Motivating Youth Through the Humanities

Pilot Study of Community-Based Model of Teaching Literature to University Students and High-Risk Youth

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The humanities have been slow to respond to growing skepticism in recent decades about their value in post-secondary education. “Books Behind Bars: Life, Literature, and Community Leadership” is an innovative, 12-month-old, format of humanities education that places undergraduates from U.Va. to work through literature training with incarcerated juvenile delinquents. Because of its unique format and approach, Books Behind Bars is challenging literature students at U.Va. to learn and grow in ways that are unusual for most literature courses, and it is thought to support positive development of the college students in a number of areas:

(1) Students gain a deeper more holistic understanding of literary texts.
(2) Students recognize that their acquisition of knowledge and skills has practical, “real-world” application.
(3) Students have a greater perception that the literature and learning activities are relevant to their own lives.
(4) Students are more engaged in the class and are therefore more motivated to do well in their studies.
(5) Students have a heightened sense of civic responsibility and as a result of this class are more likely to choose
courses and careers that have a community service component.
(6) Students feel a closer connection to their peers and to the residents at the partner sites, leading, in turn, to greater appreciation of the value of human connectedness in their other professional and personal relationships.

Funds will be used to conduct a pilot study of the Books Behind Bars program and will lay the necessary groundwork for funding applications seeking support for the larger-scale program and its evaluation in the near future. 

Associated Cross-University Faculty
Andrew D. Kaufman, Ph.D., Lecturer and Academic Community Engagement Faculty Fellow;
Julian Connolly, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures;
Roger C. Burket, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Chief, Developmental Disorders Section and Director, Child and Family Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences