin's picture

Geographies of Prejudice: Self-Narration and Radical Teaching...

Colson, D. "Geographies of Prejudice: Self- Narration and Radical Teaching in Prison." The Radical Teacher 95 (2013): 48+. ProQuest Education Journals. Web.


“…by which my university is transported into the Prison”


Always higher education being brought into the Prison, and never out… might a way to engage in radical pedagogy be creating a space where the mutual acts of learning are given space/attention… deconstructing oppressive power dynamics that are inherent to traditional teaching methodology that insists only the teacher/professor has the power to impart knowledge.


“…I could ask them to share their experiences, which supplemented our discussions of the novel with the extra-literary, tragically real consequences of retrograde economic and racial politics. No longer was it necessary for me, for example, to describe the effects of systematic racism: my incarcerated students could do so far more poignantly and far more eloquently.”<---- this was the only quote I liked.


“…whereas on campus I might feel successful if I shake a few students out of their facile and unconscious sense that we live in a post-racial world, in prison my aspirations were higher: I dreamed of creating a space in which my power would minimize as a dialogue of first-hand accounts of oppression eliminated my need to counterbalance multiple iterations of privilege.”


“Here, I imagined the full flourishing of radical pedagogy: beyond the plodding effort to make students aware of injustice, this class- by combining a radical text with my students’ personal experiences would allow us to discuss the causes of Bigger’s poverty, his criminalization… At that moment, my dreams of shifting from the timidly radical pedagogical drive toward awareness (“racism exists!”) to a more assertive exploration of the connections between race and class seemed within reach”


First of all, I have not been appreciating the tone of this entire article that seems self-congratulatory and peppered with little, hidden assumptions. I was annoyed by his efforts to “put down” the learning experiences of his college students, and I was annoyed the valorization of his experiences educating in Prison. I was especially annoyed with the easy way he claimed a radical pedagogy, calling the experience a “full flourishing of radical pedagogy,” when his description did not seem distinctly radical, in the sense that I’ve been conceptualizing the word, to anyone but himself. Not only that, but his pedagogy itself seems to revolve around the oppressive perception that reaching a space of critical learning is impossible without him- “beginning with my students’ experience/knowledge about the reality of racism, I could add my knowledge…” Colson positions himself as the deliverer. He then goes on to say he becomes the student, which would have been a great counter to his initial conception of himself as the all-knowing educator, EXCEPT he went on to describe a situation in which it appeared he did really not learn from his students. Colson describes the following class, during which he expected to hold an equally powerful discussion about the sexism of Bigger Thomas. He is confused when his students not only do not want to discuss sexism, but agree with Bigger Thomas! He then makes a one-sided argument as to why his student could possibly make homophobic and sexist comments.


What the author fails to do is examine his own educational practices. I don’t believe he attempted to really understand the larger cultural and racial expectations of masculinity that would give insight into his students’ lives; instead he chalks it up to the Prison environment- though he briefly states in parenthesis “perhaps earlier in life…” some experience could have shaped his students’ attitudes. He wrongly assumes that because his students understand the oppression caused by racism, they will automatically understand and find relevant the oppression that is caused by sexism. However, he continually points to their depth of understanding as being directly related to experiencing racism… HOW COULD ANY OF THOSE MEN HAVE THEN TRANSLATED THAT TO UNDERSTANDING TO SEXISM IF THE REALITY OF THEIR EXPERIENCES HAVE NOT BEEN FEMALE / THE DIRECT RECIPIENT OF SEXIST ATTITUDES?! By making the assumption that his students would automatically take up the cause of sexism because they know racism, he also implied that forms of oppression look and act the same. This understanding of oppression cannot account for all of its various networks, nuances, and intersections. Colson does not seem fully aware of his audience or their lived experience; he could have approached the class from an analysis and questioning of masculine gender expectations/roles, rather than jumping right to Bessie’s sexist treatment. Starting with their knowledge as masculine identifying; Colson would have also been utilizing the ideology that students already enter the classroom bearing knowledge- the same technique that he stumbled upon when encountering his students’ breadth of knowledge regarding racism.


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