Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Review of the Class

Here is an insightful review of the movie The Class, which is yet playing in second run houses here and there. It will probably be out on DVD in late summer. My good friend, Geraldine Torf is the author. She is a student of psychoanalysis and former therapist. The political opinions are not all in line with my own, but the overall writing is original. I contributed the idea about the reason why Francois is reluctant to teach The Enlightenment.

The extraordinary docudrama that is the film The Class is an excellent vantage point to examine the particular perspectives that are brought to bear on social structure; namely cultural, organizational, group and individual psychoanalysis. Francois Begaudeau, a teacher in a Paris Public High School in the Twentieth Arrondisement reshaped his novel chronicling his interactions with his students over the course of a year. The demographics consist of a group of fourteen year old students mostly of Caribbean or African descent with one noteable Asian adolescent whose mother is deported to China during the course of the film's progression. The work is entertaining and unlike most documentaries which can be too raw or painfully accurate to be easily assimilated presents viewers with an excellent educational tool.

Francois utilizes his rational legal authority with a generous overlay of charismatic style. This is by virtue of his lean good looks, strong voice and aggressive teaching technique. He stimulates his students through challenging, correcting, teasing and criticizing. Because he is a paid employee in a beurocratic instructional institution, it invokes a managerial capitalist orientation toward the worker students. The class members thereby respond to their teacher's attempts to communicate with a Marxist jargon. This is one of the outcomes of the herd instinct and the group mind, which puts the teacher in a precarious position. Communication with adolescents is an extremely challenging operation because a fine line has to be walked between exciting presentation and the danger of over-stimulation. It is tempting to utilize "administrative system conditions" with its resultant overt condescension. Some "communicative action" is attempted to illicit compassion and understanding but it is done clumsily. Begadeau tries to be a pseudo-buddy and attempts to be open to intimate questioning. He becomes defensive when Sulyman, his Malinese student asks him if he is a homosexual.

Freud's erotic transference and counter-transference saturate the classroom environment. Khouma, the Zoftig Caribbean fourteen year old is newly aware in her unconscious of the sexual dynamic of giving and receiving. Therefore she chooses not to cooperate and resists reading aloud from The Diary of Anne Frank. It is somehow suggestive of the possible sexual exploitation of colonial subjects or female workers in the labor force. Francois is unaware that his unconscious response to her cleavage made him single her out. His ambivalence towards the student body manifests again in his further exchanges with Sulyman. He feels a masculine competitiveness with this poised good looking regal youth who seems to have a strong sense of the true. He is aware that Francois' false attempts at relatedness sometimes stirs up more chaos. He chooses not to do his work in this hotbed of seething oppositional energies. In the workplace or in school anyone who is unusually perceptive of unconscious psychodynamics is rife for expulsion. His photographic talent denies the teacher's meeting verdict that he is 'limited.'

The secondary school teacher's autobiography idea must be analyzed for its reception in a multi-cultural classroom. While the students from the Caribbean might welcome the opportunity for ego assertion some cultures put more emphasis on humility. When Isabel and the other pretty girl representative inform Sulyman of the proceedings of the expulsion hearing, Bergadeau calls them "skanks" or whores. When girls are in early adolescense they need an ego ideal informed by the super-ego to keep them from acting out sexually. Sulyman is righteously indignant because it is likely in Malinese culture that women are venerated for their future respected positions as wives and mothers. His mother is an excellent example of the dignity and bearing of an esteemed woman in the culture. There are probably tribal rites in this culture, which would better enable Sulyman to endure the stresses of adolescence. It could have been helpful to have Margaret Mead reincarnate as a cultural consultant to the staff. The small number of faculty members on staff could have been beneficial if they were not to busy denying their id instincts and projecting them entirely on the 'animal' students. It would be helpful if all faculties in secondary schools could have regular staff meetings led by a communicator psychoanalyst enriched by a background in cultural studies. It would be extremely efficacious if federal funds could be released for such projects. In our own country such interventions would do a lot more to inhibit violence and thus be more life preservative than Obama's politically expeditious move to give full thrust to stem cell research funding.

In Afghanistan the U.S. wants to introduce modernity in this traditional culture too soon. We object to the idea of boys' schools there when it was only five decades ago in American and English educational systems when single sex student bodies were a sign of eliteness and exclusivity. This style still persists in Jewish Yeshivas and some other faith based schools. Certainly girls should have equal educational opportunities but one can't rush acceptances. Our own tribal memories must guide us in the pace we set for change.

Now to return from my digression about culture in foreign relations to go back to my discussion of the film. In the exchange between Bergadeau and his male colleague at the beginning of the film they talk about collaborative efforts to teach literature and history around joined themes. Francois says they were able to absorb 'Ancienne Regimes' but were not receptive to 'The Age of Enlightenment'. This is totally a diminishing derogative judgment against their students. In the sixties my cousin Ralph as a Peace Corps member taught Shakespeare very successfully to his Nigerian students. Literature often transmits universal truths, which are available to all if properly communicated with understanding and compassion. On the other hand my son Hugh who was brought up with a strong immersion in Western Civilization and its literary inheritance was stymied by Shakespeare's ornate language because he was adjusting to the intrusion of four stepsiblings into his household. Bergadeau didn't mean to fail so miserably with Solyman but his cultural and psychological background left him ill equipped to deal with this pedagogical problem.

