Articles

Practical and thought-provoking articles that address what it means to promote a culture of peace

Each month, a new article written by a colleague, expert in the field, or staff at the Peace Games Institute will be posted. If you have a topic that you would like to see covered or if you are interested in contributing, email James Noonan.

 

APRIL 2008 

 

Peacemaking in the classroom:
Work with Palestinian educators


Steven Brion-Meisels, Peace Games
Linda Brion-Meisels, Lesley University

With support from U.S. AID, Seeds of Peace has launched a new program that aims to “cultivate an environment of tolerance, dialogue and civic engagement in Palestinian and Israeli schools and youth organizations” by working with educators.  This project is intended to extend, deepen and sustain work done with young people at the Seeds of Peace summer camp and during the year in the Region.  Peace Games is a U.S.-based NGO whose mission is “to empower children with the knowledge, skills, relationships and opportunities to be peacemakers…to inspire a new generation of educators and activists … and to change how society thinks about violence and young people.”

Internationally, Peace Games supports educators who are adapting our framework, curriculum and methods in several areas that have experienced sustained violence, and where civic leaders are helping to create a culture of peace with justice.  In Israel and Palestine, we are working with Seeds of Peace and Lesley University’s Center for Children, Families and Public Policy. In February, we began a series of projects that will extend through the summer of 2009.  This article reports briefly on our work in February, and looks ahead to future collaborations.

Creating support “back home”

Each summer, 40 or so young people (ages 14-18) from the Region, along with youth who are members of other cultural groups in conflict (e.g., India and Pakistan), and some U.S. youth, attend camp in Maine. They share dinner tables and sleeping cabins, talk, argue, cry and play together -- supported by counselors who are trained in the skills of facilitation and conflict resolution.  Last summer, several Peace Games staff members visited the camp to teach cooperative games and learn about the camp experience.  Many of the Seeds camp members report that they experience transformative moments: they see “The Conflict” through the eyes of “The Other;” they have the opportunity to meet “The Enemy” and share a meal; they have facilitated discussions daily that help them to process these multiple perspectives; they paddle and tip canoes, compete in sports events, and gather around an evening bonfire discussion.  When they leave camp, many of these young people make a very personal (and often socially dangerous) commitment to work for understanding, tolerance, peace and justice back home.  The Olive Branch is a publication which offers examples of the work that Seeds participants who become “Seeds Leaders” continue for many years after their camp experience when they return to their home communities.

One ongoing concern over the years has been the lack of sufficient support for Seeds Leaders when they return “back home.”   Most campers return to segregated communities where often their friends question the campers’   involvement in the camp and its goals.  In response to that need, Seeds of Peace has created a Delegation Leaders Program that works (a) with the adults who agree to accompany the Seeds to camp, as well as (b) with teachers in home communities that want to learn more about the Seeds programs and have expressed a desire to work on tolerance, dialogue and reconciliation with the students in their schools.  With support from U.S. AID funds, Seeds of Peace will work with Peace Games for the next 18 months to strengthen these adult programs through workshops, consultation and the development of educational materials. 

Support for educators in the region

The Peace Games Institute is developing educational supplements that will reach 22,000 Palestinian and Israeli educators through special editions of The Olive Branch during the next two years.  We will also lead seminars for Palestinian teachers in June, 2008 and the summer of 2009.  The seminars will focus on core peacemaking skills including communication, cooperation, perspective-taking, critical thinking, conflict resolution and civic engagement.  The supplemental materials for The Olive Branch will include cooperative games, classroom strategies, resource references and reflections on the connections between classroom and community peacemaking.

