This past Tuesday (19 April 2011), Inner Light Ministries (located on 5630 Soquel Drive, Santa Cruz, CA) held a forum entitled “Education as Liberation? Exploring the Relationships Between Incarceration and Higher Education,” in which several panelists–including keynote speaker Angela Davis–spoke upon these issues.
Reverend Deborah L. Johnson asks the audience what society must ask itself: what kind of an education does one need to be human? While tuition continues to skyrocket at all levels of public higher education, the number of incarcerated people increases. The cost of keeping just one person incarcerated per year is a staggering $264,000. And check this out: both art and music programs are stripped out of prisons, leaving imprisoned individuals no outlet for artistic and/or musical engagement that could otherwise heal the soul. The United States makes up only five percent of the world’s population but a whopping twenty-five percent of the world’s incarcerated population. While more people of color become imprisoned (especially African Americans), fewer students are able to attend any sort of higher education because of the so called “budget crisis.”
Universities have transformed into a powerful corporation that diminishes the value of knowledge sharing. Raising a critical consciousness is no longer a student’s intention, causing much apathy towards political issues that affect all beings. The ability to think critically of social issues such as (but most certainly not limited to) [institutionalized] racism, sexism, homophobia and heteronormativity, (dis)ability, and classism engages critical dialogue which permits a larger sense of understanding of life. If the university does not provide such a space, there is a “duty of the individual,” Angela Davis begins, “to bring down the system.”
But bringing down the system requires more than just asking for more access to public education. “If we want more schools and fewer jails, what kind of schools do we want?” Davisasks. “We want ones that teach intellectual patterns, not universities that are about commodification.” While students are tirelessly focused on getting a degree in hopes of achieving a well-paid job, they miss the opportunity to seriously interact with other students and participate in critical engagement. They fall prey of the conventional regurgitating teaching method in which professors believe to be the knowledge carriers, and students, empty minds that will absorb whatever professors say and regurgitate it back out for a satisfactory grade (without questioning information). Furthermore, the towering amount of tuition the public universities require chases away students from even applying. Why aren’t public institutions serving the public? Realizing this notion, Davis ends with a waking call for all: “Imagine our work as a public good.”