Tuesday, March 17, 2009

High Class

I'm off to SAM tomorrow for what I am planning to be a fun, relaxing, conference.

Packing to commence now that I am back from the University Symphony Orchestra concert. Honestly, nothing really complements the springtime weather like the Ravel Piano Concerto in G.

I also wanted to take a moment to reflect on The Class, which I saw this recommend and cannot recommend highly enough. It's an enriching and insightful glimpse into a modern, urban French school (though the lessons are far and wide-ranging, even for the GSIs here in Michigan). The wonder of the film is in the details, the quiet moments of discovery and pleasure, the sincerity of the tensions that evolve organically from the characters and contexts, and the unforced performances that anchor every moment. I also love the way real world problems are neither denied, nor forced into any sort of pre-formed moral. The film, which tracks a year in a French class, is really about the politics of multiculturalism and the dynamics between teacher and students. But the answers are never fully resolved, the lessons are never beaten into your mind, and the happy endings are never smeared on with the sort of glee that some films (like recent Best Picture winners) resort too.

As I said, it's recommended across the board, but as a future academic, it's especially striking for me. While we all have particularly memorable teachers, and Hollywood occasionally sees fit for another entry in the inspirational teacher category, The Class offers something more. It recognizes the very real limitations of a teacher’s power. There are boundaries to a teacher’s authority. Sometimes we cross them when we shouldn’t, but even more enlightening are the moments where we do not. Often we get the teacher-as-hero motif, in which we can enact real-world change through our efforts. I think it’s true, and the film is a call of sorts to heed the problems that enter in from outside the classroom walls (it’s here the French title Entre les murs, or Between the Walls, seems especially pertinent, because it invites us to ask what the walls really contain). In this context, the successes of both teacher and student, modest as they may be, really shine. I love the way students grow apart and together over the year, participate and withdraw, succeed at a project unexpectedly, surprise us with knowledge, insight, and imagination, or with anger and conflict. It shows, I think, that the film is based on a real teacher’s experiences (and indeed stars the teacher himself, along with several non-actors), in part because it simply observes the problems, addresses them, but resists answering them. And it resonates, and even inspires- the teacher in the film challenges his students, engages them in some surprising dialogues, and comes to terms with politics, both local and global. This is intelligence brought to life the way I wish every class I’ve taken and taught could be.


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