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"Life on the Outside": Notes Towards Day 23 (Wed, Mar. 15)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. (2:00-2:05, Jody): course-keeping
tomorrow, we'll have a visit from Rebecca Makas, host at Books Through Bars;
in preparation, please spend some time @
the Books Through Bars website:
focusing especially on the pages entitled "Why Do This?"
and "Education vs. Incarceration":

Una and Helen, please come having prepared in particular
to share your experiences/observations/questions:
various motivations people have for volunteering with BTB-->
consequences of "drop in" volunteering?
(not chosen, without context, not challenging stereotypes?)
if the books go out, does it matter what the motivation is?
or that there's no opportunity for reflection?

today, we'll begin our discussion of Life on the Outside; for tomorrow,
please finish the book (Part IV and Epilogue, pp. 271-346).

II. (2:05-2:30): mid-semester re-orientation
Jody: spent part of our break working through our mid-semester evaluative conversation:

acknowledge that this process might be new for ppl

issue of us ‘hovering’/being in groups

heard feedback re: enough about pedagogical readings,
want more literary material,
and more focus on activism

we'd designed the arc of course to focus on activism after break (with a # of visitors),
so that will happen; we've also now replaced most the additional pedagogical
readings with a big novel, Adichie's Americanah, which we'll start discussing next week
(copies are now on the shelf in the bookshop, and on course reserve @ Canaday)

2 postings – switch to one, Sunday night, use it as you will –
reflecting back on week – praxis and/or class and/or other connections

this means that the last paper will be more substantive (will discuss in April)

Anne: we also heard your call for more transparency:
* will be more explicit about why we picked particular texts,
what we think might be useful to focus on
* with the hope that that will offer a kind of clarity,
to follow our lead and to focus on something else,
if our questions aren't helpful/useful/interesting to you.

This is about the tension between performing learning, and learning:
who gets to define the learning that's going on?
there's a complicated relationship between intention and pick-up,
and we see a major goal of the course as being
about struggling w/ this tension.

We very much trust in the process of what emerges
among us as we work through this (and texts) together--
which means that group work is also unpredictable
and surprising (which makes it both delightful and scary!).
We see a value in this way of making meaning/coming to understanding.

Some of you addressed this in your postings before break--
Farida's saying that the goals of the course/ind'l classes aren't clear;
Aubrey's saying that it was becoming harder to process, to pick out something
from the week and say "yes, I learned this," or "yes, this is important to me because,"
or "yes, this impacted me on a level that...";
Amanda's commitment to coming to class
with something she wants to talk about--
"a main question, concern, praise, or note about each reading"
* we need to leave space for this--and you need to take it up

There's always a imbalance between intentions
and what emerges organically in group inquiry.
On the first day of class,
we traced the "arc" of the cluster,
which is still @ the top of the syllabus:
what it means to become literate--
about literacy,
in schools,
about schooling,
about prisons,
in and outside prisons, 
and in resistance to them.

Every day we pose questions related to one of these topics--
increasingly aimed now, @ questions about the ethics of activism.
We organize each class plan around a particular idea,
design activities aimed to bring out particular perspectives or concepts.
We're going to try to let you know ahead of time what these questions will be,
as I did in my e-mail last night.

feedback on our feedback??

III. (2:30-2:40, Jody):
show 10 minutes of

turn to your partner and share what you've noticed-->
bring it back to the large group:
* how did Bartlett move into political activism?
(what motivated her? what enabled her to do so?)
* what role did re-entry programs play in that experience?

3:00-3:10 BREAK

IV. (3:10-4:00, Anne):
pick up again with
Jennifer Gonnerman's book, Life on the Outside,
via the two essays we asked you read for y'day:
Sabrina Alli's essay, “Carceral Educations,”  and
Larissa MacFARQuhar's “Building a Prison-to-School Pipeline,"
both of which critique the usefulness of re-entry programs,
as replicating the problems of the system that
has already condemned people, like Elaine Bartlett,
who have been incarcerated and released.

Alli argues that the "non-profit re-entry industrial complex"
simply continues the system of education that has
already failed students who are condemed to an underclass;
McFARQuhar begins by celebrating extensively "the ex-cons of Berkeley,"
men who used their education inside both as a way to get into college,
and to "understand their lives"; who saw that "discipline was useful"
on this route.

@ the end of McFarquahar's essay, however, one of these "Underground Scholars"
says that, from a political point of view, this is "all wrong":
"this whole self-help reentry shit...I am so opposed to that....
Build your human capital, make investments; that's what's wrong
with neoliberalism--it focussed on the individual. But it's...
about us having solidarity to make changes in the system....
Thinking poliitcally meant not falling in love with your own story
and letting yourself imagine were special...
the redemption narrative...lets society off the hook....

Write for a few minutes about how well these two
analyses describe the experiences of Elaine Barlett....
Does what happened to her--and the way Gonnerman
tells her story--exemplify or challenge these claims?

Alli writes,
Re-entry programs aim to prevent recidivism despite
the insurmountable bureaucracy of extra-penal surveillance....
[These] are not an example of the state's generosity, let alone a
revolutionary concept in a society that has...5.1 million people
under the form of surveilance called "community supervision."

MacFarquhar writes,
Thinking politically meant not falling in love with your own story
and letting yourself imagine were special...
the redemption narrative...lets society off the hook....

Share w/ a partner--> then turn to the whole group:
what's emerging here? What are we coming to understand
about the usefulness of re-entry programs, and
their relationship to political activism?

To close: what else do you want to focus on tomorrow?