Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dear Instructor, Thank you for letting us see your course proposal

The Wire is a sixty-segment novel-for-television, set in contemporary Baltimore, where it follows the lives and interactions of an ensemble cast. Noted for its gritty, well-written scenes and its characters, all of whom are memorable in their edgy plausibility, it takes on social issues such as drugs, education, corruption, and the politics of survival in such professions as government, law enforcement, working conditions, and journalism. Scarcely a week elapses when you do not think about it in some way, even if it is the unfortunate one in which you wonder if many of the excellent black actors who appeared in it will ever again have such opportunities to display their talents.


You are thinking about it now because you are preparing for a meeting next week in which you are to present a list of courses you believe should be offered as a part of a curriculum for students whose goal it is to become a writer. On that list, you are asked to indicate which you wish to teach (as opposed to courses you would teach if you got stuck with the assignment). You had long ago decided you are no longer interested in teaching courses that do not interest you, thus were you to get stuck teaching a particular course, such as one of those you'd been politically maneuvered into, you would turn the course into something that would excite you to spend time with.

What a splendid course there is in viewing, discussing, examining issues and themes residing within The Wire. Because of its length, you'd either have to break the course down into two parts, The Wire I and The Wire II, that is unless you picked a handful of characters and scenes for examination, as you had already reasoned you would have to do with another course that will appear on your list. That course is one you would call The Canterbury Tales, your introduction relating the Chaucer work to the frame-tale narrative before you moved along to "The Knight's Tale," "The Miller's Tale," "The Pardoner's Tale," and "Sir Thopas' Tale," ending with the remarkable "The Wife of Bath,"demonstrating the various levels of social position, the relationship between the ranks, and the attitudes of each.

As you are working on this proposal, thoughts of The Wire never far from your mind, you happen to be reading Clockers, the imposing novel by one of the major writers on The Wire, Richard Price. As you write about The Canterbury Tales, you cannot help thinking about the parallel stories of the two majors in Clockers, Strike, a young black drug lieutenant to a drug captain, and Rocco Klein, a homicide investigator, and the way the ensemble casts of Clockers and The Wire are in so many ways counterparts of The Canterbury Tales.

Your reasoning takes you on this particular vector: It would be more a political reality for you to expect to have a course on The Canterbury Tales offered than one on The Wire. Having succeeded, you could use The Canterbury Tales to bring in The Wire for comparison, which is certainly something you'd enjoy doing. But this gives you more than a buzz; it gives you a high. Why not a third course, combining the two? The Academic Senate is a potential reason why. But the thought of it won't go away, each frame-tale explains and explores the other; each is social in the intense, pulsing presence memorable story defines . These are the kinds of connections that come from writing story; this, too, is worth talking about in the class room.

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