“You cannot lose if you do not play.”

Posted: November 16, 2010 by Chad Sansing in Episode 2, Season 1, The Wire
Tags: , ,

Every episode of The Wire has a quote associated with it. The show’s creators begin each episode with a cold open, followed by the credits, which end with a quote card. Usually, the quote is from the episode. In season 5, there is an H. L. Mencken quote before episode 10, “-30-,” the series finale.

Episode 2 of season 1, “The Detail,” features a quote from Marla Daniels, wife of Lieutenant Cedrick Daniels who’s been tasked with heading up a special unit to bust West Side boss Avon Barksdale on drug charges.

Over a nice dinner in their well-appointed home, Marla tells Cedrick that, “You cannot lose if you do not play.”

Cedrick fears reprisal from his supervisors if he complains about the bad cops on his detail. He also fears reprisal if he pushes the case too hard and winds up with good cops who want to make a bigger case against Barksdale.

Marla (who has political aspirations of her own that we find out about later in the series – she needs him to seem like a good cop) urges caution and discretion. She urges Cedrick not to play at pursuing the case any further than his bosses want him to. If he plays to get better cops, he loses by exposing his bosses’ dance of the lemons. If he wins and gets better cops, he loses because those cops will want to pursue additional drug and homicide charges against Barksdale, which would mean a longer investigation. A longer investigation would mean that his bosses can’t reclaim the media cycle from news of a murdered state’s witness.

Regarding teaching, I have heard Marla’s warning before from people near and far, explicitly and implicitly. I have taken into account the consequences of asking for more or settling for less. I have maneuvered and compromised and given up. I have experienced Cedrick’s self-doubt and ambivalence. If I ask for more time to make a different case for teaching and learning, how does that impact my division’s test scores, AYP, and accreditation this year?

I don’t need to ask for better people – I trust my colleagues and value my students’ immensely. I treasure our learning. However, I sometimes ask for different resources and permissions than those I’m given.

Thankfully, my leaders are not like Cedrick’s. They support different kinds of work in the division.

So sometimes I play. Sometimes I lose.

But that’s okay.

I’m not like Marla. I don’t teach to win. I teach to learn.

Watching Cedrick try to make up his mind about the game over the course of five seasons is one of the profound joys of the show; trying to make up my own mind about it is probably the motivating discontent of my career.


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