Now with the multiple homicides in the secondary school in Germany it seems that the misunderstandings and cultural omissions in the docu-drama pale in the wake of this tragedy. The student's addiction to violent videogames and his access to his father's gun collection are grim reminders of the relevance of Trevor Norris' article. Arendt talks about the oikos and agora being diminished with the ascendance of the public realm. Baudrillard in the contemporary vehicle of semiotics illustrates that the consumption of chosen objects signifies the status of participating societal inhabitants.
"Speech has been drained of its power and meaning." If greed and the urgency to make a buck at any ethical cost are not exposed by the proliferation of such products as guns and inciting videogames, nothing can be. Consumerism and lack of proper outlets for the erotic and aggressive proclivities of teens and young adults led to 9/11 and the multiple school shootings extant all over the world. Certainly when Ahrendt cited Sputnik in the beginning of The Human Condition as a sign of the alienation of mankind, she could never predict the rise of Fertility Clinics in the Medical community of our present era. There the private consummation of human reproduction and generativity has been assigned to the public so that it can be considered that anything can be purchased and is up for grabs in our consumer society. In the past if there was ambivalence or reasonable doubt about the wisdom of having children the soma itself could express safeguards or limits to those who had not resolved their resistance. The stem cell hysteria is another way our consumer society feels that with enough expenditure we can abolish all the ills that debauch our health. The unconscious motives and repressed emotions as basis for disease and accident are suppressed. In the rise of the knowledge of splitting the atom propaganda arose that this detonated bomb would give rise to all kinds of scientific discoveries, which would save mankind. Human destructiveness has now escalated to the level where humanity could be annihilated. Too much emphasis has been put on Science and Technology as a panacea for societal ills. It demands conformity, which does not give rise to a philosopher such as Descartes who was allowed to sleep late, and thus out of the loop was able to observe and think without the arbitrary discipline of time control. Too much emphasis has been put on adjustment and assimilation.

On my way home from the film on the subway I talked with a fashionable muscovite woman in her sixties who cast negative judgments on the Hispanic U.S. immigrants. Because our cultural values have been compromised from consumerism and the shrinkage of Family influence, we must question and analyze why total immersion into the existing cultural milieu should be forced onto new immigrants. Students need real relationships from mature leader educators who can encourage individual character development. At a case presentation on March 28, a BGSP student talked about his eighth grade mostly Dominican group. He seemed like the perfect compassionate and low stimulation leader who could build trust over time. His bi-lingual approach to group process shows his respect for the family culture. Too much forced adaptation to a new language is a cruel assault on the mother tongue.

Assimilation marked the cultural history of the German-Jewish society that influenced Hannah Ahrendt. The ensuing betrayal of this population by the Nazis did much in the maturation of this intelligent political philosopher. With increasing anti-Semitism in Hitler's repressive regime, she was chosen by a Zionist organization to reveal this horrifying truth to the rest of the world. Journalistic seeds planted at this time gave birth to her new career when she moved to New York City. She shifted from her temporary strong identification with the Jewish people to claim her 'interspace. How much we have attachment to our cultural heritage should be a matter of personal choice. She was severely criticized for her series of articles on Eichmann in Jerusalem because she was too objective and emotionally distant. Certainly in her disappointment over her relationship with Heidegger she had to focus her attention in The Human Condition on the diminishment of the oikos and the resultant distortion of the Polis.

In Entre Des Murs the teaching philosophy is to impose adjustment in kind of a Fascist way. They forbid the wearing of head scarfs by Muslim women in France because they fear the rising violent protest of the Arab underclass created by National pressure to suspect anything non-French. Retreat into a more classic cultural and religious practice is what many citizens in every country are doing ;sometimes reverting to Fundamentalism in their attempt to decrease the inroads of consumerism and Technology. My middle son, David, immerses himself and his family into a Chasidic lifestyle. They don't have a TV in their household so the children aren't confronted by product bombardment They try to imbue the atmosphere with the spiritual mysticism which influenced Walter Benjamin in his article citing the aura of objects in original representational Art. His older teen-Age and Young Adult children have abandoned the strict structure and have experimented with the dangerous world outside their culture. It is worrisome that the attempt to insulate them from the larger culture left them so vulnerable to its devastations. David himself chose to go to The University of Hawaii to seek diversity in the student body. In the 60's and 70's in his childhood New Hampshire the population was predominately white and conservative. Now he has become the conservative Computer programmer who tries to contain his own family in a homogeneous environment.

The Class as a docu-drama should be used as a discussion tool for teachers and students in multi-cultural schools. It might help disperse the resulting trauma on both sides.

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