Comparative Classrooms: Teaching to Transgress

Valerie Fendt

How do we value education, who benefits from it, and what are the impacts of Columbia classes inside of state correctional facilities?


This installation was a part of HEAR & NOW: An Interactive Oral History Exhibit, showcasing multimedia projects and stories recorded by the 2017 cohort of Columbia University’s Oral History MA program. 


Inspired by radical educators, like bell hooks, and including professors at Barnard and Columbia, I became a teaching assistant for classes taught by Columbia professors for college credit at state correctional facilities through the Center for Justice. Featuring audio excerpts from those involved with prison education— as students and advocates— and materials taught and produced in those classes, this exhibit recreates on the outside a classroom on the inside.

While working in the technically and physically demanding professions of bicycle messenger, theatrical stagehand, and bookbinder/conservation assistant,Valerie Fendt fed her intellectual hunger through literature, film, the study of liberation struggles, and the camaraderie of fellow artists/activists. Since coming to Columbia, she has been delighted to discover that she could not only build on this non-traditional educational background but also thrive in the academy as a passionate student of history, culture and politics.