The authors outline their development of an abolitionist and anti-carceral syllabus, to be shared as a “model in process” for relational learning and activism. The article provides a number of resources intended as community knowledge building and the development of applied and community-based practices.

We share our syllabus in the context of an unfortunate moment within the academic enterprise: social entrepreneurship directives and the capitalist-driven “self-help” orthodoxy of advancement have become the norm. The notion of collaboration has come to represent a mere talking point—an illusory device referring to a vague conception of “partnership” that checks a platitudinous box in order to reach the next neoliberal educational plateau. In an attempt to unsettle such a framework, we embarked on a collaborative exercise that was an experiment of sorts. Not sure of its outcome, we located our process in the exchange of ideas as a means to understand how notions of carceral abolition and education coalesced (or were discordant). We had disagreements and points of ideological difference that led to moments of uncomfortable dislocation. Yet, these articulated moments provided an opportunity to think anew and revisit our previously held positions. The process was a means to better understand abolition of the carceral state and its connections to education. It is in this dialectic spirit that we present the outcome of that collaborative experience and share the critical texts that informed our thinking.

The three of us came together in the spring of 2022, to consider whether and how we might build a syllabus to align usefully with the Human Restoration Project’s summer conference. The conference used a framework of four-day, asynchronous study “tracks” aimed at “K-12 and college educators to center the needs of students and educators toward a praxis of social justice.” The organizers of the conference had invited Connie, who was previously a guest on the organization’s podcast, to invite colleagues to codesign one of these tracks. She invited Damien and Sabina, and our track became “Building anti-carceral practices.”

Our development of the syllabus was guided by four key organizing principles. First, we understand contexts such as conferences to provide invitational, very introductory opportunities for participants. We were clear that we did not imagine our syllabus might extend beyond this invitational purpose in engaging just a few, basic abolitionist ideas. And, we understood those ideas not as universal starting points but rather as aimed at the particular scope, timing, and audience of the conference itself. So, we asked ourselves: Can our syllabus get participants started with the sensibilities, epistemologies, and actions of anti-carcerality?

Second, we understand US-based K–12 professional development efforts as inherently connected to practice, and often to the drive for remedy or solution that does not fundamentally challenge carcerality. So, we asked ourselves: Can our syllabus resist quick fixes, system tweaks, and stifling reform? How can our syllabus hold participants responsible for inquiry and engagement? Our approach, then, was to work to redirect potential reformist impulses in participants by organizing a syllabus around inquiry, reflection, and tools to guide ongoing study and growth. In other words, we framed the syllabus and its activities away from quick-fix solutions and toward ongoing, collective inquiry and learning.

Third, because abolition is a presence not an absence (following Ruth Wilson Gilmore), and focuses on building rather than dismantling alone, we identified intellectual, political resources and developed activities that would encourage educators toward building, creativity, and community. We asked ourselves: What is important to offer in a syllabus in a liberal, euro-modern epistemic pedagogical context?

Fourth, because abolition is in part a collection of experiments (following Mariam Kaba), we asked ourselves: Can we experiment responsibly and in line with abolitionist principles? We experimented with a collective process in the context of substantive limitations, not the least of which was the lack of interpersonal interaction with participants. Nonetheless, we drew on our existing, shared experiences building abolition-focused syllabi and classrooms, designing and facilitating abolition pedagogy workshops, contributing to abolitionist resource guides, engaging abolitionist community organizing and activism, and conducting anti-carceral research to design and share a syllabus that perhaps served as a point of entry for educators.

In the end, we are not sure what worked and what did not, but share the syllabus at the editors’ invitation as a model in process rather than as a replicable artifact or tidy product. The syllabus itself should be dynamically relational and attentive to the temporal, organizational, and political contexts. Importantly, this happened for us because we have worked together over many years on countless freedom projects involving many other collaborators and built abiding relationships. However, we hope the principles and processes by which we engaged in its development might support other experiments toward the collective anti-carceral/abolitionist pedagogical movements across contexts.

The syllabus below represents the final draft as it appeared on day 4 of the conference track, minus some details such as zoom links.

