spoiler alert-plot details of the French film Entre les murs, to follow.
I got to finish The Class on Netflix (watch instantly) after we began the award-winning film in class. The tension in a multi cultural high school classroom in Paris is palpable. There are kids from various nations, religions, social classes, and teacher François Marin is struggling to teach them French as well as other life lessons.
It’s an urban high school. There is a realistic depiction of how teachers can run the gamut in terms of their experiences, methods, hope, and discipline style but wrapped up in a very polite French sort of way. Some of the debates shared by teachers over punitive action was more respectful than what most of my teacher friends have explained to me in Philadelphia. The administration seemed supportive and generally functional, also a contrast to Philadelphia schools.
The key conflicts of the film are around how to get through to kids, especially the hard to reach ones. Souleymane was the main relationship explored, an immigrant with his family from Mali. When a difficult conversation over inappropriate disclosure of a teachers’ meeting sets tempers in the classroom boiling over, Souleymane is involved in an accidental injury of one of his fellow students.
The process that the disciplinary board, with Marin taking center stage, shows the fuller dimensions of the problem. If the student is expelled, a rumor from students say that not only would he be beaten but possibly sent back to Mali. It had been difficult to process the growing problems with his parents because of language barriers and another student’s mom had just begun deportation hearings. If expulsion is the final option for some sort of solution for the classroom environment, had they done everything they could in the meantime?
With a disappointing end to François’ attempts to get Souleymane engaged in the learning environment, on the last day of class the students are recounting what they learned during the school year. One student, who was silent throughout the film, depressingly confesses to François that she was not sure she had learned anything that year.
This story of trying to teach in a difficult situation may not strike a chord of hope for many. The realism depicted may elicit compassion for urban education and the multi-cultural reality of many urban centers globally. Particularly for viewers the US, I think the Parisian setting is helpful to show similar situations to what we have but in a different context. It allows for showing a subtle mirror to our culture without bludgeoning points about neglect, lack of fair immigration laws, and lack of resources in urban schools.