In September 1992, David Simon and Edward Burns ventured into Baltimore’s Franklin Square neighborhood and began reporting for The Corner. This would be Simon’s follow-up to Homicide, the 1991 critically acclaimed account of the homicide unit of the city’s police department. Burns was new to writing, but he knew the streets well. A Baltimore native and Vietnam veteran, he had spent more than 20 years with the police force, many of them as a detective gathering intelligence about gangs selling drugs.
By 1992, however, Burns was ready to give up police work. He had been taking teacher-certification classes, and working in the classroom seemed like a better way to fight the war on drugs. “You think that by doing good police work you can take pressure off people who live in those neighborhoods,” he explains. “That’s impossible now. It’s like pulling dandelions from a field; you don’t accomplish much.” Before Burns began teaching, though, he and Simon spent a year hanging out in the Franklin Square drug market. In 1994, when it came time to weave together the stories they had gleaned, the two wrote literally side by side at the computer. “David would sit at the keyboard,” Burns says, “and I would sit beside him, and we’d struggle through it.”
Parts of The Corner are shaped by Burns’ experiences as a rookie teacher in a Baltimore middle school classroom in 1994. “On this, the first day of a new school year,” he and Simon write, “you’re out to let them know that what happens in this room truly matters.” But Burns’ hope fades fast as he learns that the drug markets flourishing on street corners throughout the city are all that matter to many of his students. Kids like DeAndre will occasionally dazzle teachers with their raw intelligence, but eventually, Burns finds, “the corners will have them all.”
A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 1997 edition of Teacher as On The Corner