Don’t Call it a Comeback

It wasn’t too long ago that I was expecting not to teach for the Scholars Program anymore. Things don’t always work out as you expect! But, as of this past Wednesday, I was glad to find myself back in prison. Wait… well, you know what I mean.

There have been some changes since I was last inside. Our old “inside coordinator,” Vincent Greco, has since been released – great for him! But an adjustment for the program – fortunately, one of our long-term students has stepped up and seems to be doing a solid job of things. I’ve gotten letters from a couple of guys who had been in my classes with return addresses from other facilities, but I also saw some familiar faces on my way in.

Things are a little up in the air, so this summer I’m only teaching a short course – four sessions on non-violent resistance (to war) based around the War Resisters’ International Handbook for Non-Violent Campaigns. Since we hadn’t met before, we started class out with just some general discussion of what violence is, and why one might at least sometimes decline to use it in pursuit of a goal. I got to go over some of the Chenoweth and Stephan data on the success of non-violent campaigns in response to the entirely unsurprising view that some of the guys expressed that clearly, whichever side of a conflict was more willing to use violence (and more extreme violence) would win. I’m not sure they’re convinced – apparently they had a class last semester with a guy who taught a course on why violence is inevitable (I leave for a few semesters…).

Running the class itself brought me back to the familiar dynamic these classes often have. Unlike courses I’ve taught in “normal” university settings, the guys in the class are much less willing to let anything I say go unchallenged (itself a challenge when we can’t go to the internet on someone’s laptop to resolve a question), and they are much more eager to pull the class off into their own directions. Which sometimes leaves me feel like I’m just barely riding the wave rather than running a class, but comes from an interesting and good place, I think – we end up talking about whether Mormons count as secessionists because someone has noticed that I didn’t exactly define what counted as successful secession when I was discussing the data… so it represents people engaging with the material, even if often in a way that comes out of left field from the perspective at the front of the class. Oh, and of course, we had at least two conspiracy theories floated.

I’m looking forward to our next session.

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