The Class “Entre les murs”


The Class (French with English subtitles) won the Golden Palm at Cannes this year – and it was well deserved. This is a riveting semi-autobiographical film written and played by teacher and novelist François Bégaudeau. It follows him as he teaches French grammar to ninth graders at an urban Paris high school for a year.

The film has the feel of a documentary and it could have been written by the famous French philosopher-writer Michel Foucault (1926 – 1984). Why? Because it is all about power relations through language. This is a must-see I think for media literacy educators and all teachers.

At the beginning I thought it was going to be a French version of Freedom Writers (here the kids also read The Diary of Anne Frank but to very different but as important effect).

The teacher (and the faculty and principal) are obsessed with discipline. Indeed, the students are very challening. Francois feels for the kids, but power struggles, and his own impotence as a teacher, cause him to fail – with grave consequences for a student. He is humbled, though never enough to make it right with the student. It is not until he (and other teachers) can meet the kids on their level that hope emerges. (The faculty meeting that descends to a long debate about the price of coffee for teachers is thought-provoking.)

I would wish that all teachers and youth ministers could see, reflect and converse about this film: how we teach is what we teach. If you are into semiotics, literacy, and teaching, this is a worthy film. This is one DVD I will add to my collection.

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