Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Rarely Is The Question Asked: Is Our Children Learning?*

I try, I really do, but some days it's damn near impossible. Take today, for example. My students were watching the film Osama as part of our study of religious fundamentalism. Osama is not -- as you might think -- about bin Laden, but about a young girl living in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Because she has no male relatives and is therefore not allowed to leave her house, her widowed mother disguises her as a boy and sends her out to get a job so the two of them don't starve to death.

It's not the world's most exciting movie -- I mean, there aren't any explosions -- but I thought it gave a pretty good feel for what it might have been like to live under the Taliban: how far-reaching and oppressive their rule was. And I've been at this teaching thing for a while -- I know teenagers generally can't get themselves too terribly worked up over irrelevant things like oppression. (I'm not being sarcastic here. It annoys the hell out of me, but I get it.) But we're talking SERIOUS injustice here, and the film is pretty powerful, so I thought my kids might actually give a shit.

Wrong.

Late in the film there's a scene where a woman is accused of advocating profanity and, after what I guess is supposed to pass for a trial -- an observer at the so-called trial even notes the absence of a witness, sentenced to death by stoning. In the next scene you see a hole being dug, and then you see the woman in the hole with only her head and shoulders visible.

"What's going on?" asked my kids. Which. . . okay. . .fine, we're Americans, we're not all that familiar with stoning procedures. "They're getting ready to stone her," I explained, deliberately being blunt. "They bury you up to your shoulders and then throw rocks at your head until you die."

"Big rocks?" wondered a kid.

And I get that they're teenagers, I get that developmentally they don't have the whole empathy thing down yet, I get that having never experienced anything particularly awful themselves the horror of being stoned to death is probably tough to fully grasp, but COME ON. Does it really fucking matter how big the fucking rocks are?! Can we please focus on the fact that a woman -- who, oh, by the way, can't show her TOES let alone her face in public -- was just charged with a completely made up crime, was neither allowed to defend herself against the charge nor confront even a single witness against her, was sentenced in a matters of seconds, and now people -- like for FUN -- are gonna throw ROCKS, whatever their size, at her head until she DIES?

Oh, but my day gets worse.

The stoning scene ends with people swarming around the woman in her hole, all -- I presume -- eager to throw rocks at her for her horrible transgression of advocating profanity. As the next scene began, one of my kids said, "Wait. We don't even get to SEE her get stoned?" "You want to watch a woman get stoned to death?" I asked angrily. "Well, not in real life," he answered nodding, "but yeah."

What is this, like, Jackass: The Class?

Toward the very end of the film, we see an old mullah locking his newly acquired (against her will, of course) young bride in a room with his other wives. She weeps as the other wives tell her how cruel he is, while he makes preparations for their wedding night. In one of the very last scenes, the mullah holds an array of padlocks out to his new wife, as if he's giving her a gift, and encourages her to choose one. "What's he doing?" asked a kid. "He's letting her choose the lock for her door," explained another kid. "Awwww, that's really sweet," said a girl. "She's gonna spend the rest of her life locked in that room unless he says she can come out," I ranted, "what's SWEET about that?" "Well, if she has to be locked up, at least he's letting her choose the lock she likes," answered my student.

Seriously. What do you even DO with that as a teacher?

*thanks to my pal Jay for reminding me of this lil' gem of a Bushism

19 comments:

lulu said...

I took my kids to see a stage version of A Lesson Before Dying. They were very upset that they did not get to see the elctrocution. "In a movie they would show it."

Kids.

Megan said...

I'm thinking of stoning a kid to death in class tomorrow, just for fun.

lulu said...

Can you put it on youtube?

Melissa said...

I don't even know what to say to that. I wasn't like that as a teenager, and neither were any of my friends, though I know that doesn't mean no one else in my school was like that. I honestly don't know how I would have reacted. I probably would have stopped the film and brutally lectured them on being so fucking shitty and then I probably would have been fired. I don't think I could have stood there, listening to that kind of attitude. Makes my blood boil.

Coaster Punchman said...

So let's review here: why were you against me bitchslapping a young stranger on the subway? Might you be ready to change your position? :O)

Chris said...

To answer your question - You blame everything on violent video games.

Teaching empathy and understanding is an uphill battle, but a worthy one.

vikkitikkitavi said...

Kids just love to defy adult expectations.

Phil said...

