neh_collage NEH_logo

Punishment, Politics and Culture

A National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar for K-12 Teachers and Education Graduate Students

July 2 - July  27, 2018

 

Location: Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts 

Director: Austin Sarat, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science 

Meetings: 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday, July 2-July 27, 2018

(4 weeks) 

 

My four weeks at Amherst will be a treasured memory in my career as an educator. The privilege of engaging in intellectual discourse that is (at least on the surface) completely unrelated to the nuts and bolts of teaching will, I believe, make me a better educator…. Austin is a master facilitator, one that inspires not only desire to learn but deep curiosity about the questions and issues that we grapple with in class. I leave Amherst in hope that I will be a more compassionate and thoughtful educator as a result of Austin's example and the association of my fellow seminar participants.

Participant, Punishment, Politics, and Culture, Summer, 2017

 This experience was completely fabulous! It was refreshing and challenging to dive into complex texts and conversations with our group. The facilitation style will be informing my work with my students next year. The director is a highly skilled facilitator. Every class was engaging, thought provoking, challenging and fun. Quite a feat! The host institution was great! The housing is comfortable and close to the classroom. The library, dining hall and gym are convenient and welcoming. It is close to town and there is a lot to do.

Participant, Punishment, Politics, and Culture, Summer, 2017

 This seminar has been a real shot in the arm for me. It has been a pleasure to take on the role of student in a room full of thoughtful and intentional teachers. The past four weeks have been a clinic on how to work through difficult topics in the classroom with generosity and a growth mindset. I hope to incorporate a number of the readings, discussion topics and group projects into my history classes. But more broadly, I can imagine incorporating Austin's pedagogical approach to enrich discussion in my high school classes. Austin Sarat is a fantastic program director. Clearly he is a master of the seminar's content. But his ability to facilitate deep and dynamic seminar discussions has proven to be just as important to the success of each class. Austin's assistant, Megan Estes, handled any and all logistical questions in a snap. It is apparent that Amherst College works extremely hard to make its campus user friendly for students and visitors. This fact, coupled with the added care that our NEH program provided, made Amherst quickly feel like home. Austin and Megan work extremely hard to ensure participants have a great experience!

Participant, Punishment, Politics, and Culture, Summer, 2017

 Our program director, Austin Sarat, is a charismatic and wise teacher who makes everyone part of the class discussion. His teaching style…made for serious but lively debates. We tackled dark subjects (punishment, torture, the death penalty), which I had not deeply questioned until this summer. Our weekly group projects every also gave us the opportunity to incorporate our own interests into the seminar, and it facilitated our discussion of these topics during our free time. The program was very well organized thanks to Austin and Megan. The expectations were laid out clearly from the beginning and everything ran on time. This was a good model for how an effective class runs. Amherst College made me feel welcomed to the town and institution.

Participant, Punishment, Politics, and Culture, Summer, 2017

 What a fabulous experience! It's been a pleasure to stretch myself intellectually under the guidance of a master educator and in the company of a diverse group of thoughtful, reflective teachers. This is by far the most hospitable, well-appointed professional development opportunity I have ever participated in (and I have participated in several). Every detail was anticipated and met. Both Austin and Megan have been very communicative, friendly, and generous--from the application process, to helping us get settled in the dorm, to repeatedly checking in with us, to creating opportunities for social interaction, to introducing us to campus facilities--seriously above-and-beyond caliber.

An awesome experience!

Participant, Punishment, Politics, and Culture, Summer, 2017

 This seminar has been completely transformative. Austin's deep knowledge, generosity of spirit, and his fair-minded pushing of each of the individuals in our group, together these elements have made for both an exemplary model of inquiry, and a dynamic group experience where the whole has been greater than the sum of the parts, which are significant in and of themselves. The material is rigorous, very rigorous, but the group has risen to the demand and we are all better for it. The curriculum is VERY well organized and the group has dug deep in this difficult and important subject.

 Participant, Punishment, Politics, and Culture, Summer, 2016

Fabulous! The material was fascinating and enlightening. I think I can use not just some of the material but also some of the approach: the pedagogy, not just the content. We all felt intellectually challenged and stretched. We were asked to think in rigorous, logical ways. I loved the use of hypothetical cases to lead in to a close look at the texts. The director was caring and helpful and funny, but he also kept us all on our toes and fully engaged.

I particularly admired how the director structured the readings so that they built on each other and seemed to be having a discussion with each other. We kept adding layers of understanding and nuance.

Participant, Punishment, Politics, and Culture, Summer, 2016

 

This seminar was excellent. Austin is a fabulous teacher and he chose a great mix of teachers/ students. The readings were provocative and the discussions were deeply engaging. After the seminar, I will think back on how Austin conducted the class as a model for my own teaching. I will strive for the same evenhandedness he consistently displayed.

