Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Class Not Easily Dismissed (Film Review) by Alison Ross

Many movies have been made about the difficult dynamics of teaching teens, but most of them are dreadfully distorted and saccharinely idealized incarnations of classroom reality. It’s not to say that such films as Dangerous Minds don’t display some amount of veracity or have their multifarious merits as far as cinematic integrity. But as far as I know, no film has captured so cleverly and meticulously the dizzying drama of middle and high school pedagogy. Until, that is, The Class.

The Class, interestingly enough, is a French film about teaching in an urban Parisian classroom – one that finds a surprising and resounding resemblance to urban American school settings.

The film is immediately immersive and takes on a documentary-like aura from the outset. In fact, the film’s fealty to reality is so stark it can be rather jolting.

I myself am a high school teacher, and so I am all too familiar with the tricky terrain of educating adolescents. It is not a job I foresee me doing for eternity or even much longer than a few more years (I’ve already been doing it for nearly 7), owing to the pervasion of politics that cripple the educational process. If it weren’t for the puerile and pernicious politics, as well as, of course, an economic system that creates sinister inequities on par with the Indian caste system, educating children would be less fraught with so many insurmountable hindrances. It would still be a daunting task, to be sure, but the challenges would be more organic and invite smoother navigation.

So The Class is a very intimate portrait of what it is like to be a teacher of impoverished adolescents, whose lives are indelibly
affected by such circumstances and who nonetheless have a burning urge to learn and create and grow. These are bright students who can sometimes display a surly mien - not out of apathy, but rather because they are in desperate need of guidance and care.

And the teacher who instructs the students is a capable enough leader, but he vacillates in terms of disciplinary consistency, and this is where the movie finds its heart. At the core of the movie is a crisis with a wayward student, and the dubious way the teacher chooses to handle such an incident. What is most compelling about this aspect of the movie is that it starkly manifests how there are no pat, facile ways to handle student behavior, and how densely dichotomous the job of teaching youth is, given the myriad and cumbersome duties they are tasked with.

The Class is hardly a Hollywoodized version of the raw reality of teaching. It offers a refreshing verisimilitude (after all, the
director and main actor was once a teacher) and it proffers no artificial answers. Instead, it provides a daunting challenge for the viewers to immerse themselves into the role of teacher, and search within their own psyche and sense of ethics for how they might approach the pedagogy of young adults.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Watching that movie is the most powerful contraceptive I know of.