Educating for Action at Grateford State Prison

by: EJ on 11/16/2015

Jason Del Gandio, author of Rhetoric for Radicals: A Handbook for 21st Century Activists and co-editor (with Anthony J. Nocella) of Educating for Action: Strategies for Igniting Social Justice, shares his story of being a guest speaker at Grateford State Prison.


I recently had the privilege of being a guest speaker in at a college program offered at Graterford State Prison just outside of Philadelphia.
 The attended class--a composition course with a focus on personal storytelling and social/political issues--is taught by Dr. August Tarrier of Villanova University, while the overall program is run by the university's Sociology and Criminology Department.  The program, operating since 1972, offers six courses per semester, each taught by a different instructor.  Villanova funds three of the instructors; the other three are funded by the generosity of the Sunshine Lady Fund, run by Doris Buffet.  Students receive free books through the program, and can earn an Associate of Arts, a Bachelor of Arts, or a Bachelor of Integrated Studies degree.  The program, as well as the university as a whole, is influenced by the St. Augustinian tradition and is committed to serving others.  


This semester, students are reading Rhetoric for Radicals. Overall, it was a wonderful experience and a great conversation.  I was both flattered and inspired.  The students were eager, excited, and engaged; they asked great questions; applied the material to what is happening in society; and understood the basic insight that we communicate worlds into existence. We talked about Black Lives Matter, the prison-industrial complex, prison reform, international relations, and of course, a whole slew of issues related to communication and persuasion. I felt honored to see students take the book so seriously. And one of Dr. Terrier's assignments, 'describe a time when rhetoric saved me,' illustrates how Rhetoric for Radicals is useful for both the 'personal and political.'  It was very rewarding for all kinds of reasons, and I hope to return to Graterford in the near future, again as a guest or perhaps part-time instructor.


For more information on Jason's work, check out his books and visit his web page at




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