In February, Seeds of Peace sponsored a partnership connecting Peace Games, the Peaceable Schools Group at Lesley University, and Nabil Kayali (director of three schools in Jerusalem and the West Bank).  Working with Daniel Moses and Inessa Shishmanyan from Seeds of Peace, we co-led a three-day seminar in Bethlehem for Palestinian teachers and administrators working in Jerusalem and the West Bank.  Although the political tensions and the “facts on the ground” were always present, our work really focused on helping the 25 Palestinian teachers and administrators integrate peacemaking skills into their classrooms and schools.  We listened to each other and tried, for these three days, to create for ourselves the type of learning community about which we were speaking.  For example, we taught cooperative games and practiced the Peace Games approach to de-briefing these games.  We explored the core components of peacemaking, using frameworks developed with our colleagues in the Peaceable Schools Group.  We practiced and debriefed a number of activities that lead towards a peaceable classroom.  At the same time, we explored the reasons why children misbehave (which are wonderfully universal) – including the need for power, attention, revenge and the desire to avoid tasks they feel they can’t do! We talked about the challenge and benefits of sharing power with our students. We helped teachers learn how to coach each other through challenging classroom situations – using questions rather than simply giving advice. During the three days, we sang and laughed, shared stories and poems, connected our work to the Qur’an, shared meals and lots of tea, and gave each other gifts – of friendship, caring, and sometimes a physical gift to keep the memory of our time together strong.  

 
After the seminar ended, we visited three of the schools involved in the project.  Principals and teachers were very gracious, open and warm.  Students were enthusiastic, eager to share their ideas and questions, and impressively fluent in English.  At the UNRWA school in East Jerusalem, we shared tea with school staff members, visited the small school library and explored plans for a continued collaboration – including ways to update their electronic and print resources.  At the Bridge Academies, we visited many classrooms, participated in a kindergarten birthday celebration, talked with students about the ways in which cooperative games help build a peaceable classroom, and explored students’ plans for their future education.

The stories and snapshots remain vivid and powerful long after our return, and we are eager to continue the project.  Our work in Bethlehem reminded us about some universal educational challenges.  How do we recognize and support the gifts that each student brings to our classrooms?  How do we refocus misbehavior?  How do we work with a depressed adolescent who refuses to talk?  How can we help students become more responsibly engaged in classroom climate?  How do we help veteran teachers adapt to new ways?  How do we help new teachers survive their first year?  How do we integrate academic and social development?

But the stories and visits also remind us of the very particular challenges of promoting peace in a context of intense inter-personal and institutional violence.  How do we as Americans support a teaching team that spent six hours traveling through checkpoints to attend the seminar?  How do we help the UNRWA school in East Jerusalem where children and teachers work in coats and hats because of the February cold, and the English-language books date from 1963, where the principal and teachers work six days a week, have no art materials and no computer -- but offer us tea and cookies the moment we sit down?  What does peacemaking mean in a land where Palestinian children pass through multiple checkpoints on their way to school, where unemployment in Bethlehem threatens family structures, where Israeli children fear rocket fire from Gaza, and where Israeli soldiers ride the public bus from home to army base with loaded automatic weapons on their shoulders? 

We return with many lessons.  In the midst of violence, there are unsung and often unsupported peacemakers – thousands of them in hundreds of Israeli and Palestinian schools, churches, mosques, synagogues and NGO’s.  In the midst of poverty, teachers believe in the power of knowledge, skills and relationships – and they dedicate their lives to that mission.  In the face of political tension almost beyond comprehension, individuals continue to build bridges toward peace and reconciliation.  On our last night together, our colleague Nabil told us: “The mantra throughout the Middle East has always been ‘Be a wolf or be eaten by wolves.’ Our work is to change that mantra.”  With humility and hope, Peace Games will try our best to support that transformation. 


 

Linda and Steven Brion-Meisels have worked together in schools and universities for the past 30 years to help promote a culture of peace and justice.  Steven works at Peace Games; Linda teaches at Lesley University.  They are founding members of the Peaceable Schools and Communities Group – which has worked collaboratively for 15 years to support educators and youth workers, and which currently works in partnership with the Center for Children, Families and Public Policy at Lesley University.

 

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