Assignment 5 – Prison Break

Hi students of English 110,

Welcome to your newest assignment!

There are over 2 million fellow American citizens incarcerated at the present time. Our current assignment is a study of the prison system and to explore the lives of the inmates before, during and after their incarceration. Many of those incarcerated in our prisons are stereotyped as hard criminals and cruel human beings. We are going to investigate and discover the nature of many of these inmates. We will look into their backgrounds and upbringings. What are the factors that contributed to their present situations? What are their feelings now? What are the ramifications of their being in prison? How will they act once released from prison? What will happen to their families while they are locked up? What effect does incarceration have on their lives and on the lives of those close to them?

We will be writing a research paper about the lives of these individuals based on our findings and research.

To answer some of these questions, the first stage of our three week project will consist of some background research by going through some readings, listening to podcasts or watching videos. We will spend three days working in computer labs searching for and gathering this information.  Some of the media available will shed light on the plights of current and past inmates and how their incarceration played out in their lives. Radiolab’s Dear Hector sheds light on one inmate’s personal story throughout his life and how he got to where he is. MSNBC’s “Lock Up” series explores life in prison from many different perspectives of both the prisoners and the staff. Some readings to consider are the New York Times article “Prison and the Poverty Trap” by John Tierney or Craig Haney’s Psychological Impact of Incarceration. Feel free to search for any relevant media that you think will contribute to your paper.

During the second week of the project we will visit two prisons in the tri-state area, one of which is a maximum security facility, where we will have the opportunity to speak with a few of the inmates and staff there. When speaking with them we will be splitting into groups of three so that everyone will have the opportunity to ask questions. These questions will be focused mostly on the individual stories of the inmates. These questions may be personal (obviously within limits) – what got them into prison, how their families or communities reacted, how they foresee their future etc.

Our goal here is to discover the feelings and sentiments of both the inmates and their families. Some of the families who live close by will be coming to our campus during that second week to speak with us as well. We will be able to ask them their perspective on how the incarceration affected them and how they perceive their spouse/sibling/son/daughter etc. now after what has happened? Were they to blame? What’s in store for them after they get released?

We will be taking notes during our interviews with the inmates and staff and as we get tours of the facilities. Take notice of are how they are treated in prison and how they get along with each other. How does this affect their well being and overall health? As we research and jot down notes during this two week period, we will begin to start forming outlines and writing rough drafts of what our paper will look like and what we hope to accomplish with it.

During the final week of this assignment we will be writing our papers and describing what we learned about the inmates and their families. We will compare how we had thought about incarceration before and after we undertook this task.  The final week will be spent working individually both at home and in computer labs on campus. Towards the end of the week we will have a session of peer review to get feedback on our writing and how we can improve or add to it.

Finally, by sharing our writing with the inmates, their families and the world at large we will present incarceration and its ramifications as we see it.

Liberation of Education

Most of the education that we know of today is not education as “the practice of freedom.” According to Bell Hooks, educating as a “practice of freedom” is a form of teaching and consequent learning that is engaging and exciting for both teachers and students alike. In this “practice of freedom,” both parties are equal “players in contributing and sharing in the learning experience. Students are not just taught information that they are expected to commit to memory and recall when asked; rather they learn to think critically in a non-conformist, unconfined way. Teachers who educate as a “practice of freedom” teach “not merely to share information but to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of students” (13).

When students are taught in this “liberatory” manner, the lessons they learn carry over into their lives outside of the classroom as well. Hooks recalls that in her younger years, before racial integration, her teachers made it their goal and “worked with and for us to ensure that we would fulfill our intellectual destiny…” (2). To do so, the teachers made personal connections to their pupils by getting to know each of them and their families. During that time, Hooks describes school as the place where she was able to “reinvent” herself without having to “conform to someone else’s image (3).

After racial integration, education became about knowledge of facts alone. The information that one learned had no bearing on how lived and behaved (3). This mode of education is similar to what Nick Sousanis portrayed in Unflattening. When students are not actively involved, and schooling just becomes memorization of information, life can become lose meaning and uniqueness. In order to learn properly, students must be interested and involved in what they are learning. When students are engaged and participate in the learning process, they apply what they learn to their lives.

