Academic journal article Journal of Correctional Education

Personal Reflections on Austin MacCormick's 1931 Correctional Education Book: The Integration of Vocational, Academic, and Social Education

Academic journal article Journal of Correctional Education

Personal Reflections on Austin MacCormick's 1931 Correctional Education Book: The Integration of Vocational, Academic, and Social Education

Article excerpt


The purpose of this article is to connect theories Austin MacCormick discussed in his 1931 book The Education of Adult Prisoners with examples from modern correctional education practice. The author began teaching an institutional plumbing class in 2000, equipped with an undergraduate degree in elementary education and a master's degree in vocational/adult education, and 22 years of experience as a plumber. I have never had any formal education in correctional education. MacCormick's book was my first exposure to that field; his genius inspired me to write this article.

I implemented some of his ideas in actual, working programs for men and women at county jails in New York State and at a Rescue Mission drug rehabilitation program in Syracuse. The results have included high graduation rates and assignment of former students in entry level plumbing jobs. Collected and treated research data on the program began with its inception.

It is my charge as a correctional vocational education teacher to connect Austin MacCormick's theories with the programs I manage. My hope is that, through this article, some interested correctional educators will benefit from a consideration of MacCormick's ideas and an explanation of how they were applied in these 21st century programs. In other words, the article contributes to the process of generally updating his theories to modern conditions. I extend special thanks to Elizabeth Curley for clerical support, Cindi Malone Jones for logistical help, Anne Jakowenko for all the useful advice, Thom Gehring for the editorial assistance, and Isabel Hunsinger for the 1997 article she contributed to The Journal of Correctional Education to begin the important process of scrutinizing and updating MacCormick's definitive ideas on our field.


In writing this article it is important for educators to understand who I am and my perspective concerning correctional education. Essentially, 1 am familiar with the practice of vocational education, and I seek to learn appropriate theory to inform my daily practice. As MacCormick wrote

In all fields of education, theory is In advance of practice (1976/1931, p.xii).

I am a plumber who developed a program to encourage adult men and women to enter the plumbing profession. The program began in a correctional setting by "accident" after it was rejected a number of times by public and vocational schools. I started teaching in a county jail to fulfill my research requirement for my master's degree in vocational/adult education. The first program graduated only 50% of the class of four youths; one adult dropped out after the first session.

Gradually I recognized that most workers need short unit intensive courses fitting them quickly for employment rather than longer more extensive courses. This insight was later confirmed by MacCormick's useful book.

The adult prisoner does better work and maintains his Interest more steadily when he comes to a definite point of achievement" (MacCormick, 1976/1931, p. 134).

In her 1997 article on the continuing relevance of MacCormick's book to the daily work of correctional education, Hunsinger wrote

The program must be based on honest, realistic standards, and teachers and administrators must be content with small gains that may be made. Selection criteria must be broad enough to accept and teach those who want to learn, and participation ideally is voluntary with compulsory attendance used only in the rarest and most extreme situations, (pp. 160-161).

Again, these concepts corresponded with the attributes of the program I developed.

At the encouragement of the adult education director at the jail a second program was established and implemented. This was really the beginning of my education in the field of correctional education. I had never heard of Austin MacCormick, and I had no idea of what correctional education was about. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.