I have recently watched “The Class” a film I would recommend to anyone who has not seen it yet. The accuracy of it is breath taking and I can confirm that none of the characters are the slightest exaggerated nor would I classify them as clichés…it’s just how it is in certain parts of Paris and beyond…
The film is set in a college located in a mixed social and racial area of Paris (20eme arrondissement). It opened a draw in my memory that had remained shut for a long time. In fact it took me straight back to my old college Pyrénées renamed College Dolto a few years ago.
As I watched the kids play (brilliantly) I caught a glimpse of the blond spotty, awkward teenager that I was.
My friends at the time were from Spanish, Portuguese, Tunisian, African and Chinese origins…I stood out like a sore thumb at a time when all I wanted was to blend in the melting pot that was our school.
I remember the lunch cooked by our friend Honoré from Mali, he was 3 years older than us and lived with his sister in a bed sit while his parents were still living in Africa.
I remember visiting Maria in hospital when her dad had gone too far in punishing her…she never returned home and finished her year in a local refuge for troubled teenagers…I remember thinking at the time: “that’s not her who is troubled…it is him!”
I remember Jean-François heavily into rap music and talking like a kid in the streets in “verlan”…a contrast with the BCBG (bon chic bon genre) look of his parents clearly middle class.
The Friday afternoons were dedicated to debates and racism was often on the agenda…while Stendhal and Balzac also made the odd appearance.
I will never forget the day Mrs Smadja arrived half an hour late with none of her usual “black trade mark” around the eyes – the class felt silent and there was no way the lesson would start until she had redefined the lines surrounding her eyes, one of the students threw her pencil on her desk with a mirror and we soon had our teacher back.
Looking back on my time in Pyrénées I treasure the lessons on life, sometime the realities were hard to digest and made little sense to my 14 years…
I realised that I came from a stable and priviledged background compared to some of my peers, that I did not fit there and that none of us did either. The puzzle never fitted together but together we did collect and share experiences and a great French teacher.
I learned not to be scared of differences and instead embrace them. It made a decent “broth” for my forever stewing mind . It made me look at the world through the lense of humility.
Can you remember your class when you were 14? Please share, it is worth spending a few minutes thinking about it, it certainly helped me understand and reconnect with my own teenager at home…