Change the Game

By Mesro Coles-El | September 19, 2017

Just about every class I have taken in my entire academic career has changed my perceptions. Learning will often bring about new ways to interact with the world around us.

Periodically, I see some students have difficulty with the array of curricula offered by the Prison University Project. Now, I am not the best student, but I know when to shut up and listen, and I know when to speak up and ask questions. Some students are too stubborn to give up their ways and spend valuable class time trying to teach the professors how to teach them, and then blame the teacher for their poor grade instead of taking that time to ask question to clear up confusion.

This is not a complaint, but an instance of changed perceptions. On a modern-day plantation, trying to teach an instructor or a staff member is met with swift retribution, which results in either confused students remaining confused for want of asking a question or students biting the bullet and putting their education at risk. Not so with the Prison University Project.

Instead of disciplinary action to stave off disruptions in classes, volunteers and staff do their best to work with students to gain a clear understanding of the task at hand. That is not to say they are lenient on instances of academic dishonesty or inappropriate behavior, but it is refreshing to know that there are people willing and able to help students along their educational paths instead of putting up walls and fences to imprison mental growth.

I have a feeling you may be asking, “When is he going to get the part about changing perceptions?” Well, I mention the first instance from a place where disruptive behaviors were once met with stiff punishments and even suspension or expulsion, thereby hindering educational progress. It has been my experience that disruptive behavior was to be punished and dismissed. Instead, I see one-on-one time with staff members and volunteers. I see discussions on how to improve classroom etiquette and assignment choices designed to better facilitate learning. I see people interacting with students on a level field rather than teachers and staff condescending to their students. I see lives changing for the better.

Perhaps I should dig a little deeper. The volunteers here could be doing anything with their lives: teaching at Ivy League schools, or their alma maters, watching their children play soccer, or watching TV all day, or even skiing in Aspen… Instead they choose to come in here and help us get a good education. They take time out of their precious human lives to helps us repair our own lives. I grew up in the ghetto. I did lots of learning running the streets, and one thing I learned is that everyone is out for themselves and that no one is on your side. That is a perception I had to unlearn and it is due to the good people at the Prison University Project.

Talk about changing perceptions? I learned that the question I just asked was a sentence fragment and indicative of colloquial speech. Ethics class gave me a new outlook on right vs. wrong. English taught me the power of words. Algebra showed me how to solve for x in my life. Public speaking taught me that great emcees have to be great orators. The Prison University Project taught me that it is okay to hope.

Please note that the Prison University Project became Mount Tamalpais College in September 2020.