Educating the Future, by Colleen Ferron (2007)

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “To reach real peace in this world…we shall have to begin with the children of the future.”  Peace is a learned characteristic for a person.  If someone has been around war their whole life and taught that this is the right thing to do, then most of the time this is what they will believe in.  To have peace in the world we must first teach peace.  To teach this concept, we must first start with children because they are the future.   Media is portraying that both Israel and Palestine are teaching peace and tolerance; while others are saying they are teaching hate.  The only way begin to solve the conflict is to educate people on peace.

The four articles that I examined on teaching children peace are all very contradicting towards one another.  With the total of four articles; one shows the teaching of peace in Israel, one explains how peace is not being taught in Israel, another shows a peace school in Palestine, and the last is a personal encounter of being raised for Jihad in Palestine.  Each article is stressing the fact that they are doing the right thing for their homeland and that they are the only ones working towards peace.  Comparing the articles was frustrating because each of them was going against what the other was trying to prove.

The first article about peace in Israel was written by Mitchell G. Bard titled, Israel: Teaching Peace and Tolerance.   This article provided examples from Israeli student’s textbooks to show how they are teaching peace and tolerance in every grade level.  More than twenty years ago, Israeli textbooks still used stereotyping terms for Arabs; however they claim that the text books used today have changed for the better.  Bard claims that, “Israeli textbooks go out of their way to avoid prejudices and to guard against generalizations.”  The way that Bard stated this comment, was as if they are doing the Arab people a favor by going out of their way to help make them sound good.  During the 1999-2000 school years the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP) reviewed all three hundred and sixty textbooks used in schools to show proof that Arabs, Palestinians, Islam, and the concept of peace were all represented.  Not only did these have to be represented but they all had to be represented in a positive way showing each of their personal contributions to human civilization throughout history.

Many Israeli textbooks focus on education towards reconciliation, tolerance, and peace with neighboring countries and territories.  Peace is presented in the books as a reachable political goal that must come in the near future.  In one of the textbooks, Israeli students are told to divide into groups representing Jewish and Palestinian journalist and prepare a report for the United Nations leading towards a resolution.  This activity allows students to put themselves in another persons shoe and see how they might be feeling about the conflict.  According to the CMIP it is most important for each textbook to represent the Arab point of view as well as their own.  Each textbook contains a plurality of views including those that are critical of Israeli policies.  In today’s educational world, the CMIP is working hard to provide students with a well represented view of other countries while still showing nationalism in their own.

The opposing article to the first one is written by Susan Sachs of Newsday and is titled Mideast Schoolchildren: Lessons of War.   While this article is showing data on the whole Middle East, it shines much light on how Israeli schools are involved in teaching lessons of hate and war.  As an overview in the beginning of the article Sachs goes through a normal school day for children in this area.  She explains that in Egypt children learn that Jews are interlopers in a region and that after sixteen years of peace, the country of Israel is absent for all school maps.  Likewise, children in Jordan learn that Christians are infidels who must be forced into submission and that the Jewish Torah is perverted and they only have their own evil practices to blame for the holocaust.

The talk of peace in the Middle East is an everyday event for many political leaders around the world, yet the children who are the future of the world are still being taught lessons of war and hate towards one another.   Sachs states, “Newsday found that the classrooms of the Middle East have become places where children often learn to dehumanize one another.”  Young children are often fast to believe whatever an adult tells them, therefore if school children’s teachers are teaching these lessons, then the students will believe every word that they are being told.  Peace is a learned behavior that must be introduced at a young age before children have pre-constructed ideas.

With such biased opinions of hate and war being taught throughout the land, the hope for peace in the future is being seen as a very distant goal by many.  When one Amman student was asked the question, “will there always be war with the Jews?”  He replied, “Oh, yes, our religion tells us so.”  It is almost as if the youth do not even think peace is an option for the future, and that it is their duty to continue to fight for their homeland that they love so dearly.  Research has shown that many Jewish children can not imagine what they might talk about with an Arab contemporary, because they do not believe that they have anything in common with one another.  When interviewed, a seventeen year old Motti Ivas was asked in his high school in Jerusalem why he dropped out of Arabic language classes to take French and he replied, “We need Arabic because Arabs will always be our laborers, but other than that, I have no need or interest in learning about Arab culture, What for?”  This viewpoint that Motti Ivas holds, was learned by people in his life.  If only those people taught Motti about peace and tolerance, he might hold a different opinion.

