I’ve had a lot of complaints from my students that Gandhi is “soft.” This is usually followed by something like “Yo, if that was me, I’d f— that n— up and take that gun and shoot that British n—- in the head, etc. etc.” (The language isn’t allowed in my classroom, but they get worked up and forget.)
Today we watched some of Gandhi (since I don’t have a week to show the whole thing, and they wouldn’t stay awake for it anyway). We caught all the highlights, and almost none of the philosophical disucssion — the massacre at the temple, the salt march, etc. Every few scenes I’d ask the kids “Who looks better in the news now; the British or the Indians?”
Eventually we got to the scene where Gandhi’s followers walk up to the salt mines being guarded by British soldiers. The Indians line up and calmly walk up to the soldiers, then get beaten with clubs and are carried away by women with bandages and water. Then the next line walks up. Then the next. Then the next. The students offered alternate strategies, like “I’d run through to the back really quick,” and “I’d wait to be at the end of the line, so they’d be too tired to hit me,” and “I’d wear a helmet.” But at the end we started talking about why those men were willing to get hit, and what it must have been like, knowing that a beating was coming and accepting that, without trying to defend yourself.
And finally, finally, students started saying things like “They’re not soft, you know? You got to be hard core to do that and not flinch.”
Boy, if I could only spend a couple of months on Gandhi, I bet I’d really have something.