Our Courses

Just Ideas is devoted to offer high level, philosophically gripping courses to as many of the women and men in MDC, Brooklyn as possible.

The Metropolitan Detention Center is a maximum-security prison that, in the words of one our alums, "is the harshest prison in the hardest prison system in the country." Its occupants await trial, sentencing, or transfer to another federal facility. Many are young adults who can't pay bail. 

Our mini-course program is unique in that it offers intense courses that are available to anyone who wants to attend, regardless of educational preparation. We invite some of the best teachers in New York to join with well-trained Columbia interns to to provoke debate, discussion, and an affection for “big ideas.” Whether we're reading Sophocles' Antigone, Plato's Apology, Virgil’s Aeneid, or Camus’ The Plague, we practice close reading, group work, and philosophical analyses.

We thereby inspire each other to become more thoughtful and compassionate community
members. Graduates of one of our four-week courses receive a Columbia University certificate as recognition for their success; graduates of two or more of these courses receive Columbia University course credit.

Our educators are trained to employ embodied learning techniques, which we combine with close readings, classroom group work, and conversation to build an environment in which students’ experiences are respected and their educational goals met. While we are keen to encourage writing and reading skills, our main concern is to create a space in which students see themselves as knowers, teachers, and agents of change.

Our courses promote reading comprehension, persuasive writing, and creative thinking. By
discussing some of the most challenging literature there is, we provoke reflections on
profound philosophical questions like the role of love and suffering in life, the nature of
justice and wisdom, and the tension between fate and free will. Students are encouraged to
debate their ideas in class, and we require them to compose and submit essays in order to pass
the course. Our students always rise to the occasion, motivated by their fascination for the profound questions raised in our texts.

Just Ideas alumni have gone on to finish GEDs, obtain bachelor’s degrees, and pursue advanced degrees. We strongly believe that our program, with its emphasis on critical thinking skills, creativity, and collaboration, was integral to these successes. (see What Our Students Say below). 

What We Teach

[General Mini-Course Syllabus Template]
Past examples of our courses include:
  • Antigone
  • Passing
  • The Decameron
  • Plato’s Republic: Justice and Happiness, 
  • Frankenstein
  • Plato’s Apology: The Examined Life, 
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh
  • and Literature Humanities 

How We Teach It

  • We partner our highly skilled Teachers with one of our awesome Interns
  • Our interns are thoroughly trained in Embodied Learning techniques
  • Teachers and interns travel to MDC together, spending the time prepping for the 3-hour class
  • We ship books and materials to the prison for the students ahead of time
  • Students complete writing assignments and creative work throughout the three weeks. We introduce people to Haiku poetry and encourage artistic responses of all sorts. We offer comments on these responses, and set aside time during each class to meet one-on-one with students to go over their written work. 
  • We hold a "graduation ceremony," in which we award each student a signed certificate of completion. 
Nivita and Christia
course completion certificate
slow motion race

What Our Students Say

MDC letter pandemic
Letter from lawyer
Letter from student
Letter from student
letter from student
Letter from student