Experiences in schools show that much more time is needed before Middle East schools change old enemies into new found friends.  Words such as hate and war need to be eliminated totally from children’s vocabulary and replaced with ideas such as peace and tolerance.  Ownership over ones country needs to be wiped out.  Today in Israeli textbooks uniformly call the West Bank “Judea and Samaria,” the names of the Jewish kingdoms that existed there three thousand year ago.  Sachs article stresses the need for each country to let go of past thoughts of one another and help their children to learn the idea of hope and peace in school so that they can bring it to the world someday.

The idea of peace is also being taught in Palestine.  For some the hope for peace is such a large dream that there are specific peace schools for children.  One of the most famous schools is called Hope Flowers School.  This school was founded in Bethlehem in 1984 by Hussein Issa, a former Palestinian refugee, social visionary and educationalist.  Since Issa’s death, the school is now run by member of his family, and a dedicated team of teachers, staff, and volunteers who wish to carryout his mission for peace and love in his homeland.   As a whole the school has a total of two hundred and fifty students ranging from age four to thirteen.  Hope Flowers is an independent school and is not funded by the government, only based on the generosity of the people who share the same dream as Issa.

The children are given an education based on the Montessori Method which was started by Maria Montessori in Italy and the Palestinian Authority curriculum with an added intercultural, interfaith, conflict- resolution and democratic emphasis and extra- curricular programs.  Scholarship funds have been set up so that the students in need can still have the opportunity to join the school community.  Not only is the school for the youth, but it also provides trauma- recovery programs for the members of the community and their families.

I believe that Hope Flowers School in Palestine is a positive step in the right direction.  This gives children a safe place to come and learn about peace not only in their homeland but that of peace around the world.  It teaches children that violence is not the answer and that there are other ways to solve a conflict.  Hopefully the community continues to support this school with funds so that they can continue to do their job of educating the youth of tomorrow.

While searching on the internet, I found many first hand accounts of growing up in Palestine.  The common theme that was in each of them was that of growing up in violence, only to learn that behavior and continue these views growing up.  One article that stood out to me was written by Nonie Darwish titled How I Was Raised for Jihad.   Darwish explains that during his year in elementary school in Gaza he learned of hate, vengeance, and retaliation.   Peace was never an option for them as long as the Jews existed.  His teachers and family members explained to him time after time that the glory of battle was the ultimate honor.  Growing up, in Darwish’s mind there was no other option but to believe this, since everyone older than him was showing the importance of violence.  In school, girls were in tears reciting jihadist poetry daily and pledging to give their lives as martyrs.

After many generations being brought up in educational beliefs such as these, many Arab children were brainwashed like robots taught to value suicide bombers as someone to look up to in the hope of going to heave one day.  Not only was belief taught in school, but also in songs, poetry, movies, cartoons, and every facet of life.  There was a heavy stress on media parts that children would be exposed to such as cartoons, to help mold their minds into believing these beliefs.  The goal of education is to instill a commitment to destroy the state of Israel; which became the Arab national obsession.

The end result of this kind of educational system is a dysfunctional society that is exporting terrorism to the world.  This idea is hurting Arab children and society within.  After growing up like this, Darwish now works to teach Arab children peace, tolerance, and compassion to bring about a better and more prosperous society.  With the help of others who share the same ideas and beliefs, Darwish hopes to show the children of Palestine that there is another way to solve the conflict, and that violence is not the right answer.

All four of the articles show a wide range of the different beliefs people hold on how they are helping or not helping to bring peace to their country.  The conflict between Israel and Palestine has been present for many generations and it will take a new generation to fully change the situation.  Peace will have to be learned at a young age both at school and at home.  Children will have to see adults working for peace and tolerance showing that they share the same goal.  While it may take many more years for peace to come to the Middle East, it still should be seen as a goal that everyone is trying to reach each day in their own life.  It is not just the work of the politicians but as the work of the people.  The future is bright for children; they are the ones who decide how it will play out.  To educate children about peace will shine light on the future.