The American embassy’s relocation to Jerusalem and ensuing violence underscores the importance of students’ having a working knowledge of Middle East politics, culture and history. Often in an attempt to increase their own understanding as much as their students, teachers design FFT fellowships focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict. The insights they bring back to class informs learning (and sometimes introduces the unrest for the first time) across a variety of disciplines and age ranges.
For example, Sharolyn Griffith’s students in her homogeneous community of Afton, WY, weren’t even aware of the conflict in the Middle East and held stereotypes that needed to be addressed with facts. She used her FFT grant to examine Israel and Jordan with a National Geographic contingency to provide students with a well-rounded and informed perspective on one of the world’s oldest religious and geo-political conflict regions. Her itinerary included sacred sites, a Palestinian refugee camp, UNESCO World Heritage sites and school visits.
“In class, we did an activity where we had to decide how to divide up disputed land for the Palestinians and the Jews,” said Jillian O’Connor, a sophomore at Star Valley High School. “After reading backgrounds on both groups and listening to Ms. Griffith’s experiences, I quickly came to the decision that finding a right answer was impossible. After a long debate, my group did the best we could, which was no where near perfect. Learning about the good and the bad things occurring in the Middle East has made me much more invested in the current events happening in Jerusalem and Gaza and other places and I would love to learn more.”
For their fellowship, the teaching team of Jay Pitts-Zevin, Katie Laird and John Kearney (Alta Vista Charter School – Kansas City, KS) partnered with Seeds of Peace, an internationally-focused conflict resolution organization. On average, the teaching team spent 12-14 hours a day meeting with Israelis and Palestinians and listening to their stories. “It was some of the most demanding work in terms of intensity, intellectual effort and emotional depth that we’ve done,” they said.
John, a World History teacher, now teaches with increased credibility about the context surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian issue. English I and II students use interviews Jay and Katie conducted of displaced people in Palestine to create narratives, modeling the writing process their teachers used on their fellowship blog: research, pre-writing, post-writing and real-time reflections.
Liz Shulman chose to learn from Palestinians and Israelis who’ve learned to live together. These strategies now shape how she teaches students non-violent skills for navigating life in Chicago.
“This year alone, several students of color have missed class due to attending funerals for loved ones who have been shot, or have come to class while homeless,” said Liz, freshman English teacher at Evanston Township High School. “To complicate things further, the community where I teach also has a lot of wealthy families. This dichotomy causes both populations in the school to have very different experiences while in the same building.”
“Now, we read Warriors Don’t Cry, and students talk about race, class, and gender and how these intersect all the time.” said Liz. “This led to our discussions of structural and institutional racism in the U.S. When we talked about the Middle East, students were able to apply these same lenses to the conflict and talk about intersectionality. Since we’ve been talking about systemic power all year, students were able to talk about the different power dynamics in Israel/Palestine. We’ve also talked about the different organizations on both sides that want peace, similar to grass roots organizations in the U.S. Overall, they’re frustrated about what is happening but are taking solace in understanding that most people on both sides want peace.”
These are just a few of our FFT Fellows who learn in the Holy Land how to support students’ global awareness and peace-building skills. This leadership represents the catalyst behind all FFT fellowships — the students.
“Meeting people who live on both sides of conflict everyday and seeing such hope in their eyes for a peaceful future was inspiring,” said Melissa Tynes, teacher at Houston’s Spring Woods High School who observed on her FFT fellowship coexistence efforts in Tel Aviv, Ramallah and Jerusalem. “My experiences in the Middle East encourages students’ contemplation of how different peoples with a long history can coexist and collaborate to improve the lives of many.”