Book Groups and Prisoner Education

Have you read this Saturday’s essay? Click here to jump to director Ted Schillinger’s account of his new documentary, Robert Blecker Wants Me Dead. 



Gregory Cowles over at the NYT book blog Paper Cuts, asks his readers about the pleasures of personal reading versus discussing the book with one’s peers: 

“I’ve heard enough book-group horror stories to doubt the whole notion of communal reading. One of the undercelebrated joys of literature, after all, is precisely that it allows (or demands?) such solitude and intimacy: reading has more in common with the cloisters than it does with the congregation.” 

He concludes by asking: What do you think? Can reading really work as a group activity?  Tell him what you think over in the Paper Cuts comment section. 



bpi_grad_2-09_085The New Republic’s Leon Botstein  talks about the effectiveness and potential of prisoner education systems in his new article “Con Ed: Reading Lolita in the Big House.”  He highlights a commencement ceremony in the Eastern New York Correctional Facility, where prisoners receive higher education degrees through the Bard Prison Initiative.  Prisoners cited the joy of closely reading texts and learning how to express themselves in written arguments. Botstein argues this program can teach us a lot about human nature and the potential for change:      

We have become accustomed by conventions most eloquently expressed in literature, for example in Dostoyevsky’s House of the Dead, to believe that it is in circumstances of complete unfreedom and deprivation, particularly in incarceration, that the character of human nature is revealed. If that is indeed the case, it was plain in this ceremony, in which the families of the graduates were gathered alongside fellow inmates, prison guards, the superintendent of the prison, and New York State’s Commissioner of Correctional Services, that the capacity for good is never erased. An incredible potential for good resides in all of us, for it is the consequence of the human ability to learn and speak. In no other circumstance in my experience has the connection between ethics and learning been so dramatically validated.

Check out the full article and share your thoughts with Botstein by clicking the “Con Ed” link above.


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