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What Does It Mean To Be Radical?

sara.gladwin's picture

First, I just wanted to say how energized I felt after our conversation today. I actually followed Sasha to work and we continued the conversation until around 7:30, debating further about what it means to teach radically inside a prison, and whether it’s even possible. So rather than reflecting directly on the reading, I chose to reflect on the conversation Sasha and I had, and share with you all where we took the conversation after leaving. Of course, the questions only became more complicated and less answerable, but I enjoyed pushing our thinking further along as we challenged our responses/assumptions. It also became clearer to me while Sasha and I were talking that my thinking about these issues were being framed in my head by conversations I’ve had this past summer with one of my close friends, who identifies as a radical anarchist. I had this friend in my head during our meeting as well, debating in my ear about what it means to be radical. In particular, I was reminded of one conversation where they (gender neutral pronouns) asserted that they believed I was radical because of the way I thought, despite not being involved in any particular political action or identifying as radical. At the time, I responded that this very lack of involvement was what made me not so radical, that what it means to be radical was tied up with this passion and commitment to social change that anything less than being consumed by your involvement was passive. During my conversation with Sasha (during which we also reflected on the meaning of our 360 experience- Sasha having asked something along the lines of “what did we really do? what did we get out everything?”), she pointed out that even individual realizations that seem small can be radical, especially if you use that realization to actively change the way you live your life/think about the world. I realized in our meeting that something we hadn’t really talked about was what it meant to be radical on a more general level, and I think it might be useful to figure out what we all think about the word radical itself; and what experiences might be chattering away in the back of our minds as we consider various issues in teaching.

Some questions/thoughts that also came up were: How much can we push a radical agenda without doing a disservice to the very real and tangible needs these women have, both within the prison and after they leave? How radical is it to ask a group of women to become aware of their own disempowerment as having been caused by an institutional force other than simply “bad decision making” and then leave them inside that very institution, unable to change their surroundings? Does this make living there less bearable? And In choosing for the women not to receive credit for the course which might serve as testimony to their changed behavior/progress to the rest of the world, do we put them at a disadvantage for re-entry? We talked about how being radical does to a certain extent require privilege, and the means to reject societal influences that are inescapable for others. Even if we were to change the focus from individual wrong-doing to institutional wrong-doing, and if say, one of those women wanted to be involved in the movement against the prison upon re-entering society, how could she without connections and limited resources?

All this brought us to wonder whether it was even radical enough to ask the questions that will address power dynamics inside the prison without also providing the women some way to facilitate change. We also realized that we want to bring these conversations into the Bryn Mawr community, keeping in mind the article which reads toward the end, “Together these pieces ask how the assumptions driven by campus and community pedagogies inform teaching inside carceral institutions. They also ask how assumptions driven by teaching inside carceral institutions can inform teaching on campus and community spaces.” I want to think about ways that the Bryn Mawr community can also be influenced by the women on the inside, especially because this is the part about the campus/inside connection that seems to be more radical.



Anne Dalke's picture

i'm so appreciating

...your pushing here.