Archive for March, 2011

40 Degree Days

Posted: March 8, 2011 by Steve J. Moore in The Wire
Tags: , , ,

In Episode 3 of Season 3: Dead Soldiers Sapper and Bodie come up to the office in the funeral home to talk about the lackluster success of the current package on their corner.  Stringer Bell uses an Al Roker-style metaphor to explain the current situation with their traffic rate:

That’s good. That’s like a 40-degree day. Ain’t nobody got nothing to say about a 40-degree day. Fifty. Bring a smile to your face. Sixty, sh**, n***** is damn near barbecuing on that mo********. Go down to 20, n**** get their b**** on. Get their blood complaining. But forty? Nobody give a f*** about 40. Nobody remember 40, and y’all n***** is giving me way too many 40-degree days! What the f***?

In such a lukewarm climate, no one is spurred into action and people are easily disaffected. Stringer sees the need for disquiet in the same way that Lt. Daniels did early in Season 1 when his crew was half-full of clock-punching drunks waiting for the end of the day whistle.

The 40-degree day is exactly what the leadership is angry about at the Baltimore Police Department too. Rawls and Burrell are tired of slow-working wire taps that don’t give immediate results and clearance on cases. They want bodies in bracelets, names on paper, and figures for their own higher-ups at the Mayor’s office.

Freamon, McNulty, Kima, and the rest of Lt. Daniels’s crew know that the only real progress against the violent drug culture comes through the slow and purposeful drilling into the depths of the organizations. The crime-fighting culture they are going up against is bent to serve the chain of command, the march to promotions, political favors, and the continuation of business-as-usual.

In American education, we are facing the same challenges in our structures and systems at all levels. There is little respect for long-term culture building, deep community embedded actions, and the fidelity of authentic and autonomous learning. What we’re used to is prolonging the number of 40-degree days.

There’s a labor conflict within the education community just as there is within the Baltimore PD and the Barksdale crew. People want to be assured that they will climb the ladder. Teachers build credentials, get advanced degrees, do extra duty. Police study for the detective and sergeant’s exams and take different details. Hoppers, runners, and corner boys work to impress those above them with profit, turf defense, and hope to build their cred.

Within each organization, there are people whose aimless ambition exceeds their ability to add value to their community. State Senator Clay Davis and Commissioner Burrell both have suitcases full of clothes for suited for 40-degree weather; they hope for no change unless it keeps them in power. I want eudcation stakeholders to pack for 20. The Wire allows us to examine how leaders come to navigate the grey areas of political action; whether those politics are about who does time for whom, who scratches whose back, or what really needs to be done for the betterment of everyone.

We need to be aware of the temperature in our classroom, community, city, county, and country if we are going to dress appropriately.


In “The Pager,” episode 5 of The Wire’s first season, as Lieutentant Daniels’s detail closes in on the Barksdale drug ring, and as the Barksdale drug ring closes in on stick-up man Omar’s associates, detectives Griggs and McNulty drive up to check in with one another on Baltimore’s West Side. They start talking about the code that Barksdale’s organization is using on its pagers – members of Barksdale’s crew are paging one another left and right, but they’re sending one another numbers that aren’t Baltimore phone numbers.

Griggs asks McNulty two questions, back-to-back:

“How complex a code can it be if these knuckleheads are using it?”


“Then again, what does it say about us if we can’t break it?”

When we teachers look at kids as knuckleheads – or whenever we judge them because they aren’t behaving like the compliant adult learners we – as a system – seem to wish they were – then it doesn’t surprise me that we can’t break our students’ code or accurately observe and assess what and how they learn. Whenever we see student behavior as an affront to our teaching rather than as information about their learning, we are at a loss, and we stop teaching and learning and we start trying to control, which, frankly, apart from dangerous situations, is a kind of pedagogical learned helplessness.

Kids are not knuckleheads; kids are not criminals. While we share some common habits of minds with detectives, we are not the police.

We need relationships in school that don’t look so much like cops and robbers or prisoners and wardens. We need schedules that don’t cater to our worse natures of hegemony. We need buildings and other sites that open views instead of cut off contact.

What do these needs say about us and about how we view our kids?