Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought
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Punishment, Politics and Culture

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

June 26 - July  29, 2016

 

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, June 26-July 29, 2016

(5 weeks) 

 

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

 

This seminar has been a high point in my intellectual and pedagogical development; I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to participate. The readings, films, and discussions have challenged me intellectually and impacted me emotionally. I am certain that this seminar will influence the way that I incorporate the topics of human dignity, prisons, discrimination, civil disobedience/conscience, and the death penalty into my curriculum. Austin is the embodiment of the kind of educator I hope to be. The joy he takes in teaching and in the sharing ideas is obvious. His skill in leading discussion and in using hypothetical situations to clarify our ideas and positions is something I hope to emulate in my own classroom.

Participant, Punishment, Politics, and Culture, Summer, 2012

 

Energizing.  Humbling.  Engaging. This seminar has done more for my personal and professional growth than any other form of professional development in my 10 year teaching career. As a person, I've been forced to reevaluate some of my most basic beliefs about justice and punishment. As a teacher, I've witnessed Sarat (a master teacher) effortlessly lead the participants through discussions of some of the most heated topics of the day. As a professional, I've gained a network of other teachers from across the country who will not be part of my support team for the rest of my career. I have no doubt that I will be a more effective and more thoughtful leader of classroom discussion and that I will be more deliberate in how I handle punishment in my classroom. I cannot wait to engage my own students in what I believe is one of the most important topics for them to think about: punishment.

Participant, Punishment, Politics, and Culture, Summer, 2012

 

This seminar was phenomenal. Austin did a wonderful job modeling what good thinking look likes. He pushed us to think about the complexity in everything and the importance of weighing the multiple sides of every issue. At the same time, he emphasized the importance of "getting off the fence" and being willing to define our values and opinions. Not only was the specific topic of punishment very interesting, this seminar was an excellent reminder of the power and importance of the intellectual investigation of ideas. I will definitely use some of those general principles in my classroom.

Participant, Punishment, Politics, and Culture, Summer, 2012

The seminar, Punishment, Politics and Culture will have an immeasurable effect on my teaching and scholarship…. The seminar enriched our content as classroom teachers… This seminar was an amazing and incredibly valuable experience…Professor Sarat is hands down one of the best professors I have been lucky enough to study under. His knowledge of the content is incomparable, his seemingly effortless organization of the materials is exemplary, his teaching style encourages intelligent, lively debate and his mere presence inspires his students to come with their "A" game, each and every class. He has an uncanny knack for choosing complete strangers and creating a community of learners that form family ties...His seminar is beyond compare because of the quality of content, the enthusiasm he brings to his seminars and the continued expectation of excellence from his students. Professor Sarat takes the time to ensure his students are comfortable, content, and worry free. He is both approachable and accessible. His concern and interest in his students' welfare is sincere. Amherst College is a wonderful host. The campus is absolutely beautiful and well maintained. The library and staff are kind and accommodating and the college staff is always available to help when asked. Nothing is ever too small or unimportant to Megan Estes, Professor Sarat's secretary. She is an amazing woman who capabilities are bottomless.

 Participant, Punishment, Politics, and Culture, Summer , 2011

 

"Punishment, Politics, and Culture" was one of the most worthwhile seminars that I have ever been a part of. This was a truly transformative experience and my only regret is that it went by so fast. I was with an amazing group of educators, I have been challenged in my thinking in the best possible of ways, and Austin Sarat is a supreme educator and guide. This course was so well-planned, thought out, prepared, and executed that that is also what I will be taking back with me to my classroom. The essential questions posed for each class and the readings that we did were seamless and ones that I hope to take with me into my own practice and the fair, diplomatic and accountable way discussions were held will also follow me to my teaching. Prof. Sarat's approach to teaching is inspiring and his direct, thought-provoking questions and analysis made me think about the topics we were discussing as well as learning in general. This seminar was finely crafted and honed and it sort of makes my head spin at how well it was put together and organized. There was a freedom in letting us be us while also Prof. Sarat kept us on track, on topic, and thinking. The discussions were rigorous and engaging. My colleagues were top-notch. I only wish that I could mimic all of this in other arenas in my life. I can't say enough in support and praise of this seminar…Amherst College was an incredible institution to be a part of for these five weeks and every accommodation possible was made for us. The housing was comfortable and allowed for socializing, cooking and working. We had access with ease to everything and was perfectly located. I am sad to leave.

Participant, Punishment, Politics, and Culture, Summer , 2011

 

This was one of the most incredible academic experiences in my life…. Austin is truly one of the most gifted teachers I have ever had. He has so many tricks up his sleeve to motivate his students to push the boundaries of their beliefs and understanding on an issue. He has a great sense of humor and empathy. His understanding of the scholarship in his field is without peer. Each class was a joy…. Amherst was a great place to spend the summer. It was very comfortable, typical New England setting. It was beautiful, yet there were many things to do, such as going to Boston, Maine, hiking, camping, etc... Actually, one of the reasons I picked this seminar was that I thought it would be cheaper and more pleasant to spend 5 weeks in a place like Amherst than in a crowded city. Amherst has a great library, athletic facilities, beautiful renovated dorm rooms, 8 mile walking/biking path, etc...

 Participant, Punishment, Politics, and Culture, Summer, 2010

 

My chief emotion as I write this evaluation is gratitude. This Seminar has been one of the best experiences of my life. In every way, our discussions and activities have modeled what I would like to achieve in my classroom. I am returning to my teaching life with a renewed since of vigor and focus. Specifically, I hope to model the techniques of Prof. Sarat. He made us all feel safe and validated in the strange, new world of constitutional law. He encouraged us to look at each case from all possible angles. At no point did he try to steer the conversation to some desired end. Our reading materials and discussions were designed to show the beauty and complexity and complexity of the law. Prof. Sarat's Socratic techniques would seem to be highly applicable to my subject (literature). I intend to implement a notebook full of changes to my approach to teaching…. Despite his encyclopedic knowledge and his lightning quick intelligence, he always displayed a rare, gentlemanly kindness. His approach brought out the best in all of us. He combined a savant's knowledge of his topic with the zeal of a recent convert. At no point of the seminar, however, did he come off as pedantic. He had a boyish enthusiasm that infected us all with a curiosity for this topic. He allowed us all to have a voice this summer. In fact, he insisted that we all struggle with the difficult concepts in our reading. As a fan of American literature, perhaps the highest complement I can pay Prof. Sarat is to say that he is a "Mockingbird." Like the eponymous figure from Harper Lee's novel, Prof. Sarat "sang his heart out" for us this summer. He brought beauty into all of our lives and made us better people and scholars by being in his presence.

Participant, Punishment, Politics, and Culture, Summer, 2010

 


 

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

 

Clark House