Hooks’ vision of education is most certainly correct. We are born with an insatiable thirst to constantly learn and grow, to be changed by ideas. We are born curious and we are excited when we discover new things and concepts. Somehow, somewhere in grade school learning becomes boring, uncool and unexciting. If we start our lives with a natural love of learning and a pleasurable endeavor and somewhere in the course of our youths lose this drive, something must be wrong with the way we are educating. As Hooks writes, educators must view it as their personal mission to keep this natural inclination alive and to nurture and help students grow with it.

One issue with Hooks’ ideology of how teaching should be, is that it may not be very practical. Educating in this manner requires that both students and educators be involved and engaged in the process. As Hooks herself writes, very often this “give-and-take” is not present in the classroom and therefore hampers this kind of educational experience.


Some Questions:

  • Hooks writes that a crisis in eduation is that “students often do not want to learn and teachers do not want to teach.” Why is tha? Has it always been this way for the majority of students?

2) How can “transgressing” the educational boundaries become less scary? What will make students more open to this method?


Works Cited

Hooks, Bell. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge, 1994. Print.

Sousanis, Nick. Unflattening. Harvard UP, 2015. Print.



Extra credit – An experience of education

I don’t think I can recall a single story or experience that formed the way I think and learn.  However, over the years, the environments in which I’ve spent most of my time learning have greatly contributed to the process and method by which I learn.

For the past many years,  the setting in which I learn has become a very familiar one to me. Imagine walking through a set of double doors into a very large room filled with rows and rows of eight or six foot long tables. Two large clocks are hung at either end of the spacious room, one to the far right and one to the far left. The room is lined on all sides by tall bookcases reaching up to the ceiling, each filled to capacity with volumes and volumes of books. New books and old books. First prints,  second editions or books that date back to hundreds of years ago. Everyone studies from the books. Computers and other technology are used to complement what is learnt from the books but the primary source of information is most certainly what is written inside of those books.

Sitting by the tables, either side-by-side or face-to-face are tens or at times hundreds of pairs of what we can call “study buddies.” you may picture the scene to resemble that of a library, and indeed that may be a comparison of sorts, but there is one very stark contrast. A library is quiet –  this room is anything but quiet.

After receiving direction from the aged professor regarding what material or which texts we should look at and learn about regarding the topic at hand that is being learnt, study buddies head to their respective seats and open the books. The day has begun.

Each of the “buddies” start looking at and analyzing the text, then discuss and debate about key points and definitions. Rather quickly, the large room becomes a hustle of noise and activity – a cacophony of about sixty pairs of “study buddies” talking, yelling, pointing, gesticulating about what they believe to be the true understanding of the subject at hand. For most,  the noise is not a distraction, rather a sort of “white noise” that has become a familiar and welcome background hum that can actually help promote concentration.

If a pair reach a stalemate in their discussions,  they’d usually walk over to another pair or group of people learning about the same topic and discuss it with them and ask their opinion on the debate at hand. Ultimately, this can lead to group discussions of 30 or more people conversing and sharing information and arguments with each other. Eventually, if no clear outcome is reached, the professor may come over to join the discussion and offer his input.

After a couple of hours of these discussions, the professor calls the class down to the lecture hall where he proceeds to lecture about how he understands the material being studied and the ramifications. Questions and comments are accepted and welcome during his lecture as well. 

Thought not familiar or conventional to many,  this is the atmosphere and environment where I’ve been educated for many years and it has truly affected the way I digest and perceive information and knowledge.

Yehuda Lehrfield – Introduction

Hi, my name is Yehuda. I am a transfer student here at Queens College and am interested to see how things are different here from the last institution that I attended. Currently, I am interested in the pre-engineering track offered here in Queens College. Some interests of mine include maths and moral ethics. When it comes to writing, I find that I am good at organizing ideas and keeping the focus throughout. However, occasionally when trying to convey a message to the  reader, I tend to repeat myself several times. I enjoyed the discussion the class had on Thursday and look forward to future stimulating conversations.