Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Class

This week my friend and I wound up seeing the Class, French director Laurent Cantet's film about a French language and literature teacher struggling to inspire his high school class in the Parisian suburbia. The continuous noise of the class, with its immaturely opinionated and easily offended students, the liberal teacher who loses his cool, the teacher's less idealistic colleagues who view the students as nothing but the subject matter... It was all very realistic. Although my high school was much more homogenous in terms of the students' backgrounds, I remember the continuous chatter, the rebels who would always argue with the teachers, and how sad and unusually quiet an empty classroom looks.

There are a couple of things that lingered on in my mind after the movie. How to win respect? Simply being more senior (in terms of age or experience), having the power to fire, hire or suspend someone, or knowing more is not enough to win someone's genuine respect. Genuine respect is something closer to affection and admiration than to fear, and it only comes with time. A person would earn respect by caring about the people around them, by treating them kindly and showing genuine interest in them, by listening to them, rather than assuming they are better and respectable by default. And a genuinely respectable person would not need to impose their respectability on others, but instead allow them to decide for themselves. Many teachers and bosses are too consumed by their supposed power to consider these things.

And I thought about what all that chatter in a classroom or a teachers' room meant. How the most important things (inequality between classes and cultures or the fate of a student) are spoken alongside the most mundane, like the price of coffee and football stars. And every day, the most important and unimportant things are spoken everywhere with miniscule intervals. And sometimes, the most important things are spoken of as if they are not important, without consideration, and the most mundane are spoken of as if they are the most important things in the world, with great passion. All this is a mystery to me.

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