'In order to solve the conflict, we need to modify the discourse about the other'

Arabic lecturer talks to the Post about the new anti-racism guidebook for Israeli teachers published by Israel's leading civil rights organization.

A worker carries a burnt board in a classroom yesterday in the integrated Arab-Jewish Max Rayne Hand in Hand Jerusalem School (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
A worker carries a burnt board in a classroom yesterday in the integrated Arab-Jewish Max Rayne Hand in Hand Jerusalem School
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
A new guide to teaching tolerance from preschool through to high school was published by the education division of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel in preparation for the new school year.
The book, “A Life Lesson – Educating Against Racism from Preschool to High School,” is a collaboration of the teachers and academics who are members of the education division at ACRI.
The book incorporates theoretical chapters alongside those with practical applications from a variety of perspectives, including methods to deal with racist behavior in classrooms of different ages and offers ideas for including education against racism in lessons such as mathematics, English as a Foreign Language, science, photography and Arabic.
According to ACRI, the book is being reviewed by the Education Ministry to see if its lessons can be incorporated into the curriculum.
“We would be happy to reach every teacher and preschool teacher in Israel because everyone who learns to tolerate others at the preschool and elementary school age, will be the tolerant citizens of tomorrow,” said attorney Sharon Abraham- Weiss, executive director of ACRI.
The education division of ACRI works with the education system and teacher training institutes to promote the values of democracy, human rights and fighting racism.
Muzna Awayed-Bishara, a lecturer at the Arab Academic College for Education in Haifa and a PhD student in the department of English language and literature at the University of Haifa, wrote a chapter in the book titled “Integrating the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) and Anti-racist Instruction.”
Awayed-Bishara told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday the fact that the English curriculum in Israel is uniform for both the Arab and Jewish sectors should be promising and one could expect it to be a tool to bring the two sides together, “but, unfortunately, when you go and analyze the textbooks, you see, for example, marginalization or misrepresentation or even lack of representation of the Arab sector for whom these textbooks are also meant in the first place.”
As part of her doctoral research, she checked the representation of names in six English-language textbooks used in high schools in Israel. Of more than 500 names, only two were Arab and both times the characters in question were referred to as Beduin characters and were associated with the desert and camels, a stereotypical image of the Beduin Arab but not representative of mainstream Arab society in Israel.
Awayed-Bishara pointed to what she called “an even more alarming example” in one of the units taught, “Melting Pots, Israel: The Land of Many Languages.”
“You expect a teaching unit with the title ‘The Land of Many Languages’ to discuss the languages of the people who live here, who are residents, who are Israeli citizens of this land,” she said.
“When you study the text of the unit, you realize that the only languages that are dealt with are Hebrew and the languages of immigrants.”
This, she said, is where the role of the English teacher begins.
She wrote in her chapter that English teachers can use this problematic unit to discuss the problem by discussing the theme of official languages with the students; determining how many students are aware that Arabic is an official language of Israel; and discussing how the lack of Arabic in the unit makes them feel. The chapter details possible discussion themes for schools in both the Jewish and Arab sectors.
“We were realistic and we tried to be practical,” she said of using the problematic unit instead of demanding of the Education Ministry to rewrite the textbooks. “We wanted to start working as soon as possible promoting anti-racist education in the classroom... we cannot change the curriculum.
We can critique it and write articles suggesting other policies but, for the moment, we want teachers to try and implement anti-racist education in the classroom with the materials they have in their hands.”
Her chapter, which is available online along with the rest of the book at the ACRI website, also highlights literature that is already in the Education Ministry curriculum but can be further utilized to promote the values of tolerance and acceptance by discussing the issues of prejudice in depth.
For example, she wrote about Mr. Know-All, a story told from the point of view of a British narrator during the time of the colonizing empire of Great Britain. The main character, who has an Arab name and is presented as a Middle Eastern Levantine, is the subject of stereotype and prejudice.
Education Ministry curriculum provides the basis for a general analysis of the story, while Awayed-Bishara offers guidelines for an in-depth discussion about acceptance of others; what stereotypes and discrimination are; how it can affect us; and more.
She emphasized that these changes need to be made in all sectors of Israeli society, since stereotypes exist between too many groups, including Arabs toward Jews and Jews toward Arabs, as well as toward immigrant groups, people of differing political opinions, religious groups and more.
“In order to solve the conflict and solve how people misjudge each other, we need to modify the discourse about ‘the other,’” she said. “The discourse that [students] are exposed to misrepresent the other and this is what leads to the lack of tolerance towards everything that is different...
We should acknowledge our role as teachers shaping in shaping these students attitudes and positions.”