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Teaching The Wire

A course at Harvard is using the HBO series "The Wire" to teach students the truth about what ails American society. (Kirk Carapezza for WBUR)

A course at Harvard is using the HBO series "The Wire" to teach students the truth about what ails American society. (Kirk Carapezza for WBUR)

Whether you know Bunk, McNulty, Brother Mouzone or Omar doesn’t matter. That Harvard students understand that there’s trouble beyond the leafy, tony surrounds of their Cambridge campus is.

“The Wire,” HBO’s gritty crime series, received plenty of praise during its five seasons on the air. Now, educators from college professors to community organizers are using the series to teach students about race and poverty.

Larry Darnell Andrews is the real-life inspiration for the character Omar, the savvy, independent thug and stick-up artist who lives by his own code in "The Wire." (Kirk Carapezza for WBUR)

Larry Darnell Andrews is the real-life inspiration for the character Omar, the savvy, independent thug and stick-up artist who lives by his own code in "The Wire." (Kirk Carapezza for WBUR)

A new course at Harvard Law School is using “The Wire” to teach students about the world outside its doors. It’s called “Race and Justice — The Wire” and it’s taught by Professor Charles Ogletree.

There’s a lot to learn from the show’s wide-ranging lens, Ogletree said.

“The Wire” teaches us “about police corruption, about drug distribution, about the fact that the organization that we know about here at Harvard Law School is in many ways eerily similar to the corporation of the gang,” Ogletree said.

The series can also provide a different perspective. Larry Darnell Andrews, the real-life inspiration for the show’s “Omar” character, said that the show can give people an idea of what it’s like to live in inner-city neighborhoods ravaged by crime, drugs, and poverty.

“What’s going on outside of Cambridge, you know, it’s a violent world out there,” Andrews said. “People look at ‘The Wire’ but ‘The Wire’ is actually just PG compared to what’s really happening.”

Guests:

  • James Dauphine, director of programs, Ella J. Baker House
  • Rev. Eugene Rivers, founder and acting director, Ella J. Baker House
  • Ishmael Reed, professor emeritus, University of California Berkeley

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  • Mark Augustson

    At a minimum, The Wire spoke, and speaks, truth to power. I’m a white guy in suburbia (Cary NC, doesn’t get more suburban than that!), and I learned a great deal through the series. Absolutely valuable and I think it’s wonderful that it’s being taught in classrooms.

  • rh

    I actually wrote for the AP in Baltimore when The Wire was being filmed, and didn’t watch it because it seemed too close to the things I felt deserved more coverage from us in the news media outlets. I finally did watch it recently. It was an amazing show that did finally present these situations with all of their complexities and challenges. The characters were well-developed and well executed. They did some heinous things, but were treated respectfully by the creators of the show, and that enabled the viewers to see them as muti-faceted human beings with very few choices in life. The acting was tremendous and the writing was phenomenal. There were some actual situations that I remembered in a pretty similar context actually occurring. That goes for some of the police story lines as well.

    I think this is a fantastic and engaging way to teach future lawyers … many people don’t know what goes on in inner city gang life or the challenges of 1) trying to survive it 2) trying to combat it as a citizen or 3) trying to actually get out of it and 4) the political interests that influence it. Students studying law should understand these dynamics if they are going to serve the public well.

    Best show of all time. And as much as I wanted to dislike Omar, I just couldn’t help but love him. And poor Bodie. I felt like I lost so many friends during the course of that show. Enabling all of America to become connected to people involved in such terrible conditions is really important to getting them to care enough to want to affect change.

  • Webb

    I thought the 5th season was a brilliant finish the way it brought in journalism. It too has a part to play in this and falls, at times, to the same pressures. Again, brilliant.

  • rh

    Season 4 was amazing. Heartbreaking…
    And I should say, victims of terrible conditions, not “involved with,” because that suggests a choice, and people living in projects run by gangs don’t have many choices.

  • John

    Anyone who likes The Wire should also read David Simon’s book The Corner (also on DVD).

  • rh

    I will, thanks John. Simon did a lot of great work during his too-short life.

  • oops

    nope, that was David Mills that died last year, not David Simon… both worked at the Washington Post and on The Wire and are named David, but different people.

  • louise lazare

    We watched The Wire via DVD one summer and became totally involved. The characters became real. Good and evil were scattered among the police, the drug dealers, the politicians, the media, the schools–at the end, however, I felt the devil came out ahead. Istill feel grief when I think of the boy Randy who was left abandoned and in great danger by the rigid child “welfare” system. Corruption, greed and indifference destroyed most of the attempts to make changes for the better. From Amtrak, Baltimore looks the same today

    I

  • Ronn C

    I enjoyed the Wire as it brought real issues to the fore. If you are a fan of the Wire, you should watch “Brick City” on the Sundance Channel. Very real and very sobering even though slanted toward Mayor Corey Booker.

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