Andrew Jackson Smith
Elmore Correctional Center (AL)
Adaptive Core Curriculum for Prisoners
The human brain is designed to sustain oneself throughout a perilous journey from helplessness to hopefulness. The most incredible adaptability, exhibited in both anatomical and physiological changes, occur as a resort of our having encountered new stimuli internally and externally. One billion neurons engaging 100 trillion synaptic reactions allow for this plasticity which makes us forever adaptable to the unexpected events life throws at us. The ability to acquire new knowledge (encode), retain it (store), and recall it (retrieve) constitutes learning essential to our survival and progression. Success in life is dependent upon not only how we define the term, but a vast array of factors bombarding us, as well as emerging from within us.
If we were to attempt to design an experiment in order to cease the brain from advancing, that is to halt the acquisition of new input (or to prevent learning), it would be necessary to design an essential never changing routine for persons to exist nearly as robots. We might even induce digression of the person's mental capability by adding routine and daily assaults upon the brain responsible for neuronal necrosis. Human experimentation, however, in this day and time is appalling to the global human race. And the intentional degradation of the mind is assuredly consistent with the many and varied definitions for torture.
But for a moment let's ask ourselves what this experimental environment to intentionally harm the minds of humans might look like. In order to nullify normal neurological activity in the brain you impose a long-term restricted environment with an unchanging atmosphere, thus eliminating surrounding stimulation.
One would need be confined by a barrier to be subjected to a small and unchanging environment. Not total sensory deprivation temporarily causes neuronal death, but rather subjection to unchanging daily routine and environment. To expedite neuronal deterioration increased levels of cortisone would suffice. Cortisone derived from the adrenal glands in response to chronic stress would destroy neurons in the hippocampus thus impeding learning. Sleep deprivation, crowded living, climactic conditions consistent with outdoor temperatures, light and noise pollution, forced inactivity, violence, continuous predatory threats, little availability of health care and poor diet should ensure anatomical and physiological deterioration. In fact, we have an ideal experimental population including all these factors: prison and evidence would suggest that persons emerging from lengthy sentences are without a doubt, mentally worse for it. The punitive component constitutes mental torture.
The public is condoning of this mental damage resultant from prison because suffering seems appropriate for criminals. So as a nation, after denying prisoners the right to traditional progressive education, forcing them to view the most hostile entertainment (voted upon by a majority) and enclosing them in a provoking predator prey world for years we release them to impact society or hold them to corrupt the morality remaining in those who enter the prison's debauchery.
This paper is not about the foregoing brief description of todays prison consequences, but rather a proposed core education aimed at providing inmates with adequate stimuli to maintain and promote (however incremental) the progressive maturation process and normal psychological development.
Today's prisons are a step beyond what society typically considers the worse form of punishment, ie. solitary confinement. Solitary confinement for long considered the harshest, secondary to the psychosis reluctant from the mental torture of little to no stimuli. The unspoken and worser conditions today are of forced exposure to perverted stimuli. If you go into a prison today, especially state which has little supervision relative to the federal, you will be subjected to perversion daily. And if you are to survive in prison you must adapt to this abnormal environment while not becoming the direct object of it. Prisons in America are prey/predator atmospheres.
If we are to avoid the very surroundings of our immediate habitat, it will require an innovative and adaptive approach to preserve normal psychological well-being in this abnormal setting. A suggested core curriculum for inmates to participate in follows.
Engagement in appropriate educational core curriculum for prisoners will no more offset the psychotic and neurotic traits acquired from living in prison than brief daily periods of exercise will offset physical illness directly resultant from forced inactivity as a lifestyle. But it helps. The idealistic panacea is to develop rehabilitative centers for living as an alternative to prison. The realistic approach is to utilize easily accessible tools now to offer every inmate, on a voluntary basis, who wishes to promote his or her own mental well-being.
To learn in prison is most challenging. First, one must demonstrate a desire to learn. Second, he/she must have the capability to acquire knowledge and third, this new information must be implemented, to the point of habituation, in the person's life. Any one of the three are onerous to overcome in prison. This is why such an opportunity must be voluntary (so desire is noted) and applicable to only 40-60% of the general prison population.
An innovative approach to induce inmates to participate in an educational pursuit in such a depressive and perverted environment is by offering a moralistic principle in a popular and humorous format, while considering variables such as race, gender, education, age, culture and background. Such a format is available through classical t.v. comedy series such as the Cosby show and/or the Andy Griffith show. Such shows initially would help overcome tardiness and absenteeism. Additionally providing wholesome pleasure to facilitate the release of beneficial neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine) calls for a creative methodology. Humor would be one means. An array of such humorous/comedy programs with out-right or implied moral lessons are available. This too serves the purpose of reintroducing pleasure via normal humorous stimuli, rather than from often "acquired in prison" humor from perverted or violent depictions.
