“State Prison University”

When I was in high school, a couple of kids in my class were accepted to Harvard, and I could see why.

They were scary-smart, other-worldly in their intellectual depth and breadth, and voracious learners.

Recently, Harvard’s undergraduate admission dean, Amanda Claybaugh, who’s also an English professor, lamented that, while teaching “The Scarlet Letter”, her students were “struggling to understand sentences as sentences—like having trouble identifying the subject and the verb.

“Their capacities are different,” she understated.

“Different”, or diminished? Greatly. Damnably. Long before we graduated high school, and didn’t go to anyplace like Harvard, we knew subjects and verbs.

The Wall Street Journal just ran an essay entitled “College Should Be More Like Prison”, and before you make the obvious shower jokes, it was pretty interesting.

The author teaches for-credit courses at a men’s maximum security prison, and writes:

“Never have I been more grateful…

“These men are highly motivated and hard-working…read each assignment two or three times before coming to class…some have been incarcerated 20 or 30 years and have been reading books all that time…

“They would hold their own in any graduate seminar”

What’s different? Read on…

“From my selfish point of view as an educator, they have no access to cellphones…they have retained their attention spans. while those of the modern college student have been destroyed by their dependence on smartphones”.

It seems like a strange place to rediscover dedicated learning and intellectual exchanges, but there it is.

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