The Class was a fantastic movie, and I think it tackled a lot of issues that American films don’t really tackle, one of them being deportation/immigration concerns. In comparing the film to American counterparts, Dangerous Minds had a different sort of urban urgency to it and films like Freedom Writers focus too much on the teacher’s life. There was a good balance between student and teacher in The Class; even when we saw Prof. Marin cracking under the pressure and calling the students skanks, the student body was resilient (after the Souleymane incident however). The film really sort of cuts to the core of the problem in the educational system, both here and in France; when a student doesn’t do well academically, many assume that they’re stupid or stubborn, when in fact their home life is probably the determining factor. Many of my earlier teachers before high school were like that. Since elementary and middle school teachers are a dime a dozen nowadays, it’s easy for a district to absorb a rather intolerant being as an educator. When a student, even anybody in general, is faced with a problem of social inequality whether it be race, class, or academics, it’s almost pointless to hold them accountable for anything. Quite obviously, this is where discipline and a “functioning society” muddle the situation. The chances are that kids like this will either end up in jail or as pawns in their parents’ issues, especially in the case of Souleymane possibly being deported back to Mali.
Furthermore, the setting of the film creates this cramped space that’s quite obviously a financially suffering institution. It’s portrayed as this concrete prison where the “recess” area is nothing but a blocked off concrete jungle. All the kids have to look forward to is coming back into class where their teachers often expect too much of them, yet the teachers are also under pressure to keep up standards for the principal and above. In this way, the education system becomes this lose-lose game. In many ways, it’s worse in France because immigrants are denied more there than they are here, however, the problems with state testing, funding, and general disingenuous attitudes contribute to inherent problems. To use a teacher I know that just began his teaching career in inner city Pittsburgh, he says that hate breeds hate in these situations – that while the students seem to be doing everything they can to get in trouble or grab attention, some of the teachers are already racist in that their so fed up with kids acting out that they’ve solidified the stereotype in their head. In many ways, these teachers don’t expect more of these students than to never leave the “hoods” wherever they may be. The true problem in secondary school is that knowledge has become sort of a currency; if the students do well, there’s more funding, higher salaries, etc. And if they don’t, you’re just asking for everyday tension in the classroom. Few teachers realize that the classroom is entirely dependent on the student – if their having troubles at home, they’re not going to listen or care to move forward unless you sympathize with them and make sure they know you care. College is somewhat of a different story where much of the process hinges on the content and delivery from the teacher because the students are taking the risk in paying to be there, but there are still cases at this level. Home life wasn’t great for me, but I still consider myself luckier than so many I see walking in and out of my job downtown. I’m sure those kids are on an uphill battle every day at school and at home.
I’ve sort of been avoiding the literature question, because I sort of irked at entertaining the possibility of stopping to teach literature. In my opinion, however possible biased it may be, literature is key to finding yourself, sympathizing with others, and building your knowledge of grammar, the language, and the reading process all at once. In the movie, they’re reading Anne Frank, and I was surprised to see they never really face that book head on. There are a couple of scenes that suggest student-teacher differences while a student is reading from Frank, yet Marin doesn’t tackle the similarities between Anne and the students. Both of them are imprisoned by their environments, oppressed by mere circumstance, and I think in many cases the students refused to read it or acknowledge it because it’s scary to confront yourself and your problems.