I recently saw "The Class," an autobiographical quasi-documentary about a year in the life of a French grammar class in a Parisian middle school. It is based on a book written by a teacher and the author actually plays the lead in the movie. The movie follows a group of about 30-35 students, all of whom were real students at the school. There was no formal script, instead the movie is based on improvs of certain situations described in the book. Just available via Netflix.
What I found fascinating was the depiction of the French school system and its students. In one scene the faculty is reviewing the academic performance of the students, subject by subject, at the end of the semester. Two students were seated in the room as observers. Although sworn to keep the discussion confidential, they share the discussion with all of their classmates. Certain students have "issues," as one would expect, but the system seems to do little more than shift the worst cases from one school to another.
Most striking was the composition of the class; a clear majority were either immigrants or children of immigrants, a large share of whom were from Africa or Islamic countries. (And this was a school in Paris itself; not one of the suburbs which have predominantly immigrant populations.) This movie shows us the face of France 20-30 years from now. My guess is that a film set in Denmark, Spain or almost any other European country would have the same message. These countries are going to be facing some big changes as their native populations decline and immigration continues apace. Economics can provide a useful framework for explaining employment, GDP, immigration patterns and the like, but I am not sure our profession will have a whole lot to say about the cultural consequences.
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