Exhausting Every Possibility

Posted: December 14, 2010 by trevorinmidstream in Uncategorized

In Episode Four of The Wire, Detectives McNulty and Griggs learn that in order to get approval for a much needed wire tap to help their case against Avon Barksdale, they have to prove that every traditional means of surveillance has been exhausted and that only the wire tap will move their case forward. In order to do this, they plan to follow a suspect for a day with the intention of losing him every chance they get.  In the counter-intuitive world of police work, this plan is a stroke of genius.

It begs the question though: Have we as educators exhausted every means of traditional teaching and learning before jumping to high-tech, new fangled modes of delivering instruction?  And how many students have we lost, intentionally or otherwise, trying to prove that the “old ways” no longer work?

All the teachers that I can recall having an impact on me as a student from grade school to grad school (shout out: Sister Mary Katherine, Ms. Tomlinson, Mr. Baumgartner, Mr. Nevil, Prof. Brown, Prof. Robinson, Mr. Timms) have two things in common.  One, they seemed to genuinely care about the quality of my thinking and, two, they put forth lots of tough questions and very few answers.  They were as traditional and “old school” as you can imagine.  There were no web sites, no self-paced-interactive-virtual-learning laboratories.  They simply engaged me as an emerging human being and challenged me to accomplish tasks.  They supported me, coaxed me, sometimes threatened me (“I’m calling your Mom”), and always encouraged me to do more.  Do we as modern 21st Century educators still employ those worn out old strategies of human interaction?  It’s harder than putting a bored and distracted kid in front of a computer, no doubt. But have we exhausted the possibilities of unplugged human interaction?

Later in the episode, Officer Herc, usually a bull in china closet, sits down for a short but heartfelt chat with the grandmother of a young suspect for whom he is searching. After apologizing for his rude intrusion into her house, he listens quietly to her story of how difficult it was trying to raise this boy whose life had been ruined by drugs and poverty before he was even born.  It’s a rare moment of kindness in the life of a narcotics cop.  When Herc returns to his patrol car outside of the house, his partner is curious. “What were you doing in there so long?”  Herc’s response – “Talking” – is met with a puzzled look from his partner.

The idea is so old fashioned it seems innovative.

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