The fifth of November…
With another November the 5th it’s difficult not to be reminded of Guy Fawkes. And although I don’t think it is the best idea to mention him in the classroom as a man who tried to blow up the Parliament due to religious beliefs, there is something about the date that makes me feel… a little rebellious.
I usually focus on young learners here, but this time I’ve got something suitable either for adults or for simply more mature students: V for Vendetta, a masterpiece of pop culture by Alan Moore (writer, wizard, mall Santa and Rasputin impersonator).
I don’t know whether you are allowed to watch a film in your classroom – if yes, I strongly recommend watching this one; if not – I would use it as a homework.
V for Vendetta is a dystopian and post-apocalyptic story of an unnervingly near future, with Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman (yes, the film scene of her hair being shaved is for real) and Stephen Rea as protagonists. V is an anarchist freedom fighter in the neo-fascist regime of the United Kingdom that exterminates its opponents in concentration camps. Evey is a working-class girl, saved by V and becoming his protege, while Stephen Rea portrays the detective who tries to stop V, but discovers the truth behind his actions.
If you can get the graphic novel, and if your students are adults, I’d rather use this option – the novel is far darker and deeper than the film, so I’d make sure my students are mature enough to understand the book. (Also, if you haven’t read it yet, don’t start late at night, once I just wanted to check something and finished reading the whole novel at 2 a.m… again.)
How to use V for Vendetta in the classroom:
Since I’m not too eager to watch films in my classes, I asked my students to watch the film on their own, just to prepare for the lesson. After some questions to check the comprehension (especially about V’s background and the bio-weapons experiments at Larkhill, also the importance of St.Mary’s virus is crucial for the story), I used the film for what it’s actually made for – discussion.
It’s not too difficult to observe that we live in interesting times indeed, and according to Los Angeles Times, “with a wealth of new, real-life parallels to draw from in the areas of government surveillance, torture, fear mongering and media manipulation, not to mention corporate corruption and religious hypocrisy, you can’t really blame the filmmakers for having a field day referencing current events.”
I believe that we, teachers, are supposed to teach not only vocabulary and grammar, not only cultural backgrounds and context, we should also show our students how to express their own opinion in a heated discussion. Some people believe that we should avoid controversial topics – and this title IS controversial itself – but I disagree. If we know our students long enough, we can estimate if a discussion on politics, religion etc. is a good idea. (I usually teach Poles and we’re always ready to discuss such stuff.)
The topics that may help you to trigger the discussion are, for example:
Is mass media manipulation a serious issue nowadays? We have access to lots of sources of information, so why is media manipulation so widely debated?
Are medical experiments on humans ethical? What if they might save the whole population? (You may refer to the film by Fernando Meirelles, The Constant Gardener)
What is more important: freedom of speech or freedom of an individual? When does freedom of speech become slander?
Is anarchy a solution to corrupted and overpaid governmental systems?
Are we afraid of the times and places we’re living? Is war (local or global) a real possibility?
Besides, sometimes fiction becomes reality – and this is also a good issue to discuss: do you remember ACTA protests?