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Education's Cold Reality

May , 2007

Ed Burns doesn’t like to play it safe. After 20 years as a police officer, he became a junior high school teacher in the Baltimore public school system. Now he is well known as a writer and producer of the acclaimed HBO series The Wire. He is also coauthor of The Corner (1997), which chronicles a year in an inner-city neighborhood. Here, he turns a harsh spotlight on the inequities of the educational system.

Why do you write about the inner city and its schools?
Education is our biggest failure as a society. The inequality in our system disadvantages millions of people. It borders on the criminal. You see these faces in middle school that say “You can’t tell me anything.” Then five years later, these are the kids getting sentenced for drugs or armed robbery. Saying it’s an individual decision is a cop-out. No kid grows up thinking
“I want to be a drug addict.”

What’s your take on the inequities in education?

There are three levels. First, there’s the elite private and public schools where kids are learning to think. Second, there are the working-class and middle-class schools where everything is very rote. Then, there is the bottom, where education has stopped. 

Why don’t we as a society invest in good schools for all?
Everybody is so busy grabbing up his  part of the dream, we hardly realize that only some of us are sharing in it.  

How does politics fit in?

When politicians look at school reform, it’s as if they’re planting annuals. They want showy and wonderful. Then fall comes along and the damn thing dies. And another set is planted. The politician won’t plant the olive tree that won’t bloom for a long time because they won’t be around for the credit.

Can public education be fixed?
We have to make people see this as a national disaster. We need to bring in social workers, psychologists, and teachers to intervene to help kids at the earliest possible ages. Next, we have to invest in the families. That starts the ball rolling. Then the school becomes the center of a much more profound process. 

Any advice for educators?
As long as you’re coming home and saying “How can I reach these kids?” you are doing good. If you ever find yourself  blaming the kids, it’s time to pack your bags and go home. It’s never their fault. It’s about you being able to figure out what works.

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