“You ain’t got to punk him like that.”

Posted: December 3, 2010 by Chad Sansing in Episode 3, Season 1, The Wire
Tags: , , , ,

At the beginning of The Wire’s third episode, D’Angelo, Bodie, Poot, and Wallace talk about customer service in the drug trade.

Here are two parts of their conversation that stand out to me.

D’Angelo: So you just gonna take his money and treat him like a dog.
Bodie: How I’m supposed to treat him?
D’Angelo: I don’t know, but you ain’t got to punk him like that.

D’Angelo: Everything else in the world get sold without people taking advantage. Scamming, lying, doing each other dirty. Why it got to be that way with this?
Poot: Cause they dope fiends.
D’Angelo: Yeah, but the game ain’t gotta be played like that.

Later in the episode, despite how badly he wants change, D’Angelo teaches Bodie and Wallace how to play chess, explaining how the pieces move by comparing them to the kingpins, queens, stash houses, and soldiers of his uncle’s drug empire. It’s kind of sad that so soon after he calls for a new way of doing business, D’Angelo tries to entice his friends to play chess by making it sound like the ferocious business in which the boys find themselves. When D’Angelo tells Bodie, “I don’t know” how they should treat the fiends, it’s true that he doesn’t know how to change on any practical level despite his leanings towards a morality different from his peers’ and supervisors’.

I think that public school is in a similar situation. We want change, but we don’t quite know how to effect it in any practical way. Moreover, most of our metaphors don’t exit the event horizon of traditional school – it’s the way we teach; it’s how we were taught.

Moreover, I think that despite our mostly good intentions, we punk our students. We build relationships in order to leverage trust into compliance with standardized work. We scam numbers. We lie – we fib about what matters when to whom. We lie to ourselves to make our compromises with the system sting less. We say things that we mean, but that we can’t or won’t follow up on with action. Sometimes we get angry at kids. If we love our job, why is it – at times – so painful to us and those around us? Just because they’re children, why do we manage them like parts? Just because we’re teachers, why do we treat them like that?

Like D’Angelo we strive towards a better system without, perhaps, thinking about leaving it entirely.

I don’t mean that we all burn out and leave public education. I mean that we pour our energy into fixing what remains of school instead of addressing ourselves and our efforts towards the future of learning.

The system is the center around which we circle ourselves. We are convinced it’s the center of education reform because we aren’t looking for what our public education system is circling.

We think that public schools are the center of the universe, when, in fact, they make up only part of an arm of learning spiraling with information.

How do we systematize learning at a macro-scale? How does D’Angelo find worth and family outside the drug trade?

Public schools are part of the big picture, but the big picture is learning. Drug dealing brings D’Angelo some of what he wants, but it isn’t what he wants.

How do we change course?

How do we exit the map?

Are we willing to break some generational cycles of teaching and affluence to break generational cycles of poverty and disengagement with school?

The technologies, businesses, innovators, educators, and partners are there. Can public education resist the siren song of public schooling and get on with creating new ground at the political, economic, and local levels? Can stake-holders staring a public education through the microscope of public schools step back and see what – and who – else is in the lab? We have to stop punking ourselves into believing that the numbers are all that there is.

Maybe we don’t know how to change yet, but are we, like D’Angelo, content to be frustrated in word and satisfied by deed with that? Are we just as much a product as the schools we provide?

  1. […] Sansing starts off my first experience with this interesting experiment. Teachers are writing about The Wire, and making parallels to their own experience in the public educ…. This reminds me of a moment at the SoHo House education technology event, when Michael K. […]

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