Do you think this has anything to do with how the kids relate to the information they get from t.v.? They put 2 & 2 together regarding your boots, but the film seemed to be almost, unreal to them in your description.

Grant Miller said...

My guess is the movie made an impression on the kids, but they were too scared to come to grips with it in front of their peers. But just a hunch.

Amy said...

I don't know what you should do with that. I'm so excited about my kids becoming teenagers. It's already starting...

I would hug you if I could.

Johnny Yen said...

We took the kids from the alternative high school I work at to the Holocaust Awareness Museum in Skokie, Illinois. They met a holocaust survivor, whose story moved the teachers and I nearly to tears. She tried to connect her story to their own history (almost all of them are African American). Yet, almost all of them registered zero impact. One even started criticizing Jews for "allowing" the Nazis to come take them away.

Fortunately I have my own kids to make me feel better. My 12-year-old son saw "An Inconvenient Truth" at school and can't stop talking about the environment, global warming and Al Gore.

Megan said...

Melissa - I thought about it, but passionate lectures rarely go over well with teenagers.

CP - I remain totally opposed to bitchslapping, although I do have my moments of temptation.

Chris - I'll keep at it. . .thanks.

Vikki - If I thought they were doing it deliberately it would almost be better.

Phil - Good question! I do think there's a disconnect between what the see on TV and what they think of as real. We teachers often use movies to try to make things MORE real for our students, but it's possible that TV for them is by definition not real. I actually think if this had been a documentary film they would have reacted totally differently.

Grant - I suspect you're right, and some of the written reactions they turned in support your theory. We teachers constantly have to remind each other and ourselves that even when we feel like we're not reaching anyone, there's probably at least one kid in the room who's totally getting it but who will wait to send you an email in five years to tell you so.

Amy - YOU have teenagers?! No way! And thanks for the virtual hug.

Johnny Yen - See, and I was just thinking maybe a real live speaker would have been better. There ARE kids who are receptive. . .I'm glad your son is one of them.

Big Orange said...

the other day my team teacher, who does Social Studies (I doo math n' science) talked to them about the concept of nonviolence in relation to MLK. The had no idea whatsoever, mostly 'cuz their parents have told them that if someone hits you, you can pound 'em back. Isn't that in the Statanic Bible-- "If a man smite you on the right cheek, smash him on the left."

We're a violent and ignorant culture, and no one is more so than our children for much of their childhood. When kids are more passionate about football than they are about other human beings, this is what we get.

Big Orange said...

the other day my team teacher, who does Social Studies (I doo math n' science) talked to them about the concept of nonviolence in relation to MLK. The had no idea whatsoever, mostly 'cuz their parents have told them that if someone hits you, you can pound 'em back. Isn't that in the Statanic Bible-- "If a man smite you on the right cheek, smash him on the left."

We're a violent and ignorant culture, and no one is more so than our children for much of their childhood. When kids are more passionate about football than they are about other human beings, this is what we get.

Anon. Blogger said...

I have a freshman and a 6th grader. I have let them skip school just because they need a break from some of their ignorant peers. This is a perfect example. Pity the poor kids in that classroom that had to sit and watch you try to get the smart-asses get it.

As a parent with kids that 'get it', please know that even if the smart-asses never get it, the movie and your example influenced at least a few of the ones who are either not mature enough, or too socially savvy to show it.

But I'm sure you know that or how could you stay motivated.

And you get bonus points for not letting them have oral sex during the movie.

Seriously.

Check out my post from yesterday.

wonderturtle said...

What amazes me, sadly, is not that they have these thoughts, but that they lack the filter to know when not to say them.

The post above is a good reminder; I regularly have to remind myself that for every loudmouth, there are several quiet ones who aren't ready to let anyone know it, but they care.

Dave said...

That is a fantastic story.

Megan said...

Orange - There's definitely a disconnect that's hard to tackle.

Anon. Blogger - Yes, I always feel bad for the "good" kids. And, yikes, oral sex is for the schoolbus, not the classroom!

WT - Of course, with the filter you'd never know you weren't getting through to them. . .

Dave - Welcome to my world.

Echo said...

Twenty four years ago, Mrs Stiffler in honors english corrected the empathy problem for us by insisting that we pretend to be related to the character in jeopardy. Imagining it is your family being attacked has a nasty way of finding humanity even in the most barren of souls....

Well, that or you could just get *stoned* before class...