I recently watched Snowpiercer, a really cool action film that deals with some weighty issues involving considerations of social justice. It is on Netflix right now and I highly recommend giving it a watch. There will be SPOILERS in this blog post, so watch the film first and come back!
Snowpiercer (2014) is a dystopian film that takes place primarily on a train, with a perpetual engine, that travels across the globe. This train contains all that is left of humanity, with the first class and economy passengers present towards the front and the stowaways in the back. Why are they on this train? Well, the Earth has frozen over after the release of a chemical in the atmosphere whose function was to lower the temperature of the Earth to combat global warming. The planet is so cold that 7 minutes is all it takes for a person to freeze solid.
The main crux of the film is that the humans in the back of the train (referred to as “tailers”) want control of the engine, because “whoever controls the engine, controls the world.” They have been suffering at the back of the train for 18 years. The last 2 revolts to take control of the train ended in failure. Fortunately, notes have been coming from the front inside the “protein blocks” that are used to feed the tailers, providing details to assist in a successful revolution. Through oppressive acts including taking away children of a specific height and arm length, as well as freezing the arm of one of the parents and shattering it, the tailers decide to fight back. Their revolution proves to be the most successful in the train’s history, but it came at high cost of human life.
A major theme of the film is balance and the primary antagonist, Wilford (who also built the train and controls the engine), reveals that it was he who supplied the notes. The train, acting as a closed ecosystem, required a force of natural selection in order to keep the population in check. Revolutions ensure that some members of the front, but mostly tailers, are killed to ensure that their resources are maintained. The tailer’s leader, Curtis, is then given the position to run the engine by Wilford, who believes himself to old to control in the role. Ultimately, instead of choosing to be the arbiter of life and death on the train, Curtis decides to blow the door blocking access to outside the train, forcing humanity to try to survive in the frozen Earth. Hope is shown in the form of a polar bear surviving in the distance, but things still didn’t look great for humanity.
Now, I bring up Snowpiercer because it reminded me of a question that I have been wrestling with since the end of the UTL summer seminar: What is the best way to enact change, working within the system or working outside the system? The film asserts that a change in who is in power will not create the change that Curtis and his people desired because the system is built in such a way that it requires horrible decisions to be made. Scrapping the system all together was the conclusion that was reached, leaving working without the system as the final result.
My question was prompted by reading Part III of Educational Courage and comparing that with the Seattle teacher strike (2013) for a critical commentary. My thoughts from that time were: “While these stories provide an interesting way that teachers can work to bring change within the system of urban education, there is no larger picture at play. The immediate direction is increasing collaboration for developing curricula among like-minded teachers, who believe that they cannot stop the test prep mentality present in the education system. There’s an implication that this bottom-up change will eventually occur throughout the whole public education system, “thus creating a network of cracks that will ultimately create many spaces of resistance for meaningful learning” (Schniedewind, p.88). The purpose of these spaces of resistance, outside of supplying “authentic teaching”, appear dubious. This resistance seems aimed at neoliberalist policies, especially the advent of increased testing. If this is indeed the purpose, then I find it interesting that this movement does not completely dismiss test prep. By integrating interesting and engaging curricula with the content necessary to succeed on exams, these teachers appear to have justified the increased standards. This is especially true if their students perform exceptionally well on these exams. One can then argue that the increased standards pushed teachers to actually “do their jobs.”” I believed that the teacher strike was a better way to invoke change, but also represented a higher-risk venture. The prospect of success meant that one less high stakes test would be administered, as opposed to resistance in developing curricula while still adhering to the system, at the end of the day.
At this moment, I still very much agree with myself from 3 months ago. I’d much rather get off the train, then have to be a slave to it.