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WORDS NO BARS CAN HOLD

LITERACY LEARNING IN PRISON

An affecting meditation on the ability of literature to empower inmates who are too often dismissively diminished by society.

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A literature teacher recounts her considerable experience instructing high-security prisoners and argues for a rehabilitation program that includes the liberating effect of creative writing. 

Despite “incontrovertible evidence” that access to education can significantly reduce criminal recidivism, Appleman (co-author: Teaching Literature to Adolescents, 3rd Edition, 2016, etc.) concedes that convincing the public that convicts should be treated to what many regard as a forfeited privilege is a “tough sell.” Nevertheless, this is precisely the position she passionately—and inspiringly—defends. While most of the limited education provided for prisoners is vocational in nature, the author contends that an introduction to literature—in particular, the exercise of creative writing—can transform an inmate’s life. She avers that the “pedagogy of creative writing, with its emphasis on identity construction and narration, seems to provide opportunities for self-reflection as well as powerful clues to where the life courses of these incarcerated students might have been altered.” Appleman thoughtfully discusses her own experience teaching creative writing at a high-security correctional facility and poignantly relates not only the successes she witnessed, but also the limitations of an “environment that is not conducive to learning.” She includes profiles of some of her “incarcerated learners” as well as exemplary excerpts of their writing. Finally, she furnishes a bracingly honest reflection on the “school-to-prison pipeline,” what she considers “one of the most urgent educational issues of our time.” She discusses the possibility that a well-guided encounter with literature and writing could open up new ways of thinking—and ultimately choosing—for disadvantaged youngsters trapped in a grim cycle of self-destruction.  Appleman’s meditation is stirringly hopeful but not naively idealistic: She never denies the “brutal realities of the carceral state and the complexity of the population of those who live behind bars.” She also astutely explores the fundamental inhospitableness of prison to creative learning. A penitentiary is dehumanizing and despotic while education is humanizing and emancipating. Still, her argument is a ringing testament to the “transformative power of literacy” and the extent to which education can provide a “kind of oasis, or a glass bubble that floats fragilely in this sea of indignity.” The author writes not only lucidly, but also with great elegance and power. Her position is based on her profound experience as an instructor and a lover of literature—she has taught 150 incarcerated men. The writing samples she provides are simply extraordinary, not only because of their philosophical and poetical quality, but also because of the insights the writers demonstrate into their lamentable plights. Appleman does more than argue that these men, many of whom have committed heinous crimes and will never be released, are still human beings capable of moral redemption: She shows readers this through their writing. Moreover, the author makes a convincing case for the power of stories, not just to entertain and distract, but also to reimagine the writers’ very selves and supply the sources for inspiration that sometimes life itself refuses.

An affecting meditation on the ability of literature to empower inmates who are too often dismissively diminished by society.

Pub Date: June 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-71367-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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THE ABOLITION OF MAN

The sub-title of this book is "Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools." But one finds in it little about education, and less about the teaching of English. Nor is this volume a defense of the Christian faith similar to other books from the pen of C. S. Lewis. The three lectures comprising the book are rather rambling talks about life and literature and philosophy. Those who have come to expect from Lewis penetrating satire and a subtle sense of humor, used to buttress a real Christian faith, will be disappointed.

Pub Date: April 8, 1947

ISBN: 1609421477

Page Count: -

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1947

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INSIDE AMERICAN EDUCATION

THE DECLINE, THE DECEPTION, THE DOGMAS

American schools at every level, from kindergarten to postgraduate programs, have substituted ideological indoctrination for education, charges conservative think-tanker Sowell (Senior Fellow/Hoover Institution; Preferential Polices, 1990, etc.) in this aggressive attack on the contemporary educational establishment. Sowell's quarrel with "values clarification" programs (like sex education, death-sensitizing, and antiwar "brainwashing") isn't that he disagrees with their positions but, rather, that they divert time and resources from the kind of training in intellectual analysis that makes students capable of reasoning for themselves. Contending that the values clarification programs inspired by his archvillain, psychotherapist Carl Rogers, actually inculcate values confusion, Sowell argues that the universal demand for relevance and sensitivity to the whole student has led public schools to abdicate their responsibility to such educational ideals as experience and maturity. On the subject of higher education, Sowell moves to more familiar ground, ascribing the declining quality of classroom instruction to the insatiable appetite of tangentially related research budgets and bloated athletic programs (to which an entire chapter, largely irrelevant to the book's broader argument, is devoted). The evidence offered for these propositions isn't likely to change many minds, since it's so inveterately anecdotal (for example, a call for more stringent curriculum requirements is bolstered by the news that Brooke Shields graduated from Princeton without taking any courses in economics, math, biology, chemistry, history, sociology, or government) and injudiciously applied (Sowell's dismissal of student evaluations as responsible data in judging a professor's classroom performance immediately follows his use of comments from student evaluations to document the general inadequacy of college teaching). All in all, the details of Sowell's indictment—that not only can't Johnny think, but "Johnny doesn't know what thinking is"—are more entertaining than persuasive or new.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 1993

ISBN: 0-02-930330-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1992

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