Human Restoration Project, Conference to Restore Humanity
Track: Building Anti-Carceral Practices
Facilitators: Connie Wun, Damien Sojoyner, Sabina Vaught

Summer 2022

“Political education isn’t just education about politics.

It’s education for the specific purpose of making our politics more powerful.

It is front line work.

It is core to advancing our struggles,

not the ‘extra’ activity we take up after the struggle is over or for recreation.”

—Rachel Herzing

former Executive Director, Center for Political Education

Co-Founder, Critical Resistance

Track materials: Those not linked below can be found in our shared readings folder (was linked to a shared Google drive folder).

How you study: As you embark on your study, we encourage you to read Rachel Herzing’s Political Education in a Time of Rebellion. We also encourage you to

  • engage the materials as they support your aims and principles;

  • think and discuss in dialogue, collaboratively, or in a group; and

  • commit to study as praxis and to continue to engage after this conference is over.

Day 1    Keywords in abolition and anti-carceral movements

July 25 Shared reading:

  • “Abolition” by Sarah Haley & “Criminal” by Dylan Rodriguez, Keywords in African American Studies

  • Introduction to “Resource Guide for Teaching and Learning Abolition,” Critical Resistance (pp. 1–3)

  • Keywords glossary, from Abolition for the People, edited Colin Kaepernick

    • focus on: abolition, abolition democracy, carceral state, reformism, decarceration, transformative justice

Shared activity:

  • Jamboard*:

    • Jamboard activity guidelines:

      • ▪ Use the sticky note function to share your definitions/conceptualizations of the keywords on each page.

      • ▪ Given the number of people participating, we’ve made two slides for each concept.

    • Jamboard link: Keyword Jamboard

Reflection: How does this apply to your teaching experience?

  • Please keep a reflection journal or set of notes for yourself, guided by the question above.

*for those learning Jamboard, the sticky notes can be moved around on the board, rotated in position, and so on; you can play around and see how they work but please don’t delete or cover anyone’s note!

Reflection Journal:

  • Challenge yourself to be curious, and to ask yourself and others productive questions with stretch, resonance, and resilience.

from: Ruth Wilson Gilmore, pp. 37–38, “Forgotten Places and the Seeds of Grassroots Planning” in Charles R. Hale, Ed., Engaging Contradictions: Theory, Politics, and Methods of Activist Scholarship, University of California Press, 2008, pp. 31–61.

  • Stretch enables a question to reach farther than the immediate object without bypassing its particularity—rather than merely asking a community, “Why do you want this development project?” one asks, “What is development?”

  • Resonance enables a question to support and model nonhierarchical collective action by producing a hum that, by inviting strong attention, elicits responses that do not necessarily adhere to already existing architectures of sense making. Ornette Coleman’s harmolodics exemplify how such a process makes participant and audience a single, but neither static nor closed, category (Rycenga 1992).

  • Resilience enables a question to be flexible rather than brittle, such that changing circumstances and surprising discoveries keep a project connected with its purpose rather than defeated by the unexpected. For example, the alleged relationship between contemporary prison expansion and slavery falls apart when the question describes slavery in terms of uncompensated labor because very few of the 2.2 million prisoners in the United States work for anybody while locked in cages. But the relationship remains provocatively stable when the question describes slavery in terms of social death and asks how and to what end a category of dehumanized humans is made from peculiar combinations of dishonor, alienation, and violent domination (Patterson 1982; Gordon 2006).

Day 2   Abolition

July 26 Shared listening:

Shared reading:

Shared activities, guidelines:

  1. After reading and listening to the pieces, use the Working Through Abolition Jamboard to think through the critical aspects of the material and how they apply to your work.

  2. The Jamboard has three phases. Each phase attends to the major interventions in the reading and audio/video material. Please use the sticky note function to post comments.

    • Phase 1: Herzing points to the importance of abolition as a series of steps rather than an overnight phenomena. What steps need to be taken to make significant change within education? How can you work to make these changes?

