Teaching Inside: May’s Springtime Allure and Promise

Our spring semester wrapped at the end of May and the workshops culminated in final projects and presentations for the Psychology class. One student, who gave me his 17 paged paper to read repeatedly (because that’s just how his work ethic is set up), wrote the following on May 3:

“In another assessment of prior familiarity, Sno and Linszen (1990) proposed a holographic explanation of déjà vu (Meurs & Fies, 1993). If memories are stored as holograms (cf. Pribram, 1969), then each memory involves a unique pattern of neural activation involving the entire cortex. That is, a memory (first kiss, favorite song) is not based on physical storage but on a unique wave form pattern of neural activation. If any perceptual element in a new scene overlaps with an element of a previous memory, then this has the potential to reactivate the entire old memory (Kafka, 1989). If only the implicit familiarity component of that prior experience is reactivated, a déjà vu moment results. However, if both implicit and explicit components are reactivated, the present setting simply reminds the person of a prior experience.”

May 8

In our Psychology class on Friday, we wrapped up a lesson on psychological disorders and covered things like manic episodes, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and a host of others. It was a two week lesson plan that made me apprehensive because I knew that two of my students were incarcerated for crimes committed whilst in a mental health crisis. I wanted to be sure I was as informative, objective, and sensitive as possible for obvious reasons.

As usual, the guys surpassed any and all expectations I had regarding their treating each other kindly and listening compassionately. Certainly the discussion raised important issues, like access to mental health resources in low income, urban communities as well as the cultural/racial/ethnic stratification of those who seek mental health resources vs. those who do not. Those moments were tense and a bit painful, only because the pain that was so palpable in the voices of some of the guys was a pain I could not fix. And I’m a fixer. Like, that’s what I do. And I couldn’t do it in that space. All I could do was make the classroom a safe space not only for the students who embraced the vulnerability of speaking openly about their mental health struggles but for those who felt that, maybe, had they had access to mental health facilities as a youth, their lives could have taken different, better turns.

We will never know, of course, but it’s critical to recognize the importance of even having these discussions in a place that, for all intents and purposes, has one of the most deleterious effects on a person’s mental health of any total institution.

May 23

Had my first class in max in RI. These guys are equal parts hilarious, brilliant, and borderline stir crazy. Some notable quotables from tonight’s first “Business Entrepreneurship” session:

Scenario 1:

Student A: So, are you saying that fundraising or asking for money means you’re, like, a con artist or a solicitor?
 Me: Well, uh, as both of those things together sound like a really bad…
 *hysterical laughter*
 Student A: Well, we are in prison, sooooo….

Scenario 2:
 *after reading Toni Morrison’s foreword to The Bluest Eye*

Student C: Morrison is really talking about the systemic way our girls are taught to hate themselves. We live in a capitalist society that deliberately puts these standards of beauty out of their reach, makes them unaffordable, unattainable. They aren’t realistic. And our girls, they suffer.

Scenario 3:

Student D: Where did you get your doctorate?
 Me: Penn
 Student D: What is it in?
 Me: Higher Education Management
 Student D: What was your dissertation topic?
 Me: *recites my whole official title*
 Student D: NO WONDER you seem all comfortable coming in a max facility getting us to settle down.
 Me: This is not my first time at the state mandated vacation rodeo.