Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"The Class"

            In the movie “The Class,” I believe that the students are constantly learning, but other people might not take into account the type of learning that I could see.  Some people prefer learning to be about something educational, such as math, science, or in the case of the movie, French.  For me, I believe that even though the students were not necessarily learning about subject matter, they were still learning, but in this case, they were learning how to reason and substantiate their arguments.  Throughout the movie, we see the rebellious students arguing with their teacher.  Khoumba, for instance, refuses to read out loud, which she justifies by arguing that there are plenty of other people in the class who are more willing to read than her.  Even though Khoumba does not win this argument, she still learns to support her argument instead of leaving it at “I just don’t want to do it.”  Aside from that, some of the students also learn how to avoid learning in the classroom.  For example, Souleymane refuses to bring his school materials during class, which prevents him from doing any class work.  When the teacher asked him if he could borrow some paper and a pen from his neighbor, he told his teacher that he would do the work at home.  The kids in the class are learning so many different things aside from what they are supposed to be learning that some people can see this as “not-learning.” 
            Throughout the movie, we see lots of constraints on the students’ learning.  The teacher constantly demeans the students by always pointing out what they do not know and insulting them instead of praising what they know.  Aside from that, the teacher puts on airs as if he knows everything, which the students have a hard time believing.  Due to the way that the teacher is acting, the students have a difficult time accepting him as someone that they can trust so they treat him with hostility.  Although the teacher has a rocky relationship with his students, I think that he is able to support them in other ways.  When he was talking to another teacher about the book that they will read for his class, he rejected several books, claiming that those books are too difficult for their level.  Although it may seem that he is degrading their intellect, I think that he just wants them to be able to experience success, which is why he wants to choose an easier book.  Aside from that, his class is pretty democratic because the class mostly controls their own learning.  We saw this when the students were talking about writing their own self-portraits, and how they finally took control by talking about their private lives.  The teacher also supported the students by praising them, like the part when he praised Wei for his self-portrait.  He also supported the students by giving them feedback, like when he gave Souleymane advice on how to further explain his pictures by adding “legends.” 
            The constraints on the students’ learning were also affected by language and culture because of misunderstandings.  One of the major problems that the teacher had was his use of “skank” to mean a girl laughing out of control.  That word is so derogatory that as soon as the students heard “skank,” they spiraled out of control; even though he meant to say they were “acting like skanks,” not “they are skanks,” the students heard what they wanted to hear.  Another case where the students misunderstood his use of language happened when they were at the faculty meeting; he was defending Souleymane, but since he used “limited scholastic ability,” the girls assumed that he was insulting Souleymane.  Aside from that, culture became a constraint as well when the students started having problems with each other’s cultural identities.  Culture and language did not just affect the constraints in the students’ learning, but it affected the support as well.  It was nice to see the teachers in the movie showing sympathy in Wei’s situation, even going as far as collecting money to help gather enough bail money to get his undocumented mother out of jail.  As for language, the praise that the teacher gives Souleymane when he was working on his self-portrait clearly thrilled him; it looked as if he did not hear praise a lot, and when he heard it coming from his teacher, his smile just brightened his whole face. 
            I believe that as future teachers, we can potentially learn from this movie, but that does not make it any less difficult to watch.  I certainly learned a lot of what not to do in the classroom from this movie, but I also learned how to deal with potential troublemakers.  One of the most important things that I learned from this movie is that building a great relationship with the students from the start can definitely change the mood of the entire class.  I imagine that if the teacher was not as condescending as he was in the movie, his students would have been more willing to learn instead of challenging each and every claim that he makes.  


  1. Hi Misha,

    I strongly agree with you about how the lack of communication is present when Mr. Marin addresses Esmeralda and Louise's hysterical laughing as that of "skanks." Even while Mr. Marin explained to them how his definition of skanks differed from theirs, they automatically dismissed his explanation. Their reasoning behind it was to "punish" him for bad behavior just as they are punished when they do something defiant. It's interesting how students really do hear what they want to hear. In this case, I feel it was almost an awaited moment to happen because they didn't give him the time of day to elaborate on his statement; but rather wasted no time in telling other teachers and peers abut the incident. In a way, anxious to see what punishment the school would assign him.

  2. I agree with you that non-academic learning is taking place in the class, but I wonder whether it is what we could consider ‘good learning’. While Khoumba and some of the other students are practicing using their voice and expressing their opinions, they do not seem like they are ready to do so in a constructive manner. When Khoumba refused to read out loud in class, she did so in a way which disrespected Francois’s position as their teacher. She responded to his request with attitude and indifference, and I did not agree that he was singling her out, as any student whom he called on to read could claim that. That being said, Francois did not respond to Khoumba in a constructive way either when he spoke to her after class and made her repeatedly apologize; basically forcing her to say words which she didn’t mean. I do not think ‘good learning’ was taking place in this situation as Francois’s actions basically told Khoumba that it is better to be dishonest and obey authority then it is to express one’s true feelings. In fact, this situation caused Khoumba to write the letter stating she would not participate or interact in class at all anymore. She learned that she would rather remain quiet and uninvolved than be ignored or reprimanded when she tried to say things. To avoid this situation, Francois could have realized that the students needed some guidance in learning how to express themselves appropriately, and he could have had more open discussions with them when issues such as this one arose.

    I also agree with you in that I believe Francois did have good intentions and misunderstandings were a large factor in his and the students’ rocky relationships. I don’t think it was just the misunderstandings in the literal use of language though, but mainly misunderstandings in how they understood each other. While Francois did not mean to infer that they actually were ‘skanks’, and the word most likely came out in a moment of anger, it was still inappropriate for him to use that kind of language in class, especially while talking directly to a student. The situation became a misunderstanding when Souleymane began reprimanding Francois for his actions, saying he shouldn’t speak to girls that way, and Francois refused to apologize or explain it in a reasonable way. This scene revolved around a misunderstanding of the teacher/student relationship. While it seemed as if Francois was trying to run the class somewhat democratically throughout the film, in this scene, he is trying to demand the respect of his students, while he is disrespecting them. This idea is exposed further in the schoolyard scene when one of the students says ‘asshole’. Since Francois never apologized for his behavior, or admitted that using the word ‘skank’ was inappropriate, the students cannot comprehend why they wouldn’t be allowed to express their feelings in a similar way.

    It seems as though learning was often constrained in the class because the students and teacher were unable to communicate effectively. It is true that Francois was often condescending, but the students were likewise disrespectful. I agree that this movie exemplifies the importance of building a strong foundation with your students from the very beginning. I think that preconceived notions they had from working together previous years negatively affected François and the students’ attitudes. I think this shows us how important it is to start every school year off fresh, so that every student has the opportunity to learn freely without the teacher judging or ranking them, and each class has a chance to create their own class structure and culture.