An Experiment in the Making:
Inclusive Classrooms in Prison and on Campus
by Kristin Bumiller, Amherst College
Although designed for the prison setting, the “inside-out” teaching philosophy resonates with other efforts to promote diversity in higher education. Teaching “inside” provides opportunities to discover the advantages and challenges of working with groups from extremely different life and educational backgrounds. Prison teaching creates an environment to experiment with curricular design for inclusion and think about how political science courses might serve the purpose of promoting more inclusive education. This experiment thrusts the instructor into the bureaucratic interstices of higher education and correctional institutions. In prison, the visceral effects of power are ever-present and the setting creates many opportunities for ethnographic learning. The foundation of successful teaching inside are strategies designed to reach across the social differences of two groups of students. These strategies are difficult to reproduce on college campuses. Students lack the same kind of connection and power relations are less transparent. However, the prison-teaching model can be successfully applied in the campus setting, by encouraging students to recognize how “diverse” classrooms are microcosms of social systems that perpetuate disadvantage. In recognizing how these systems often predetermine academic success and failure, students gain a greater understanding of how inequality is produced and reproduced in the United States.