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Theme 2: Educational Formation

The CPI asks students to see their education not just as gaining information about a wide variety of subjects, but also as a resource for acquiring the skills necessary to become moral and spiritual leaders within the prison. Students arc not simply encouraged to get good grades on their assignments, but are invited to see each task as a means for learning how to engage another’s point of view with respect and charity. In this sense, education becomes an opportunity to enter a learning community for the purpose of nurturing the moral character of oneself, of others, and of the entire community. Our analysis of the application and transition essays revealed that a number of students in the program adopted the view that education is an opportunity for moral and spiritual formation. In the application essays, 15 of the 57 students identified educational formation as an important reason for pursuing a Calvin education, while in the transition essays, 23 of the 57 students indicated educational formation was a key motivation for continuing their Calvin education. Speaking to this motivation, one student stated in his application and transition essays the following:

A: “I am a firm believer that education is important and this program is a great opportunity to enhance my education. ... Education showed me a different path and I credit this to my change in life.”

T: “The biggest change in my life is through education ... that gave me control of my life, and allowed me to sec purpose and meaning to life. Education showed me how to love, honor, and respect the value of life.”

For this student, education is clearly more than exchanging information; it is ultimately about learning how to love, honor, and respect life. In the first quote, the student is heading in this direction, it seems, but can only gesture by way of indicating that education “showed” him “a different path,” even changing his life. But he seems to be unable to specify how exactly he changed, or what kind of change is being identified. Other students have noted similar development, often being quite specific in their transition essays that Calvin’s program has provided them with means for better communicating with others, which in turn leads to having more respect and care for others. In one case, a student claimed that his educational experience helped him to appreciate those who feel helpless in prison and how education can aid in overcoming feelings of helplessness and in fact give one a sense of empowerment: “I hope to use the education I am receiving to show other people who feel helpless, like I did, that they have value, and that they can turn their lives around if they really want to.”

One of the goals of the CPI is to provide students with an opportunity to identify and grow as servant leaders. The following set of quotes illustrates how one student in the program moved from a general claim about wanting to improve oneself and help others to showing more concretely how that might look as a “servant leader.”

A: “The main reason I am applying is to better myself and possibly in the future is to help others to benefit from what I have learned.... Another reason is to be able to reinforce my Christian beliefs and to learn more in a structured environment.”

T: “Throughout this past year I have made leaps and bounds in my reading and writing skills, but more than that, I am learning an entirely new way of thinking about life, interacting with other people, building relationships and community, and what it means to be a Christian in a servant leadership role.”

Here again we see a student making a connection between gaining academic skills, such as reading and writing, to thinking about “life” and how he interacts with others, leading him to conclude that he is growing as a servant leader. In the other quotes, we see a similar pattern, namely, that acquiring or improving one’s academic skills translates, in part, into becoming a better person and having the motivation and confidence to serve others:

A: “My reasons for applying to the Calvin Prison Initiative is to solidify my foundation in Christ Jesus, to add purpose to my life, and to surround myself with a community of believers who will hold me accountable and will accept me for who I am and not for what I have done.”

T: “A hunger for education and an ever greater tenacity to discover what other ways I can help others has been a driving force for me. ... I have grown as a writer, as a reader, and a deep thinker. The studies I have taken have pushed me past areas where I was accustomed to quit prior to entering the program. I am eager to see what other capacities of service will present themselves as I press on throughout the next few years.”

Although there was not an overwhelming change in the number of students clearly identifying educational formation through a Christian liberal arts program as concretely contributing to personal development of moral and spiritual leadership, we did in fact see an increase in the number of students who were able to make that connection. Perhaps more importantly, we saw growth in our students’ ability to move from more general claims about the connection between education and moral and spiritual leadership to more specific articulations.

 
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