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I'm guessing maybe Robert Scott hasn't read "Reading is My Window"

sara.gladwin's picture

I am in the middle of reading Robert Scott's "Distinguishing Radical Teaching from Merely Having Intense Experiences," and I just had to stop and write some of my thoughts down. While I agree with Scott's assertion that the intense isolation of the prison environment has negative effects on prisoners as learners, I am struggling with some of the assumptions which bring the author to make this conclusion. Scott writes "There is no internet to cross-reference the course materials so the reading process itself becomes isolated. An isolated reading can easily become a misreading. When a teacher introduces an unheard-of subject, the resources they provide may be the only reference that students have." While Scott is not wrong in pointing out the stark lack of resources (such as outside reading materials, internet, etc.) that exist for prisoners while reading, I don't think it is possible for the reading experience to ever be entirely isolated. As we learned from Megan Sweeney in "Reading is My Window," reading allowed for the women on the inside to form what she titles as an Underground Railroad of Reading, through which women exchange books and critical conversation. Rather than reading in total isolation, the women become resources for each other. When we meet with the women from Riverside, I get the sense that similar connections are being formed between our group members during the time in between each meeting. Several of the women have referred to discussions about the books which occured outside the class, as well as women having commented on the circulation of books between group members and non-group members. In particular, I remember a couple women having commented on how the copies of Zher's book made there way around many of the units. I also believe that there is a way in which a lifetime of someone's own personal experience can be a resource for reading. Maybe part of the reason that so many of the women relate to texts with intensely personal responses is because their well of experiences is their strongest resource for reading. In my own classroom encounters at Riverside, I have found that personal experience as a resource does not produce, as Scott names, "a misreading." More often, I find that it can be a tool and a lens for viewing the text which can also produce another kind of truth/undersanding. I'm reminded of the last conversation we had about radical teaching inside prisons; where I began to recognize that the emotional pushing and pulling that the women do can be labor, the same way that research or critical thinking can be labor. I struggle with Scott's language in calling the women "handicapped" and "crippled"- I think it denies the labor that is being produced and the ways in which prisoners work around their isolation. I'm wondering now if it can also be considered radical in an educational sense to keep working to form a connection between the emotional labor being done and the labor of critical thinking that can be produced by thinking... If we consider the ways in which critical thinking/analysis is conventionally given more weight than personal/individual self discovery, then isn't the combining of these labors and the more equal distrubution of their importance a kind of educational radicalism?

This all being said, I don't want this one aspect to obscure the other parts of Robert Scott's article which I found useful pushing what it means to teach radically. I do not believe emotional labor alone can produce a radical environment/thinking inside a prison.  Instead, I want to continue trying to form a classroom which can honor multiple ways of learning and knowing, and the spaces where they overlap to form a new kind of knowledge.