February 24, 2009
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.