(Photo Courtesy of HBO)
**SPOILERS APPEAR IN THIS POST*
Something that really struck me during this season was the change and development of Namond Brice. Namond, the son of Wee Bey Brice the jailed enforcer of the Barksdale organization, is forced back into the drug trade by his mother after their support for the Barksdales is cut off. But as we see throughout the season, Namond is not made for the streets. While growing up, he did connect with his father and want to uphold the family name, but we learn that is not at the same costs. Namond is not part of the game though he acts out at school to try and hide from the social norm that he is being forced into.
Through the special class at the middle school, we see former Major Colvin take an interest in Namond and knows that he can get him out of the system. See the video conversation that Bunny has with Wee Bey at the prison.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2wTO6U-B98]
But for kids that don’t have the opportunity like Namond to get out with the help of Colvin, it is not such a happy story. In a great article by the Baltimore City Paper in 2006, I think this really shows what some of the problems are facing the schools in the area and the kids that are not able to be helped like Namond. This is not just a storyline from The Wire, this is true to life in the city of Baltimore and this is why this season is favored by so many.
Though the whole article is a great read, here is some of the heart of it in relation to the schools vs. corner boys.
“It’s a subject Burns extolled in a May 19, 2004, editorial in The Sun that began, “If you want to know about the corner murderers and their victims in Baltimore, don’t ask a cop, ask a teacher.” Standing in front of a classroom, Burns witnessed firsthand what turns kids into such young men: institutional neglect. He saw it while teaching social studies at Hamilton Middle School. He saw it while teaching social studies at Baltimore City College. He finally grew frustrated at what passed for education and retired in 2000. He saw how institutional policies and practices effectively withheld generations of young people from the possibilities promised by the greater world at large.
“So many, many kids go through the school system being kicked out of class for fighting, being suspended,” Burns says. “And they spend their whole school career that way–and you’re talking suspension 16, 30 times a year. You’re in the ‘time-out’ room. [Teachers say], ‘Don’t come to school,’ ‘Get out of my classroom,’ ‘I never want to see you’–and we call that education. And we’re stunned when these middle-school kids are sitting in the Baltimore City courtrooms facing judges going”–he knocks his hand on the table–“‘That’s a life sentence.’ ‘That’s 25 years.'”
Integral to Burns’ argument is that institutional education refuses to acknowledge the context of a child’s life in his or her education. It’s a tension that plays out in season four in the “stoop” and “corner” kids.
“A stoop kid is a traditional kid, he’s no different from you or I growing up,” Burns says. “His or her mother has a thumb on them and they can’t come off the stoop, and their world is oftentimes the church and areas outside the neighborhood. The neighborhood is just where they live. And while they might know their peers in the neighborhood, they’re not of their peers.
“Corner kids are the kids that are abandoned by their families. And they pack up, ’round about the age of 3 or 4, and they just sort of run wild.
“If you looked at the ghetto, you would think that an overwhelming number of kids would be corner kids, because of the pressures of the neighborhood,” he continues. “In my experience, that’s not actually the case. The numbers are not that skewed–and that’s a very good thing, because a corner kid is a kid who is an alien. His culture is different than our culture. So therefore, it would be no different than a corner kid and stoop kid walking down a path and they see a rock and the stoop kid picks it up and says, ‘This would be a nice building material,’ and the corner kid picks it up and says, ‘This is a hell of a weapon.'”
To Burns, these diverging paths are laid out for kids early on, such that by the time they reached his middle-school classroom, the chasm separating the stoop kid from the corner kid is too great to breach in the same setting. For the corner kid, the classroom is merely a safe setting to test his mettle at the games he sees played out on the corner. “Lying to teachers, dipping and dodging, denying, making up excuses, all these different kinds of things,” Burns says. “And when they think that they’re ready, they drop out.”
This process enables corner kids to insulate themselves in a single-minded shell of confidence that’s impossible for teachers to penetrate by conventional–or even traditionally unconventional–methods. “Remember the Scared Straight thing?” Burns asks. “None of that stuff works because the kid is, at this point, in a different state. And you can’t shock them into understanding, ‘You’re going the wrong way.’ It doesn’t make a difference.”
This veneer of street knowledge that kids wrap themselves in to survive often proves too difficult to control in the classroom. “A successful teacher, like a successful cop, has to put the onus on themselves,” Burns says. “Because once you don’t assume the responsibility and then you start blaming the other–the kids in the classroom, the people on the corner–then you become part of the problem. And that is a natural inclination for most teachers and for most cops. And the way to be successful, within the definition of ‘successful’ within the Baltimore City Public School System, is to drop everything on the kids.”