Posts Tagged ‘Code-switching’

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?