    • Phase 2: The materials point to the importance of coalition building and alliances. What types of coalition building are crucial to effecting change at your school and/or work site? Who are the key people/institutions/organizations that need to be included in any type of coalition building?

    • Phase 3: The article and audio/video show that, more than ever, there is a need to have a clear strategy based on historical memory and being able to identify what worked in the past versus that which reproduced harm. What are the strategies that you have employed to successfully forge change? How can you incorporate such tactics into the classroom? What is the relationship of the broader community/neighborhood within the context of strategy and planning?

Office hours with Damien Sojoyner: 10–11 am, Pacific Standard Time US

Reflection journal: How does this apply to your teaching experience?

Day 3   Students at the Center of Captivity

July 27 Shared reading:

  • Girls for Gender Equity: School Girls Deserve Report

  • “Against captivity: Black girls and school discipline policies in the afterlife of slavery,” Connie Wun

Office hours with Connie Wun: 11–12 pm United States PST on Discord

Activity: Use the Students at the Center of Captivity Jamboard to answer guiding questions. Begin with “Schools Girls Deserve Report” then move on to “Against Captivity.”

Reflection journal: How does this apply to your teaching experience?

Day 4   Taking ideas to praxis

July 28 Shared reading:

  • “The disorientation of the teaching act: Abolition as pedagogical position,” Dylan Rodríguez

  • Critical resistance reform v. abolition toolkit

Shared activities, guidelines:

  • • 1) Rodríguez frameworks: Abolitionist Pedagogy Jamboard

    • After reading the Rodríguez article, please go to the Jamboard, which has three pages organized by the three main pedagogical themes of the article.

    • Please use the sticky note function* (fourth icon on the left) to post:

      • ▪ Reflections: where have you observed these themes in your own teaching? where might you want to pay attention in your own teaching?

      • ▪ Ideas: share ideas for approaching the three themes in your teaching; this might be very specific or might be a broad, initial idea.

    • On the fourth page, I’ve included resources shared by previous workshop participants. Feel free to add.

  • • 2) Create your own toolkit: Abolitionist pedagogy toolkit

    • After reviewing the Critical resistance reform v abolition toolkit, open the adapted toolkit linked just above. You will notice that this one works a little differently. Familiarize yourself with its structure and format.

    • Make a copy for yourself and begin to fill out which pedagogical practices you might undertake, based on what you’ve learned over these four days.

    • If you want to discuss, please come to office hours.

Office hours with Sabina Vaught: 3–4 pm, Eastern US, via Zoom:

  • These office hours are designated for you to join me to talk through your toolkit.

Reflection journal: How will you apply this to your teaching experience?

*for those learning Jamboard, the sticky notes can be moved around on the board, rotated in position, and so on; you can play around and see how they work but please don’t delete or cover anyone’s note!

Resource list:

These resources are a starting point to help you think about generating your own catalog of resources across the broad spectrum of anti-carceral/abolitionist education. Feel free to send us any you’d like to add over the course of the four days.


Journals & newspapers:



  • Damien Sojoyner, “Black radicals make for bad citizens: Undoing the myth of the school to prison pipeline”

  • Meiners, Erica, “Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline/Building Abolition Futures”

  • Connie Wun, “Angered: Black and non-Black girls of color at the intersections of violence and school discipline in the United States”

  • Sabina Vaught, “Vanishment: Girls, punishment, and the education state”


  • Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?

  • Erica Meiners, Right to Be Hostile: Schools, Prisons, and the Making of Public Enemies

  • Sabina Vaught, Compulsory Schooling: Education and the Dispossession of Youth in a Prison School

  • Damien Sojoyner, First Strike: Educational Enclosures in Black Los Angeles

  • Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Abolition Geography: Essays Towards Liberation

  • Beth Richie, Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence and America’s Prison Nation

  • Sarah Haley, No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity

  • Damien Sojoyner, Joy and Pain: A story of Black life and liberation in five albums

  • Sabina Vaught, Bryan Brayboy, & Jeremiah Chin: The School-Prison Trust


Guides and resource lists: