"I Go to Get Away from the Cockroaches:" Educentricity and the Politics of Education in Prisons

Article excerpt

Talking to young men in an Irish prison we discover that cockroaches are a day to day fact of life. We discuss how best to deal with them and someone says that while in [name of prison] he used to put his socks over the bottom of his jeans so that they wouldn't be able to run up his trousers while he was asleep. Someone else tells me he used to sleep with a towel over his head to keep them away. We talk about education. When I ask why they go, the general consensus is 'to get away from the cockroaches (personal observations Ireland 2002).

Introduction and Outline

Education - and especially aspects of reading and writing - have consistently been ideologically and politically linked to the times and spaces in which they occur. Historically, groups or individuals Invariably demonstrate some form of "educentrlclty," that Is, holding to a view of education that is based either on their own experiences or related to the perceived educational needs and experiences of those around them. It is usually based on what we (or they) think education is or ought to be and is tied strongly to the value placed upon It. Educentrlc points of view can be linked to the 'way of the world' at almost any given point In history and have frequently been used as a way of positioning learners, including or excluding certain groups, and supporting or constraining educational progress. ITiIs paper looks at educentrlclty - with a specific focus on literacy - at the beginning of the 21 st century and from a primarily European perspective. More specifically it looks at the literacy-related activities and practices of one particular group - prisoners - and seeks to understand the impact of various educentrlc ideologies on current educational provision In prison. It is written from outside the parameters of educational research, takes an ethnographic and holistic stance towards prison life, and seeks to look at education - and reading and writing In particular - from the perspective of policy-makers, practitioners and prisoners themselves.

Before addressing the Issues however, it Is imperative to begin by asking the question "How do I (or you) know about the topic under discussion?' It Is a pivotal question, both reflexive and inquisitorial, and relevant to all ethnographers regardless of their research environment. It concerns me that research (even ethnography!) rarely has the opportunity to discuss method in any detail and so I want to pose this question as a way of grounding the points that I want to go on to make. I then want to ask the question 'Whose view of education are we talking about? And use the notion of educentricity to suggest that the perspective of one particular group can Impact strongly on the way that education is (or is not) taken up or engaged with by others. Finally, I want to touch on the notion of a 'third space1 as a model for educentric synergy at points where opposing and conflicting positions on education meet, before offering some concluding remarks.

There are however, two points to take into account before entering fully Into the educentric debate. Firstly, while many readers may have extensive knowledge, interest or understanding of carceral settings, It is Important for me to stress that the topics under discussion should be seen as have the potential for transference and relevance to other sites. For while prison is the focus of my own work, It is only one Institution among many and I want to emphasise that the educentric lens through which I propose to look at prison Issues can be turned on other sites.

Secondly, I want to preface the main discussion with a concise but relevant context to some issues around current views of education, particularly those around marginalisation, morality and criminality. Education does not exist In a vacuum and contemporary views are embedded in the policies, practices (and even politics) of education that have gone before. It is to this contextuallsation that I first want to briefly turn. …