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"The Wire" Student Reflection
Transcript of "The Wire" Student Reflection
Why do people commit crime? This course uses the acclaimed HBO series, “The Wire”, as a semester-long case study to examine the social, political and economic theoretical foundations and explanations for criminal behavior as well as to critically investigate relevant policy solutions.
"Keep the Devil Down in the Hole": Exploring the Social, Political & Economic Causes of Criminality
All students changed
their views on crime;
some more than others:
22% slight change
50% moderate change
28% significant change
One student wrote:
"Can there be one distinct best explanation for why someones steals a car and why someone burns down a house, or why someone abuses a child and why a corporation steals from its shareholders? I believe one of the goals of this course was to show the complication of this very question and the necessity to be able to consider and take concepts from many different theories to really examine the processes of crime.
But I do think an important addition to this explanation of desperation, is the socioeconomic factors that create a space for desperation to exist. This still leaves the idea broad enough but shows the importance of the social constructs which define crime, and also shows the control which the economy has on the opportunities people really have in their lives."
All students reported "complicating"
their understanding of crime - moving from simple, individualistic explanations to complex, socio-economic understandings.
While some students believe that crime is a choice, others came to believe that crime was more of a "forced" choice...
"...it comes down to people making a choice and I still feel this is true. I do understand that decisions can be influenced by our surroundings. Things like: home life and parent involvement, staying in school, going to church, or even having non-family members as mentors. These things are only at times an excuse by someone who believes they have no choice. But this is an illusion. We always have a choice."
"Overall I think that crime is not just a choice, but one can also be forced to commit crimes if they do not have what they need to live. What choice is it to make - to not feed your children or steal a loaf of bread and a can of spam?"
"While reviewing my first reflection, I realized that my opinions on crime have expanded but are still from the same place. In my first reflection I wrote, "I believe people commit crime out of desperation, out of rebellion, and also perhaps because of mental or emotional problems." My ideas of crime fit into social structure and process theories. However, now I believe these theories are a bit narrow. Crime is not only a result of poverty and it is not only a result of socialization. Although these theories explain certain types of crime such as drug dealing out of desperation or crime committed because of gang affiliation, they do not explain why people with similar life experiences from the same backgrounds where crime is regular, choose not to commit crime."
Most students reported that their ideas on crime were directly shaped, enhanced, and expanded
by conversations with their classmates:
One student wrote:
"My original thoughts have evolved and inter-weaved with the information and opinions of other citizens in our learning community."
Another student wrote:
"My ideas haven't changed completely, they've just been enhanced. When it comes to what has influenced my idea of crime it's always been what's surrounded me. My neighborhood, my mother, now this class. I see crime so much more logically now knowing about the different social theories that cause people of different race, class, gender, and economic position to commit crimes."
To what extent did the course change students' thinking about crime?
What changes in particular did students report?
What are the teaching and learning implications of these findings?
All students reported that
> education = < crime. Some students took a more critical stance:
"...much of our current education system is deeply involved with our capitalist structure, instilling competition through the idea that with a better education you will be able to have a better job and make more money...This is of course a fallacy through all sorts of other factors like nepotism and how much social capital one has accrued...[while] knowledge is power, if the underlying structure of education creates more social separation - it is making just as many opportunities to want/need to commit crime as it is making opportunities to not consider crime an option."
While some students believe that "anyone can commit a crime," the majority of students reported that class, race, and gender matter:
poor = > crime
male = > crime
racial minorities = >crime.
One student wrote:
"Through many of the assigned readings I feel that I now have a better sense of the history , which has created the inequalities within criminalization, and can see the
control pf power
control of people
with a deeper view.
The New Jim Crow
excerpt gave insight into how the disproportionate amount of black males in prison can be seen as an extension of the inequalities still connected to American slavery; the
Race at Work
article illustrated the still prevalent undercurrent of racism in our society.
But this still seems like the most complicated question in the assignment because there are so many different relationships between these concepts, and their roots seem deeply ingrained along different paths of our cultural development.
...One has to acknowledge issues of race, gender, and class when discussing crime, as activities like racial profiling and social stigmatization are still heavily responsible for shaping the laws which define crime."
[CRJ 117 Criminology - Nicole Hendicks & ECN 105 Intro to Political Economy - Mary Orisich]
"Over the semester I learned about mass incarceration and the war on drugs...there is certainly a relationship between race and crime because in terms of drug laws, it seems that crime is defined in terms of race. The lawmakers and those who have money and power determine crime. I do not see drug addiction as a crime but rather as an illness and sometimes a result of bad social conditions."
Most students reported that one of the best ways to reduce crime was by reforming and/or repealing drug laws. One student wrote:
All students reported how theory informed, expanded, and/or "gave a name" to their views on crime. One student took a more critical stance...
Teaching & Learning Implications:
Students' personal, family and community experiences provide a "gateway" to academic understanding.
Theory functions as a powerful pathway for both disciplinary grounding and integrative leverage between disciplines.
Conversation is critical to students thinking aloud together.
Peer-to-peer reflection promotes the collective construction of knowledge and the consolidation of individual understanding.
Community is an essential pre-condition and foundation for all integrative learning activities.
[Gleaned from an interview with the instructors: Mary Orisich (ECN) & Nicole Hendricks (CRJ)]
HOLYOKE COMMUNITY COLLEGE