Traditional education ranging from literacy at the first grade level to high school should be available in the most effective and stimulating format as possible. The read 180 program, well reviewed by the Department of Education should be considered for literacy. Effectiveness should be determined by regular summative testing revealing progression to the next grade level. A home school, accredited course might be ideal for this. And although passing of the G.E.D. is desirable, continuing study to the traditional twelfth grade level afterwards would be advantageous, especially for entering college level study.
Motivational subjects should be mandated, daily and brief, just as morality within humor should be. These should be from motivational speaking experts with popular courses such as Napoleon Hill, Brian Tracy, Anthony Robbins, Wayne Dyer, Dennis Waitley, etc.
Those with high school education should pursue collegiate studies incrementally attaining basic to advanced degrees as an objective. This would be for more useful in society in the long run than pursuit of "trade school" only. Those without college credits should consider Clep and Dantes testing to meet first year requirements of six semester hours each in math, history, english, physical and social sciences. After A.D.s are attained, higher degrees should be sought and financial grant proposals solicited for doctorate in education degrees for those inmates in for lengthy or life sentences in preparation to teach other inmates.
Emphasis needs to be placed upon character development and specifically directed toward criminal thinking in adulthood, and conduct disorder in youth. Priority and chronology are less important than inclusiveness requiring a relatively lengthy period of time. Subjects might be grouped together, although expecting some permeation between groups of study.
Normal developmental psychology needs be taught with emphasis upon age appropriate stages of maturation. Abnormal psychology with emphasis upon personality disorders, addictions, and coping mechanisms should be included. Substance abuse from primarily a neuropsychiatric perspective and self evaluations/testing/questionnaires included.
Social norms, ettiquette, logic, reasoning, argumentation, speech, debate, problem solving, conflict resolution and virtuous living should be introduced in creative ways requiring active participation. The typical "therapeutic environment" is best avoided. All these necessary studies are typically found at post secondary schools and those are the curriculums that need be adopted, not dumbed down versions.
Courses to enhance activities of daily living could be taught, including but not limited to nutrition, meditation, exercise physiology, sleep, learning, etc.
The fact that JFK's advanced attempt to treat society's mentally ill unsuccessfully inconsequentially resulted in the increasing percentage of mentally ill in the prison system. And now this poses a unique challenge to educate these individuals. Special training is required to engage those with leaning disabilities. This type of training must be extended to fellow prisoners to function as facilitators for this often ostracized insular prison population, because no existing pedagogical agent and/or agency in society is currently willing to extend continuous, progressive long-term attention to inmates. An array of skills will be required to deal with the mentally challenged and a disproportionate amount of both time and effort, but this ever increasing segment of the prison population should not be marginalized by neglect nor denial.
Sample Course Curriculum over a Three Year Time Frame
I. Motivational topics during physical exercise
L. Physical fitness
II. Moral topics introduced in comedy format
A. Human rights
C. Right to life
D. War and Peace
E. Rule of Law
F. Death and dying
G. Equal rights
I. Defining right and wrong
J. World religions
III. Formal education with discussion and testing
A. 1st-12th grade national standards
1. Literacy read 180 and Laubach
2. Elementary education
3. Secondary education
B. Post-secondary education
1. Required 1st year thirty hours
2. Degrees: A.D. to PH.D
3. Foreign language
IV. Adaptive studies
A. Developmental psychology
B. Cognitive psychology
C. Abnormal psychology
D. Human behavior
H. Career development
I. Basic economics
J. Coping mechanisms
K. Criminal rehabilitation topics
V. Character development
A. Logic and reasoning
F. Problem solving
G. Conflict resolution
H. Critical thinking/ decisions
I. Current global events
In summary, a prison core education program differs from any other, in that it must accommodate a vast population of diversified persons, and all being problematic, as to repeatability of effective education if for no other reason than inappropriateness of the environment towards learning. Criminals are an opprobrious segment of America's society deliberately insular for the safety of community, which accounts for our acceptability of conditions short of torture, but sufferable at best and mandating adaptability consistent with situational depression adverse to any means of maturity, learning or acquisition of social skills. The core curriculum is designed to counter this mental abasement. It is not a panacea and will work synergistically with physical exercise, stress reduction measures, and participation in daily motivational activities and humor.
Education in prison requires a multidisciplinary approach adaptive to a difficult target audience. For example, prisoners may be accustomed to experiencing pleasure, even humor in response to abusive or violent or even perverse scenarios to such an extent that the pathways between the prefrontal cortex responsible for morality and the limbic system involved in pleasure are physiologically functioning in abnormal ways which might be confirmed by functional magnetic resonance imaging while undergoing interviews accompanied by graphic visual depictions. An effective innovative and adaptive educational core curriculum could be emplaced to both anatomical and physiological change the brain resulting in improved morality, values, and behavior.
Transcribed in 2017.
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