Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Belated The Wire Commentary

John Thompson:

It is no surprise that the concept that gained the largest support in the Public Agenda poll of teachers was alternative schools for disruptive students. Overall, 68% of teachers predicted the proposal would be "very effective" while 27% thought it would be somewhat effective. A previous poll by the same organization showed that the idea is even more popular with teachers in high schools and high needs schools. Only 6% of this poll's teachers said that a safe, orderly and respectful atmosphere was a serious problem in their own school, while 39% said they faced a "manageable" problem. But 88% of high school teachers say that "the most pressing problems come from social problems and kids who misbehave."

I never got around to writing a long review of the handling of urban education in The Wire (mostly because it would take a long time to explain why Dan Meyer's reading was so far off), but these poll results point to the two things that stuck out to me as off-key.

  1. Everyone's astonishment at the idea of pulling disruptive kids out of the classroom for a special program, as if they'd never conceived of such a thing. In real life, they might be for or against it, but they'd be talking about a dozen similar initiatives that had been tried over the years.
  2. The existence of, what, a psychology grad student (?), who could just stroll in and do a very good job of handling those kids. I don't remember her name, and she's just referred to as "the teacher" in the otherwise detailed plot synopses on the HBO website. She's a total deus ex machina. People like that -- academics seemingly without specific experience with kids in schools, but still experts in the classroom -- don't exist. Which is why we don't get a chance to look at her very closely. If people like her did exist, it would open up all kinds of possibilities.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post! Thought I might add a few details via numerous Wire article readings I've done. First, the teacher is given the name "Miss Duquette" which is used throughout Season 4 and yes, she's got a Master's in Psychology studying social alienation among juveniles -- not sure what level of "hands on" experience she may have. Secondly, not sure if you're aware, but The Wire's version of this social experiment via their "Project 8" Class was based on a true story and true event that actually happened. Supposedly, the real life middle school principal claims the "experiment" was a success! If you buy the Season 4 DVD, she's interviewed on the special features commentary section. She claimed it had the following effects: 1)restored peace & order to regular classes and 2)Gave the administrators working w/special needs students the chance to address their personal issues & also "pull them into school" in a different way -- i.e. instead of making them sit in classes 8 hrs or worrying about them skipping class 2 roam the halls, disrupt and/or sell drugs, she made several of them Hall Monitors, for example. Again, she claims this was a success in her case. Third, and I'll admit this is only my personal perspective, but I don't believe The Wire writers were taking dramatic liberty to suggest this brand of separation was a 100% be all, end all solution to ills that plague American public schools. From my experience, and yes I do have a college degree, there are lots of "academic types" in the real world who are learned, book smart, but also lack the practical perspective gained by real life experience in a given setting. That's not to suggest all academics lack this but only a suggestion to give weight to the idea that Miss Duquette and her associates as the show depicted weren't completely fantasy world characters if I'd understanding your criticism correctly.