Resolved: the School of Hard Knocks can teach you more than the Ivy League.
Three inmates at a maximum security facility defeated one of the world’s top tier universities in an hour long debate on the topic of disenrolling undocumented children from public schools.
The men who victoriously took on the Harvard College Debating Union are all participants in the Bard Prison Initiative, a program that educates incarcerated men and women so they can earn their degree and use their time in the system productively.
No one expected the Bard Debate Union to win, as being a student in prison is unreasonably difficult.
Whereas any college or university student can hop online and research anything, students of the BPI do no have internet access. They also have to file requests for books or articles, which can take weeks to arrive.
Still, the debaters who vehemently opposed disenrolling undocumented students raised many good points the Harvard team simply could not rebut.
“They caught us off guard,” Harvard team member Anais Carell told The Wall Street Journal.
Some academics are questioning the legitimacy of the win, saying the inmates won with sympathy.
Judge Mary Nugent was quick to make her counterpoint.
“I don’t think we can ever judge devoid of context or where we are, but the idea they would win out of sympathy is playing into pretty misguided ideas about inmates,” she said. “Their academic ability is impressive.”
Alex Hall, a member of the Bard Debate Union, is in prison for manslaughter. He knows people are still unsure about how BPI works exactly and that the win will draw much needed attention to the program.
“We might not be as naturally rhetorically gifted, but we work really hard,” he said.
Another Bard teammate Carlos Polanco, also in prison for mansalughter, explained that winning the debate was important to him and his work towards his degree.
“We have been graced with opportunity,” he told The Wall Street Journal. “They make us believe in ourselves.”
The Bard Prison Initiative was founded in 2001. Their website states that “graduates of the BPI program have consistently succeeded after release from prison,” and that less than 2 per cent of degree earners return to prison.