Science - June 30, 2016

Teaching in prison

Kevin Matson will be giving up much of his summer vacation this year in order to teach prisoners in a New York jail. ‘These are Bard students, but they are just on a different campus, in a different area.’

Photo: Sven Menschel

Matson is an assistant professor in the Resource Ecology group. The classes he will be giving are part of Bard University’s Bard Prison Initiative, in which prisoners can earn a degree while they are in prison. Matson has taught ‘regular’ students at Bard before. He taught students on a course on Citizen science what science is, and how they can think critically about science in the news, for example. When he was teaching on this course in New York he heard that teachers were needed to teach the same course in the prison. ‘As soon as I heard of it I thought: this is super cool, something I’d like to be involved with.’

The idea behind the Bard Prisoner Initiative is to offer prisoners an education so that they’ll have better job prospects when they come out and less risk of going back to a life of crime. The prisoners are treated in the same way as other students, says Matson. The theme of the course he will be teaching is: How can we reduce the global burden of infectious disease? The theme is used to teach the prisoners how to think scientifically. Matson explains that the project has a Wageningen tinge to it too. First of all, one of Wageningen University’s priorities is to involve the public in science and to have an impact on groups outside the university. Secondly, a publication by Wageningen entomologists will be used for exercises, and lastly, Matson will tell the students about his own animal ecology research.

For Matson this is charity work. ‘I am basically using a large chunk of my summer holiday to do this.’ He leaves in August for three weeks in New York, where he will set foot in jail for the first time.