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The Intersection of Education and Incarceration

Non-incarcerated instructor Erin Castro penned an article in the Harvard Ed Review with an unusual collaborator — her incarcerated student Michael Brawn.

What does it take for a non-incacerated instructor to provide a valuable learning experience for his or her incarcerated students? This is a question without definite answers, says Erin Castro, assistant professor at the University of Utah.

A longtime instructor affiliate with the Education Justice Project, which provides higher educational opportunities to students at the Danville Correctional Center in central Illinois, Castro engaged one of her incarcerated students, Michael Brawn, in a dialogue exploring the challenges of educating a population within the constraints of a carceral system. Some of the difficulties are expected — limited access to information, for instance — but others may not be as obvious, such as the assumptions that instructors bring with them into the classroom.

“The very habits we [as educators] want students to embody — critical thinking, questioning authority," says Castro. "As incarcerated people, that is really difficult to do.”

Castro and Brawn's dialogue became an enlightening article for Harvard Educational Review, in which they discuss critical pedagogies in prisons and how the assumptions being made can stifle learning.

“One of the challenges for people who do this work … is that there is this myth, this grossly inaccurate perception, about what is possible inside a prison,” says Castro.

In this edition of the Harvard EdCast, Castro discusses her unique collaboration with Brawn and the intricacies of carceral education.

About the Harvard EdCast

The Harvard EdCast is a weekly series of podcasts, available on the Harvard University iTunes U page, that features a 15-20 minute conversation with thought leaders in the field of education from across the country and around the world. Hosted by Matt Weber and co-produced by Jill Anderson, the Harvard EdCast is a space for educational discourse and openness, focusing on the myriad issues and current events related to the field.


An education podcast that keeps the focus simple: what makes a difference for learners, educators, parents, and communities

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