Prison Studies Considered

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Prison Studies Considered

In "Prison Studies" Malcolm X briefly details how, during his incarceration, he embarked on a process of self-education that forever changed him and the course of his life. Malcolm writes of his determination to learn to read and write, born out of his envy and emulation of Bimbi, a fellow prisoner. His innate curiosity, sense of pride, and ambition to learn and be someone of substance motivated him to study relentlessly. As he learned more about the world he developed a great thirst for knowledge that left him with a lifelong desire that only his continued studies could satisfy. He believed that prison offered him the best possible situation in which to educate himself.

This idea of Malcolm's, that prison was the best situation in which to educate himself bears some examination. He dismisses the idea of going to college as being inferior to the education he received in prison. He speculates that college is perhaps filled with too many distractions (both ideas are found in the last paragraph of his essay, 19). While Malcolm states his argument in a way that is simple, direct and compelling, it is not an argument that is appropriate for every potential student. One would do well to consider Malcolm X's particular circumstances and his intended audience.

As far as his education in prison being superior to one he would receive in college, one should consider why he would think in this way. It is obvious that his education would have put him at about the junior high school level. For a man of his age and race and resources, at the time in which he lived, there were probably very few options available for remedial education. It is remarkable and admirable that Malcolm was invested with the intelligenc...

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... distractions. There are, however, a number of disadvantages to prison studies beside the obvious threats to life and limb.

The requirements of colleges are intended for a greater purpose than to extract the maximum amount of time and money from the hapless student. The requirements of higher education are intended to provide a wide-ranging and well-balanced view of the world and our place in it. A complete education is intended to provide us with the tools to understand and interpret what we study. A balanced education teaches us the hard-learned lessons of history, the logical methodology of mathematics and philosophy, the transcendent vision of the poet and the artists and the skeptical review of the scientist. While I have great respect, admiration and even affection for Malcolm X, I suspect that even this great man would have benefited from a formal education.

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