“You can’t even call it a war.”

Posted: November 10, 2010 by Chad Sansing in Episode 1, Season 1, The Wire
Tags: ,

From the first episode of The Wire, it’s clear that what the characters do is who they are. The series does a peerless job of matching its characters with their motivations, actions, and words. The characters don’t get sacrificed for a cameo, joke, or moral, ever, across five seamless seasons that, in my mind, are like the cantos of divine television.

The Wire is bespoke to its creators, characters, and audience. Many people haven’t seen it, and those that have seem split into two camps: those who stopped watching after a few episodes because the series was too dark, and those who watched the entire run, sometimes repeatedly, and somehow found something beautiful in it. I could watch it forever, like how I used to watch Puff the Magic Dragon, Star Wars, and Superman at my granddad's house.

Like Trevor said when we brainstormed this blog, "It's going to be like a reunion of all my friends that I haven't seen in a long time."

I invite everyone invested in changing American public schools to join us – first-time viewers, series vets, Baltimore natives, educators, the show’s creators, cast, and crew, and, especially, those of you willing to give the show a second chance. This blog is meant to help us take another look at education as we take another look at The Wire and the way it uncannily and unerringly portrays the lives of people living, working, and dying in dysfunctional systems.

We plan to watch and write about one episode per week, and we begin this week with episode 1:1, “The Target.”

My reactions:

  1. People are invested in what they do. Teachers teach. Learners learn. However, students aren’t necessarily interested in what we teach, even though they’re learning all the time. Do we teachers ignore what we learn about change, design, and relationships when that information is given to us through student resistance and disengagement? Without sacrificing the potential of schooling to create really tightly knit, positive communities, how do we better structure public school so that it’s something our students want to do – intrinsically – without being coerced into doing it by immediate punishment and reward, which short-circuit the kind of internally framed and motivated thinking needed to make connections and discoveries? What in Wallace’s life can compete with handling the money in the pit, and why doesn’t school do so?
  2. Kima, Herc, and Carver joke around about typewriters, computers, and training that’s a year overdue. Forget about training – what common technologies, apps, and definitions of learning are a year (or more) overdue in schools? If technology makes us more efficient, and we want our students to be efficient learners in our compartmentalized, test-drive world, why do we structure school to make them inefficient? Why do we break up their day to prevent flow, change up the tools available to them by class, and forbid them from fact-finding and fact-checking on the Internet because it’s cheating when they do it (but not when we do)?
  3. “You can’t even call it a war. . . . Wars end.” So much of The Wire is about shifting tactics in the war on drugs. The cops and drug dealers adapt to one another’s behavior. Their successes and failures usually result in a shuffle of personnel. Sometimes the bad guys’ shuffles make more sense than to good guys’ do. Business goes on. Cops keep policing. Dealers keep dealing. There is no game-changer, despite the many changes in the game. How do we get past this stalemate in education? How do we change games and shift purposes and premises rather than people and programs? Creativity, divergent thinking, and entrepreneurship should be the foundation of our curriculum rather than the byproduct of standardized education driving its rebels into disruptive innovation. Our commitment to universal education – to helping everyone, including Snot Boogie, secure the blessings of liberty – should never end, but our back-and-forth on the best way to standardize education must. It’s customization – the promise that school can offer something meaningful to each student – that will most effectively bring back the disenfranchised and the disengaged. How do we make school less antagonistic? How do we deliver opportunities in school that compete with those that students have outside school? How do we make school into something that isn’t a war, but matters more? School should be an apprenticeship for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for individuals and communities; is it already?

I hope you’ll chime in, or even consider watching and writing with us next week.

Let me know if you’d like to participate, or just leave a comment to that effect below.

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