February 24, 2009

300 Words About: The Class

The class portrait of a new millennium...

I don't know how to judge The Class as a movie because I didn't see it as a movie, but as an eerily familiar depiction of my own years spent teaching multicultural 13 year-olds at an inner-city school. Despite the existence of a screenplay based on a "novel" (more like a memoir), to me The Class is a documentary more than anything else. Real students, real teachers, real school, real issues, real life. That's what I've taken away in the two weeks since seeing it: the challenges of a rapidly globalizing world are real and they're urgent, and there are no easy answers on how to bridge today's cultural norms with tomorrow's.

This fact was apparently lost on the guy sitting behind us in the theater, who muttered, "What's the point?" as the credits rolled, adding that the movie had "no redeeming qualities". The point, I would argue, is that the world is changing around us and it will be to our benefit to begin focusing on the future instead of the past as soon as possible. The U.S., like France, is going to change much more rapidly in the next 50 years than it has in the last 50 years, and it will require cultural adaptation on the part of everyone from every background.

Although I admit that the cultural makeup of the class seemed a bit more symmetric than I think you'd find in most places (these students in the movie all attend the same school, but I've found nothing saying the group in the movie comprises an actual class), it's certainly true that the number of cultures and ethnicities represented under the roof of one school is almost exponentially increasing, even in places as seemingly monocultural as Minnesota (see: Gran Torino).

Some would argue that the students in the class - tragically true to life - didn't actually learn anything throughout the year, but I would strongly disagree. They learned about other cultures and, perhaps more importantly, they learned about their own. And while understanding the universals of culture might not help them pass the 9th grade, it will most definitely prepare them for the future.

With any luck, these exchanges happening at schools around the world will prevent the development of Walt Kowalskis in future generations.


  1. I serioualy want to see this movie, even though school is making me sick at the moment.

    I know the dude who played the teacher is coming to SA when The Class plays at a festival in a city far, far away from me. Maybe I can try attend, but...yeah. We'll see.

  2. Ha, well you might find some catharsis from the rebellious students here, Nick.

    This movie should also be distributed as a public campaign for increased teacher's salaries. Not all of them deserve it, but many of them do. How K-12 educators get paid beans compared to corporate executives is ridiculous.

    It would be very cool for you to get an inside perspective from François Bégaudeau since this is really his film from concept to production.

  3. Well Dan, we have certainly shared some ideas on this film as of late, and I think you again wisely tie in your own experiences as a teacher in an inner-city school, and see the film as a documentary, even if it's not crafted as such. I had some relatively minor issues with the film (even if the last of an emotional hook with this kind of film was disappointing) yet couldn't give it more than 3.5 of 5 in my initial review.
    I do not agree with that rocket scientist who was sitting behind you though, as his conclusion was wrought out of laziness and the desire to be entertained rather than enlightened.
    I am agree that the "cultural makeup was definitely too symetric" but certainly things are heading in that direction as i know from enrollment in my own district.
    Solid and cerebral film, that (unlike DEAD POETS SOCIETY, for example, which haunted me for many weeks) is emotionally distancing. You do wonder though if that wasn't the intended ppoint.

    Terrific capsule review here that says as much as needs to be said.

  4. Thanks a lot, Sam, and all the points you make here and in your review are spot on.

    I didn't actually say much about the aspects of the film here, but yes, anyone looking for a rousing, emotional film like Dangerous Minds or Dead Poets Society or even Freedom Writers will be looking in the wrong place. This is very dialogue heavy and thought-provoking, and I would consider it required viewing for anyone teaching in a city school, especially the inexperienced teachers.

  5. interesting i really appreciate your thoughts here, i haven't seen it yet, but this difference that you see when you experience it is seems like exactly why it's a valuable film.

    i can't wait.

  6. I still can't wait to see this. I don't think it's ever coming around here, and they're not doing screeners. Argh.

  7. Well I'm surprised, RC and Matt, that this hasn't made its way around more places yet. I thought it was in fairly wide release but I'm obviously wrong!

    I very much recommend for those who know what to expect (a heady, unemotional movie) and are OK with it. Interested to hear both of your thoughts after you see it.

  8. Hmmm...a psuedo doc...and an A grade from my man Dan.


    Well, it took you a couple weeks to write something on this, and it's been a few weeks and I still haven't.

    Not sure how I feel about it still. I was entertained, but I have to admit that I felt a bit like the guy behind you. Without it being in fact a full-on doc, I had to wonder what the story was, what was the lesson we were being taught.

    Also not sure I agree with the point (that the world is changing) that you walked away with. Who did it change for, and what from? Is it just that France is a much more multi-cultural country than it was 20 years ago? If so, that seems a simple and obvious point, not to mention one that has little to do with the inner workings of a classroom, no? If anything, I'd say it was more about the divide between those other "classes" - the socio-political ones, as Mr. Moran seemed to live in a different world than that of his students...well, except when it came to the love of futbol.

  9. "Is it just that France is a much more multi-cultural country than it was 20 years ago? If so, that seems a simple and obvious point, not to mention one that has little to do with the inner workings of a classroom, no?"

    I couldn't disagree more with you here, pal! I don't think this a simple reality at all, and I do think the inner workings of the classroom have a LOT to do with the outer workings of the city. Those riots in Paris were only four shorts years ago, and from all I've heard/read/seen the tension doesn't appear to have lessened much. Classism definitely plays a part, but the main point is that France has no idea how to deal with the "new French". Mr. Marin is swimming upstream in trying to teach them how to act and speak like the old aristocrats, and they're having none of it.

    Merits of the filmmaking or the cultural tensions aside, this movie also gives the most accurate depiction I've seen of what teaching is like at this grade level. Forget Dangerous Minds, Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me, etc. - this is the real deal.

  10. I'm not adding this article from Sunday's NYT as another response to Fletch's fine comment, but as something else to inform the conversation as it relates to the U.S.:

    "Where Education and Assimilation Collide"

  11. I liked your comment about the Walt Kuwalskis of the world.

    I admire you teaching a mult-cultural inner-city class. I've been a teacher for 33 years - and this film was vivid reality to me. He's a real person who makes mistakes. It's the best film about teaching I've ever seen.

  12. Thanks, hokahey, and I agree about the realism of the situation. I also enjoyed your very personal review of The Class. Hats off to you for three decades of public service - I only taught for three years!


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