Participant, Punishment, Politics, and Culture, Summer, 2016

 

The seminar was wonderful. It provided an array of opportunities to explore a fascinating topic that is not usually studied on its own. The seminar broke down punishment as a driving factor in many different disciplines including history, literature, and law. But most importantly, from a personal perspective as well as the lens through which I will focus my students' treatment of the subject, the seminar led us through an examination of our own perceptions of power, control, retribution, and mercy. These are the themes which will appear often in conversations with my students as I incorporate the seminar content into my classroom. I have participated in several NEH summer programs for teachers, and "Punishment, Politics, and Culture" stands at the head of the list. Amherst was a wonderful setting for this seminar. Megan did a wonderful job of handling all logistics seamlessly. The rooms and accommodations at Drew House were great - and the common room was a perfect space for relaxing or reading and getting to know the other seminar participants. The library was quite easy to navigate and copying privileges were very much appreciated.

Participant, Punishment, Politics, and Culture, Summer, 2016

 

Punishment, Politics, and Culture has been an incredible experience. The seminar has had a profound effect on my conception of American society and the depth of discourse surrounding punishment and mercy. The seminar will have an immediate effect on my teaching of American history in that I now feel empowered to introduce Constitutional jurisprudence into historical moments. Similarly, participating in a seminar of this caliber has inspired me to refocus my classes around debate, argument, and problem solving. The director of my program, Austin Sarat, will be a tremendous source of inspiration for me and for my praxis and pedagogy. His ability to demand an intellectual and emotional investment into coursework while infusing a joyous spirit is astounding.

Participant, Punishment, Politics, and Culture, Summer, 2015

 

This has been the best summer I've ever experienced in my ten years as a teacher--refreshing, challenging, and fun. Certainly, it has allowed me to look at the texts I teach through a new lens, and I have plans to integrate some of the questions and methods of the course into my English classroom. But the most striking benefits of this seminar were not, ultimately, immediately practical. In this course, both in and out of class, we tested, questioned, considered, and celebrated. This seminar was perfectly conceived and executed by the director, Austin Sarat. The curriculum is designed so we might focus our questions around a range of cultural, historical, legal, and literary texts.

Every reading assignment was both singularly important and a meaningful addition to the larger conversation and line of thought evoked by the syllabus. Austin demonstrated equal seriousness and forethought in his use of group assignments, which were carefully designed to foster creativity and--really!--encourage new friendships. Finally, the discussions within the class each day were simultaneously insightful, frustrating, and funny--a testament to Austin's masterful facilitation.

In brief, Austin's careful attention to all aspects of the course--intellectual and social--created an ideal learning environment.

 Participant, Punishment, Politics, and Culture, Summer, 2015

 

My experience in this seminar has been incredible. Each meeting was thought provoking and challenging. It was also humbling to be a student again - required to examine complex text then use it to support my position. The format of the seminar was set up so that all participants had the opportunity to share their thoughts. I am so impressed with the hospitality at Amherst! Megan has the logistics running like a well-oiled machine. Everything was ready for us when we arrived. If we needed anything at all - she assisted in helping us. The campus is beautiful and well maintained. Every part of it from the library to the fields.

 Participant, Punishment, Politics, and Culture, Summer, 2015

 

I loved this seminar. Every day without exception, I felt challenged, supported, and intellectually alive. From the dual perspectives of student and teacher, I found it a joy to learn from Austin Sarat. Much of what we learned in class was utterly new to us, but Austin structured each class so as to introduce heady concepts in completely manageable - and fascinating, gripping - ways. He had the gift of understanding what each student was trying to say, no matter how muddled or nascent our thoughts might have been, and he treated his students with more respect, and conducted class with more humility, than I believe I've ever seen a teacher do. I came away with many ideas for integrating real-world questions and texts (legal, ethical) into my English literature curriculum. More importantly, I came away having remembered what it is like to be on fire in your learning, and how a masterful teacher can make that happen not just for one student, but for a whole class.

Participant, Punishment, Politics, and Culture, Summer, 2015

 

As a teacher, Austin Sarat is a master educator who knows how to discuss one of the most difficult and important topics today: punishment. He always encouraged each colleague in the class to question their thoughts and beliefs with rigor. The texts were effectively paired and connected, which created a cohesive classroom experience and "full circle" experience with the material at the end of the five weeks. Discussions were very engaging and Austin did a fascinating job modeling the pedagogy of good thinking skills. Everyone in the seminar was very supportive of one another and encouraged each person to think through their beliefs. People were not fearful to ask questions, which sparked further in-depth discussions about punishment and the classroom environment. This five week course was very organized, and Austin did a wonderful job making sure everyone in the program was happy and getting what they needed out of the program. Not only was the topic of punishment very interesting and pertinent to today, it was a challenging topic that challenged my thinking skills, beliefs, and values. A truly fantastic experience.

 Participant, Punishment, Politics, and Culture, Summer, 2014

 

The course was centered around what I came to see as a perfect syllabus.  The readings beautifully built on, and played off of, each other and led each of us to a new understanding of the problems involved with punishment.  Professor Sarat never ceased to inspire, entertain, challenge, and impress me.  He built community in our group by engaging us in the difficult work of examining our own beliefs in view of the readings and jurisprudence around punishment in America.  I cannot say enough good things about Professor Sarat.  It was amazing to be in the presence of someone so brilliant who also possessed such humility and generosity of spirit.  He made all of us feel like we had something important to contribute, and he honored everyone's perspectives, while challenging us to confront our most deeply held beliefs in a very real way.

Participant, Punishment, Politics, and Culture, Summer, 2014

 

 


 

*Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.*