Monday, January 14, 2008

Amorphous Putz

(To the left, a quote from the Baltimore News Editor about a planned Education series and my imagined thought from Clarke Johnson) I'm quite honored that the highly regarded Eduwonkette linked to my clip from the Wire. I found that only the previous week there had been a debate on her blog about the validity of the Wire's reality a commentator named John Thompson took up the baton for my point of view
Five years ago I made a friendly bet to my principal that within five years the concept curriculum alignment as the locomotive of educational reform will seem laughable. Obviously my time frame was off, but The Wire used it as a punch line. And there is a whole lot more wisdom on reform in that show than in the think tank's proposals. As I have written elsewhere, I see the personalities of so many of my students in the characters of The Wire. My Marlow was a younger version of their Marlo; my "Buffalo" was a younger version of Prop Joe, our real assistant principal is the spitting image of the real life character that was Ed Burn's assistant principal, and Bunny's trip with Namond was just like our comparable trips. The show's extreme psychopaths are exaggerated or it seems to me but I don't run in those circles. Two types of scenes are absolutely perfect. They reveal the truth of how our "puzzle palaces" respond to NCLB, expending much more energy in "juking the stats" than making improvements. As in the Wire, the resemblance of NCLB to the 1986 Drug Law that filled our prisons with so many nonviolent Blacks is uncanny. Those of us who understood "the Hood" knew that those perverse effects were inevitable and the dynamics would be institutional racism not personal racism. Sure enough, reformers took discretion away from the sentencing judges and just added to the damage of drugs and the failed drug war. The reformers just didn't know what they didn't know. Equally great are the portraits of students in class. The "blingk" scene is must viewing for teachers who need to recognize and honor the types of knowledge that our poor kids have. The Wire portrays the pain and degradation imposed upon kids by high stakes standardized tests. It is not an exaggeration. You can not fool teenagers. They know that their dignity is being stomped and ground into the dirt. Porn? When my student from Bed Stuy was mourning his murdered uncle, he told me about his murdered cousin in Brooklyn. Then. he student mourned by smoking marijuana, watching Animal Kingdom reruns, and looking out the window of the projects ,observing the human drama as being the same as the animal behavior in the documentaries. I did have a couple of experiences with the children of former kingpins. An emotionally disturbed middle schooler nearly started a riot by killing a turtle. Kids who had seen so much human suffer ring went wild over the "murder" of an innocent turtle. But even the members of the opposing gangs had sympathy for this kid, saying that his father had been a millionaire dealer and I would understand when I saw him. If true it was revealing because I then encountered a completely broken-down alcoholic who looked several decades older than his actual age. I had an honors student who had received a great education before her father was incarcerated for a highly profitable drug ring. She challenged a guest speaker who had been a scholar for the Heritage Founding saying, "George Bush is hypocritical because he says that the government is too incompetent to fix Social Security, but he claims that the government had been perfect in proving that everyone on death row was guilty." But there was a happy ending to that story. The education theorist listened, debated, reflected, and decided that my kids had a point. He agreed that politicians and scholars need to listen to the students.
If you can't take time to visit your local inner city school and converse with the kids, at least you should watch The Wire. And if you question its realism, read the recent Washington Post series on D.C. schools or last years series by Chicago and Philadelphia newspapers.

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