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How 'The Wire' brought attention to ongoing issue with teachers, education, jobs

Robert Wisdom arrives at Chelsea West Theaters on West 23rd St. for the premiere of 'The Wire' on September 14, 2004 in New York City.
Photo by Scott Wintrow/Getty Images

One of the reasons that "The Wire" is still a timeless show, although scenes like tracking pagers make it look dated, is its ability to connect with issues that are going on in today's world. During season 4 of "The Wire," it'd be next to impossible for people to not notice the parallels between the teachers and students in real-life schools and those of the fictional Baltimore school.

On the premiere of CNN's "Chicagoland" that aired on Thurs., March 6, the focus was on politics, youth violence and education in Chicago. However, CNN could've rolled the dice to find issues affecting other communities as well.

An example of that would be their previous coverage of Dr. Steve Perry on "Black in America 2." Every principal who goes above and beyond to help students, such as Dr. Perry, the principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., may be similar but not a carbon copy of characters like that of Howard "Bunny" Colvin (played by Robert Wisdom). Of course a lot of Bunny's experiences dealing with children was due to being an ex-cop so he had an even bigger obstacle to get around with the kids on the show. But once he did, he left an impression so much that they didn't appear to want to leave the segregated program by the time it was shut down.

In many schools, there's also usually an influential teacher or principal like the characters Ms. Duquette (played by Stacie Davis) and Grace Sampson (played by Dravon James) in the form of someone like Chicago's Fenger High School principal Elizabeth Dozier, who was featured on "Chicagoland."

On "Chicagoland," viewers got a good look at what has changed since Dozier was brought to Fenger High School after the Derrion Albert tragedy in 2009. And even though that was a few years ago, the 50 schools that were shut down in 2013 brought national attention to the Windy City, in addition to a new mayor after 20 years --- Mayor Richard M. Daley to Mayor Rahm Emanuel -- and the ongoing flack Chicago receives for youth violence. With recent news of the Cherry Hill gang in Baltimore, that city is still no stranger to gang problems either.

Season 4 of "The Wire" focused quite a bit on the pattern of education and teachers as opposed to exclusively pointing a finger at gang violence, which may have been the easy out but wouldn't explain what happens inside of the schools for kids who dare to stay off the corners. The writers also didn't shy away from how drug trafficking affects neighborhoods. On the show though, it wasn't as simple as believing drugs were the reason behind children acting out or backed into a corner.

Poverty was highlighted through Duquan "Dukie" Weems (played by Jermaine Crawford). The downfall of negative parenting was highlighted through Namond Brice (played by Julito McCullum). The issues with foster care were brought to the forefront with Randy Wagstaff (played by Maestro Harrell). The problems that children face when they're raising their own siblings and missing out on their own childhoods was highlighted through Michael Lee (played by Tristan Wilds).

And with the show airing from 2002 to 2008 during the era of President George W. Bush, there was no way to not notice the similarities between what the students dealt with when it came to test funding, the way children learned and the No Child Left Behind program. Memorization trumped constructive thinking, and both Bunny and former Detective Roland 'Prez' Pryzbylewski (played by Jim True-Frost) were as vocal about how unhappy they were with the new system of learning as real-life teachers were.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, public school systems will employ about 3.3 million full-time-equivalent teachers this coming fall, and the pupil/teacher ratio will be 15.1.

About 3.3 million students are expected to graduate from high school in 2013–14, including three million students from public high schools and 278,000 students from private high schools.

Between 1990 and 2012, the dropout rate for males declined from 12 to 7 percent, with most of the decline taking place after 2000, which held the highest dropout rate. For females, the rate declined from 12 percent in 1990 to 10 percent in 2000 and continued to decline to 6 percent in 2012, according to the site.

College and unemployment

In the most recent stats from the Census, African-Americans earned 156,615 bachelor's degrees.

But in season 5's "React Quotes," Dukie asked Dennis "Cutty" Wise (played by Chad L. Coleman), "How do you get from here to the rest of the world?" Cutty seemed genuinely puzzled about how to do this himself, especially after his 14-year bid in prison and the ups and downs of finding employment with a felony conviction. But neither of them toyed with the idea that education could get them out of their current circumstances. This was odd considering Dukie's computer potential shown in school with Prez and Cutty quitting a job as a truant officer because he didn't like the monthly rule.

But with recent unemployment rates, skeptics may be wondering is college enough to keep them out of poverty, too.

Although "The Wire" didn't focus on college, getting a degree in today's current economy may not always guarantee employment. One possibility of why is a recent Gallup study concluding that college graduates may not always be prepared for the workforce. But the bigger issue is hiring freezes due to business financial loss or companies choosing to save as opposed to risking another recession after hiring new employees.

In February 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the unemployment rate for children ages 16 and over was 6.7 percent, and the unemployment rate was higher for young adults ages 20 to 24 at 11.9 percent. For people ages 25 to 34, the unemployment rate was 7 percent.

In another 2014 study from BLS, for African-Americans, the unemployment rate for teens ages 16 to 19 was 32.4 percent (204), and a noticeable difference between black males and females ages 20 and over: for black women 9.9 percent (948) and black men 12.9 percent (1,085).

For Americans ages 25 and over, from February of last year to February of this year, the unemployment rate for those who have less than a high school diploma decreased from 11.2 percent (1,263) to 9.8 percent (1,098).

For high school graduates with no college degree, the unemployment rate from last month to February of last year decreased from 7.9 percent (2,848) to 6.4 percent (2,316).

For college graduates during the same timespan, the unemployment rate also went down from 3.9 percent (1,902) to 3.4 percent (1,697).

Regardless of people's opinions about college and whether it's worth the debt in the end, on "The Wire" and in recent statistics, education continues to positively influence a student's personal and professional outcome.

Shamontiel is the Scandal Examiner and the National African American Entertainment Examiner, too.

Follow Shamontiel on Pinterest for all of her latest TV, book, music and movie reviews; photo galleries; entertainment news and other entries, or subscribe to her The Wire Examiner channel at the top of this page. Also, follow her @BlackHealthNews, and follow this Pinterest board to read her celebrity interviews.

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