COVID-19 presented enormous challenges for prison education programs across the country. The vast majority closed down in March and April, as did all volunteer programs in MDC, Brooklyn. Not even lawyers were allowed inside the facility.
Instead of accepting defeat, Just Ideas worked with MDC staff to find ways to teach. Given the severe restrictions in a maximum-security prison like MDC, we had to be creative (or, rather, retro).
A summer mini-course was taught entirely by exchange of scanned materials. By fall semester, we had figured out how to teach via DVDs. Christia Mercer taught Sophocles' Oedipus and Antigone to 29 students. DVDs included brief lectures, interviews, embodied learning exercises, and group work. MDC staff acted as part time teachers. Students wrote brilliant weekly commentaries, which were scanned and emailed. Our comments on students' work were printed by MDC staff, and distributed weekly.
Just Ideas rose to the challenge of the sustained lockdown, but so did the women, men, and staff of MDC. Our students will get Columbia credit, and many are looking forward to an upper-level course next term. Such is the power of great literature taught through a philosophical lens. It's Just Ideas.
Professor Mercer taught Oedipus and Antigone over DVDs this past semester!
Theater of War's powerful zoom version of Oedipus.