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Prison provides an education

In his Faculty Lecture Series talk, David Werner says he learns from inmates.

David Werner, chairman of the English Department, spoke to a group of faculty and students Monday in the President’s Dining Room. The title of his lecture was “Everything I Needed to Know About Teaching I Learned in Prison.” Werner told stories about his experiences while teaching in correctional facilities, and the impact these experiences had on him and his teaching methods. Werner first attended the University of Wisconsin but earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from San Francisco State University. / photo by Erin Maxwell

David Werner, chairman of the English Department, spoke to a group of faculty and students Monday in the President’s Dining Room. The title of his lecture was “Everything I Needed to Know About Teaching I Learned in Prison.” Werner told stories about his experiences while teaching in correctional facilities, and the impact these experiences had on him and his teaching methods. Werner first attended the University of Wisconsin but earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from San Francisco State University. / photo by Erin Maxwell

Michael Escañuelas
Staff Writer

David Werner took his audience behind bars on Monday with his lecture on teaching in prison.

As part of the continuing faculty lecture series that is held in the President’s Dining Room, Werner’s lecture was another interesting perspective into the world of education.

The lecture, titled “Everything I Know about Teaching I Learned in Prison,” was a brief exposition by Werner, associate professor of English, and his experience as an instructor in the California prison system.

“It’s thought provoking for anyone involved in education,” Dorena Wright, professor of English, said. “What is the ultimate purpose of education?”

Werner began his lecture with some stories that highlighted his first experiences when he began teaching for the prison.

His facility is located in Chino at the California Institution for Men in the Youth Correctional Facility.

He has been teaching for more than 33 years in the prison system and the University of La Verne.

In his lecture, Werner made many points on the similarities prison has to school.

He told several stories about his experiences including his first day teaching at the prison.

He spoke of the fear and nervousness of teaching inmates.

With these points he used several examples to help support his argument.

Using the writings of Michel Foucault on power as reference; Werner displayed several points including some hot button issues that have long plagued our prison system.

“I’ve learned that too often we separate the personal from the academic,” Werner said. “It’s not a personal choice, it’s an environmental issue.”

The lecture touched on several points in regard to Werner’s students in both the prison and at ULV.

Citing the feelings that both a teacher and a student feel in an institution, Werner painted an enlightening and almost sincere image of the difficulties the student body and faculty face both inside and outside of prison.

The feelings of an inmate and a teacher are similar, Werner explained in his lecture. Some of these feelings included anxiety, fear, and isolation.

Toward the end of his lecture, Werner shifted his focus to an issue of responsibility that left the room in a divide.

Werner illustrated that failing students is not always a clear-cut situation.

What if, Werner suggested, that the student you were failing was going to commit suicide?

If a student fails his class it’s the teachers fault, Werner added.

Werner made his case by stating the difference between his students in prison and his students in ULV.

For most of his students in prison, education is their last chance.

This point was really emphasized as Werner explained about some of success his students have had and also the recidivism rates of the prison.

This statement sparked some debate during the question segment of the lecture. Concerns over exceptions and the situation when students just refuse to learn were thrown at Werner.

His answer to these problems was to take them as a challenge. Although it is unknown whether faculty would take that kind of advice to heart, Werner seemed confident in his statements.

“I thought it was profound,” said Amanda McCadden, a junior liberal arts major. “It’s important that teachers take up the responsibility”

Michael Escañuelas can be reached at michael.escanuelas@laverne.edu.

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