By Griffith Fuller
By Griffith Fuller
Five years ago, in the pre-9/11 Middle East, an independent film about education, teaching and repression was released.
“Blackboards” (also known as TakhtÃ¨ siah) is an example of how education isn’t as pivotal in Arab nations as it may be in America. The story takes place in the mountains on the border of Iran and Iraq. Two Kurdish teachers, who branched off from a larger group of teachers while traveling, make it their objective to educate illiterates. Reeboir is played by Bahman Ghobadi and Blackboard (as the other teacher is referred to), is played by Said Mohamadi. Reeboir and Blackboard separated and went their own ways. The film (directed by Samira Makhmalbaf), is entirely in Eastern Arabic (even the ending credits), but the English subtitles help those who don’t understand.
The educators carried the blackboards on their backs throughout their journey. The teachers desperately tried to find students, mainly children, to teach in the villages. But their help is harshly rejected. Almost everyone they consulted was reluctant to even speak with them.Reeboir encountered a group of children carrying stolen items on the border of Iran and Iraq. The children were used as child labor, and nicknamed themselves “mules.” He encountered a boy that shared his name and pursued turning him into a student for the short time that they had together traveling.
The teacher referred to as Blackboard, on his journey, married a woman that he never met before. Her father was very sick and he wanted his daughter to marry before he passed. Blackboard’s wife has a son from a previous marriage. In one scene she tells her new husband “My heart is like a train, men get on and off, but my son comes first.” She is quite hesitant with Blackboard; she didn’t want to talk with him or learn anything when he tried to teach her.
When they paused for a break during their journey Blackboard wrote “I love you” on his blackboard and tried to make his wife say it to him. She didn’t do anything but cry. He was very demanding and intrusive in educating his wife; she continued to ignore him. The group of people that Blackboard and his wife traveled with ran for their lives when soldiers near the border opened fire. He divorced his wife after he led the people across the border because she desired to go to her homeland, and he wanted to continue to travel and teach. Throughout their entire journey Reeboir (including the children he was with), and Blackboard had to watch out for their safety. At the beginning of the film the educators even covered their blackboards with mud to disguise themselves to jets that passed overhead.
The film is another example of how easily education is taken advantage of in the United States, when comparing our education system to the Middle East. There are institutions of higher learning in the Middle East, such as the University of Baghdad or Basra University. In recent days, dorms have been raided and some students have become political prisoners. Those wishing to migrate to the United States for a better opportunity in life and education must face the harsh aftermath of a PATRIOT Act-drenched policy that turns its long pointed nose up at Arab immigrants.
Maybe the reluctant citizens in “Blackboards” didn’t want to learn because they felt it had no value under domestic subjugation.Americans seem to take advantage of everything; we don’t know how easy we have it.
“Blackboards” told a different story for its time. It’s a story of struggle and desperation; it’s a story that’s worth discussing long after the television is turned off.