Teaching Diverse Students in a Corrections Setting with Assistance from the Library

By Bouchard, Joseph; Kunze, Linda | Journal of Correctional Education, June 2003 | Go to article overview

Teaching Diverse Students in a Corrections Setting with Assistance from the Library


Bouchard, Joseph, Kunze, Linda, Journal of Correctional Education


Abstract

Teachers in correctional facilities have the challenging job of working in a sometimes hostile atmosphere, earning respect from all areas of the facility, and educating a population that does not always necessarily wish to be in class. Diversity issues are also important to consider in this setting. Those who teach the incarcerated can deal with all of those points by using culturally divers topics in the curriculum. This is augmented by utilizing the institutional library collection. With the library staff as a partner, students will have access to materials which they find interesting and develop research skills that they can use after incarceration. Benefits of this plan will be reaped by students, education staff, library staff, the facility, and society.

Personal safety issues and job-related tension weigh heavily on the minds of corrections professionals. In addition, it is never easy to dismiss concerns about health issues, integrity, and other confrontations. Those working in this often-contentious environment are put to the test. Certainly, corrections educators encounter many vocational trials and challenges every day.

By virtue of the position, teachers in prisons and detention centers are charged with the additional task of educating students who do not necessarily wish to be there. The corrections students attend, in part, through coercion. Sanctions may be imposed for non-attendance. An additional problem is enlivening programming for diverse students. Teachers must make education not only effective, but also interesting. This can be done through many strategies. The correctional educator who utilizes the institution library for research of diversity topics increases chances of reaching students of all backgrounds.

Defining Diversity

What exactly is diversity? It is commonly defined as the state of being different, unlike in character or qualities. Yet, the definition is deeper than that. There are many different answers to the question "what is diversity?" Not all of them are neutral terms. Some will see diversity as an opportunity, while others view it as something unfairly imposed. However, according to one publication, "Diversity simply means Differences... differences in People." (duPont and Halasz, 1998).

One corrections professional posed a question on that topic to attendees of the 2002 Summer ACA conference. The specific request for information was, "What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the word diversity?" The answers offered were: ideas separate from others, the differences among us, and flexibility. Some other participants answered: multi, differences, differing cultures, and having two different sides. Other offerings included: racial/cultural differences, inclusion of all parties, and people with opinions, cultures or experiences different from yours. Still others put forth these replies: "you may not like it, but be professional and work with it," people of different races, and be aware of ethnicity, gender and class (social) working or living in the same environment. Certainly, there are many opinions on how to specifically define the concept. However, the heart of it all is the idea of differences (Bouchard, 2002).

Why Is There A Lack Of Diversity Among Corrections Educators?

The overwhelming majority of teachers in America are White, yet the student populations are more diverse today than ever before, especially in the correctional setting (Kalin, 1999). Teachers of color, parents, and community members tend not to encourage their youth to enter the field of teaching because of an internalized "lack of respect for education and teaching as a profession" (Gordon, 2000). Native Americans view formal schooling as "learning how to be a white man and abandoning tribal ways" (ibid). Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Native Americans do not encourage students to become teachers. Native American educators feel "ostracized from their tribe" having "to wear two faces" (ibid). …

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