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Education: Who Deserves It?

Chandrea's picture

After reading the Jones & d'Errico and Silva articles, I've been feeling really conflicted lately about the question of who deserves to be educated. My initial response before reading any of these articles would've been an enthusiastic "EVERYBODY" but I thought Silva's mentioning of William Weld's suggestion of Boston University offering the free education program to the poor, law-abiding citizens rather than the inmates was mind-boggling, and yet kind of a good one. I can't seem to make up my mind! Do we have to pit the two groups up against each other? Are the two groups at the same level on the playing field? If I had to pick which group could receive the education, I don't think I'd have to think twice about giving it to the poor, law-abiding citizens. But that doesn't mean I agree with Weld's "lock them up and throw away the key" attitude. The fact that these two groups had something in common to struggle for was surprising, but I don't think it should have been.

I always knew there was some sort of educational access hierarchy that existed, but I could only think of that situation using groups of people categorized by socioeconomic status - I never once considered inmates as a group that needed to be considered in this discussion about rights to an education until now.



couldntthinkofanoriginalname's picture

Why Choose? Why Not Both?

I find it interesting that by you saying, "I don't think I'd have to think twice about giving it to the poor, law-abiding citizens" you think it is your responsibilty to choose and think that you would be put in a situation where you had to. I don't think you or I or anyone else should have to choose between the inmates and law-abiding poor people because that contributes to pitting them against each other. It should be that BU offers a free education to both parties because, if we dig deep, they usually have more similartities (poverty, marginalization, distant relationships to social institutions) than their one difference (one group as law-abiding and the other as law-breaking). Both deserve an opportunity at an education and I think institutions, like BU, did not step up to offer free education to inmates to maintain the notion that criminals, usually the products of poverty, are less deserving.

HSBurke's picture

Glad I'm not alone..

Chandrea -- 

So glad to hear that I'm not alone in this feeling. Like you, after reading the Jones & d'Errico and Silva I was left questioning whether or not certain groups deserve to be educated. You ask if the two groups must be pitted against each other. I think the sad truth is that if one group is chosen to receive this education then the other will go without. I speak here from the standpoint of money. I agree that I would choose the poor-law abiding citizens over the prisoners in terms to priority in receiving education. Budgets are so slim that I don't believe both would ever be a possibility. I'll admit, however, that during my reading of this article I selfishly pitted myself against these educated inmates, specifically upon learning that the money to educate the prisoners is sponsored by the Pell Grant. I remember very vividly the day during senior year when I received the email telling me that I didn't qualify for the Pell Grant or the Cal Grant. My parents were crushed -- it would have been so helpful in funding the four expensive years at Bryn Mawr that were to come. I'm not proud of it, but I'll admit that I felt cheated in learning during reading that that government money went towards educating those in prison in the liberal arts. It's ironic that I'm participating directly in a program that facilitates the education of incarcerated women, and yet, when it was displayed out financially for me, I suddenly felt up in arms. I can't help but wonder what this education of the inmates will really do. We've discussed in Barb's class how it can be nearly impossible for those with criminal records to find jobs after incarceration or continue their higher education. The roadblock severely limits their ability to make contributions in the work force and put money back in the economy. I wonder if it is worth it (purely from a financial standpoint) to educate someone who will soon reach a dead end in terms of where they take that education. I don't like to think of education as a means to an end (I hope I'm not evoking feelings of Lancaster, here) but keeping in mind the limited budget applied to education, wouldn't it make more sense to educate those who can do something with it? 

I wish that everyone could receive a proper education. But when it comes to allocating budget, I can't bring myself to think of prisoners as deserving of an education when there are so many law-abiding citizens that could take their formal education so much further and redistribute this gain back into society both financially and culturally.

Food for thought: (Tangentially, Dewey might argue that the experience of being incarcerated and the unique perspective that comes with it is a powerful educative mode in itself...)