Response to “The Wire” Co-Creater’s Lecture

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“Lambs to the slaughter here.” – Marcia Donnelly

The above is an example of an epigraph that precedes every episode of “The Wire,” providing subtext and a theme for the episode. This specific one is spoken by a character in the show who is an Assistant Principal of a Baltimore City Middle School commenting on the fate of many of the children that walk through her doors, only to come out the other end lost and forgotten.

On April 27, 2011, Ed Burns, the co-creator of “The Wire,” came to McDaniel College to lecture on public education and why he believes the institution is beyond repair. Decker auditorium was filled with both students in “The Wire” SIS class and others who were simply fans of the show, but all were eager to hear what Burns had to say.

“In America we don’t come for people,” said Ed Burns. “We forget about them.” He continued speaking about how our world is no longer a place based on reality, but, rather, built on myths. The most important myth is that the current purpose of education is for kids to learn.

Burns pointed to both George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act and President Obama’s Race to the Top as programs pushed into public education not to aid students, but to twist schools into institutions obsessed with test scores and statistics. Instead of learning to survive in the “Big Game” outside of schools, kids are taught to survive a three hour exam.

“One child drops out of school every nine seconds,” said Ed Burns. Because public education is now obsessed with scores and statistics, many children get lost in the files and left on the streets. Burns elaborated, saying that good teachers can make a difference in a child’s life, but can do little in the general scheme of things because of corporate intervention in the government.

Lecturing to an audience that survived this onslaught, Burns was eye-opening to many in the room, especially me. He not only gave one of the best lectures I have seen in my time at McDaniel, but he also helped to change many students’ opinions on how public education should be viewed.

Education is the biggest tragedy of the United States and the more aware we become of it, the better we can combat it. Although Burns believes that public education is beyond repair now, I believe that the change needs to start with our nation’s leaders, and the sooner they decide to take action, despite corporate and party influence, the better.

It was apparent that the students and fans of “The Wire” enjoyed the lecture when Burns ended up answering questions for almost an hour after the lecture. Specifically, when asked what one change he would make to education if he had the power to do so, he said that he would start at the very beginning of a child’s life by helping to educate mothers and fathers on good parenting. “Eighty percent of learning comes from family,” said Ed Burns. “Twenty percent of learning comes from teachers.”

The love of the show was even more apparent as students asked Burns all kinds of questions ranging from representations of characters, casting choices, story choices, inspirations for characters, to what it was like to shoot in the Baltimore City streets. For instance, Burns commented that most of the inspiration for the popular character Omar was from an actual meeting during his years as a Baltimore City Cop with a real stick-up guy who was homosexual, held a moral code, and never cussed.

Overall, the lecture was enthralling in every aspect and affected a lot of opinions and minds in the room, including mine. It was an amazing opportunity for both McDaniel and its students in having such a well-known figure in television come to speak.

But after the doors close on Decker Auditorium and we go back to our rooms, we must remember the unlucky ones that become victims in the statistics war of public education. We must remember the kids that get forgotten, only to be left on the streets to survive in the drug trade.

Public education is not a perfect institution and the sooner we become aware of that as a nation, the sooner we can make a change and help save lives before they are lost. We must become aware that in the war that rages in the classrooms all over the United States, we are not survivors… we are exceptions.