It’s All in the Game

Harvard University recently revealed that they would offer a class – for credit – based on one of my personal favorite show, HBO’s The Wire.

A few other universities have also taken a plunge with The Wire as well, but for the uninitiated, The Wire (now off the air after five highly acclaimed seasons) is set in inner-city Baltimore and follows the Baltimore Police Dept. as they track down drug lords, dock workers, and even rubs shoulders with public schools. That’s as simply and succinctly as I can explain the show. Its got to many layers to count. Its basically the world’s biggest onion people.

The class offered at Harvard will use The Wire as a vehicle to discuss urban social issues of inner cities.  If I were still in college (and had a wealthy benefactor to pay for my way into Harvard, as well as place my name at the top of the wait list) I would take this class in a heartbeat.

Why? Because it’s a window into a world I have never lived in and never will. It allows me to submerge myself for approximately one hour into the lives of realistic characters with very real struggles. When a show makes you think about the content of the show even when your are done watching it, you know its a good show. I applaud Harvard for taking a new path in trying to engage their students to think about subject matter in new and refreshing ways.

Using videos and movies in my own class is usually a great experience, but what I can’t understand is why many in education (primarily secondary education) turn their noses up at watching film in class (unless of course it is a film specific class).  I can understand that films can be used too much in class, but sprinkled intermittently throughout the school year shouldn’t be a problem.  In some cases, with certain subjects using film to illustrate a point and learn from it is the most effective way to learn.   Look, students can read about D-Day, they can write reports, they can pour over photos and statistics and other primary documents, to understand D-Day really, really well.  But is there a better way, short of having an actual vet speak to students or visiting a WWII location, to be able to get students to feel what soldiers experienced on D-Day than by showing the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan? What better way is there to demonstrate sacrifice than to show parts of Band of Brothers along with the amazing interviews the remaining vets of Easy Company give before the episode?

Water works, gets me every time.

Granted, sensitivity to graphic content must be adhered to (The Wire and Saving Private Ryan certainly have their lions share of that) but if a film is able to capture the imagination of a student, spark interest about a topic, and resonate with them long after they’ve moved on from that lesson or even that class, why would you not use film in your technology arsenal?

For some odd reason, watching film is viewed as a time waster in class (and there are certainly those teachers who abuse it) and is generally left out of the technology integration discussion. What ought to happen, is that film be treated as a viable resource to use alongside many of the other resources used in a 21st century learning environment.  As Omar Little from The Wire might say, “It’s all in the game.”