The personal fears that students and teachers bring to the classroom are fed by the fact that the roots of education are sunk deep in fearful ground. The ground I have in mind is one we rarely name: it is our dominant mode of knowing, a mode promoted with such arrogance that it is hard to see the fear behind it – until one remembers that arrogance often masks fear. A mode of knowing arises from the way we answer two questions at the heart of the educational mission: How do we know what we know? And by what warrant can we call our knowledge true? Our answers may be largely tacit, even unconscious, but they are continually communicated in the way we teach and learn. – Parker Palmer (Palmer, p.50, 2010)
By very simply asking “How do we know what we know?” and “by what warrant can we call our knowledge true?” Palmer is offering us a thought-provoking, radical challenge to the hierarchical structure imposed upon and recreated by educators to be all knowing without question. Investigating how this impulse is constructed, and how it relates to the personal biases based upon understanding of self and the fear of entering a vulnerable space in front of our students and peers, we are exploring “the heart of the educational mission” (Palmer, p. 50, 2010) at its foundations. On a personal note as an educator, when I have faced situations of the educational unknown and self-doubt, Palmer’s philosophical explorations have nurtured my acceptance of not knowing, while also critically seeking not necessarily answers, but better questions. And this here, inspired by Palmer’s writing, is our jumping off point into this current exploration.
What Palmer speaks of is a remnant of traditional education, in which teacher is all knowing and student is an empty novice awaiting her/his teacher’s fulfillment of knowledge (Dewey, 2007; Freire, 1970). And yet I believe the “need” of the educator to be unquestioned and infallible in all respects of knowledge and understanding not only disables the dialogical nature of “horizontal learning” (Freire, 1970) with and from students, furthering a hierarchy within learning which recreates the systems of oppression existent in society, but as well prevents the incredibly transformative need for an educator to look inward to question and reflect upon herself/himself. To co-create liberatory educational spaces (1994) as bell hooks speaks of, educators are not exempt from the internal and critical search for understanding of self and community, but rather are called to this place in the pursuit of (e)quality of education. Palmer’s quote transfers beyond a general context within teaching, but as well to a very particular one: the deconstructing, (re)examining, and relearning of what role nationalism and identity plays in our lives and within education, not just as a place of learning but as a space in which to learn to live.
This past spring both of the nonformal encounter dialogue-music education organizations I work with attempted to approach with our youth musicians and singers what is the purpose and role of Israeli and Palestinian national days in society, what traumatic events were the impulse to create these national days, and question how and why these markers build individual and collective identity in irreconcilable dissonance with each other. These events and days include: The Holocaust -Yom Ha’Shoah (and its relation to Yom Ha’Zikaron – Day of Remembrance for Israeli Jews, and Yom Ha’Azmaut – Israeli Independence Day), and the Nakba – Yom el-Nakba – Day of Catastrophe for Palestinians (and its relation to Yom el-Ard – Land Day, and Yom el-Naksa – Day of Setback). Before implementing the program, my co-educators and I first had to explore these questions ourselves, and reflect upon what is our role and biases as educators when investigating these topics amongst each other and our students.
Palestinian and Israeli national days evoke individual and collective memory and trauma in differing ways for both Israelis and Palestinians. Each ethnicity tends to learn about the events that created these days either through cultural-social reproduction and/or in the school system, while without learning or sometimes ever hearing about the history of the “Other.” Besides the few binational, bilingual schools that exist in Israel/Palestine, such as the Hand in Hand Schools and Ein Bustan, the Israeli school system, for Israeli Jews and Palestinian-Israelis is segregated, not to mention the complete separation of Israeli Jews and Palestinian-Israelis from Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza (for more on this separation, read: this NYTimes article, this 972Mag article, and this Guardian article). This creates a situation where the majority of Israeli and Palestinian youth do not learn about each others’ most tragic, intertwined histories and therefore are unable to empathize with the most devastating tragedy of the “Other.” The roots and reach of this phenomena are extremely deep in both societies, furthered by fear, systemic injustice, cultural violence (Galtung, 1990), cultures of silence (Freire, 1970), militarism, and of course, nationalism. In addition, questioning or thinking critically about these days in general is foreign out of fear, denial, and lack of support.
From an educational lens, how can teachers, who are already struggling for additional support from the Ministry of Education (Kashti, 2014), be prepared to teach the history of the “Other” without undergoing teacher preparation for such a difficult topic? To even take one step prior, do Israeli and Palestinian educators as individuals recognize the multiple lenses of history? According to the anthropological educational study “Scenes of School Life” (co-authored by Idan Yaron and Yoram Harpaz) of Israeli Jewish, secular mainstream schools, reported on in a Ha’aretz article in August 2014, an interviewed school principal, when discussing the issue of ethnic hatred within school culture and the complications of addressing this problem, comments:
There is no discussion about the topic of racism in the school and there probably will not be,” the principal admits. “We are not prepared for the deep, long-term process that’s necessary. Even though I am constantly aware of the problem, it is far from being dealt with. It stems in the first place from the home, the community and the society, and it’s hard for us to cope with it. You have to remember that another reason it’s hard to deal with the problem is that it also exists among the teachers. Issues such as ‘human dignity’ or ‘humanism’ are in any case considered left-wing, and anyone who addresses them is considered tainted.
In addition co-author Dr. Yaron questions what is the role of the education system in addressing this issue and whether it is capable or even interested in doing so. Or Kashti, author of the report, writes:
The book is nothing short of a page-turner, especially now [during Operation Cast-Lead/the Second War between Israel and Gaza], following the overt displays of racism and hatred of the Other that have been revealed in the country in the past month or so. Maybe “revealed” isn’t the right word, as it suggests surprise at the intensity of the phenomenon. But Yaron’s descriptions of what he saw at the school show that such hatred is a basic everyday element among youth, and a key component of their identity. Yaron portrays the hatred without rose-colored glasses or any attempt to present it as a sign of social “unity.” What he observed is unfiltered hatred. One conclusion that arises from the text is how little the education system is able – or wants – to deal with the racism problem.
Not all educators are indifferent or ineffective. There are, of course, teachers and others in the realm of education who adopt a different approach, who dare to try and take on the system. But they are a minority. The system’s internal logic operates differently.
The cyclical nature of intergroup conflict can be seen in these examples, furthered and sustained by the education system, in conscious and unconscious ways where “education is part of the problem not the solution, because it serves to divide and antagonize groups both intentionally and unintentionally.” (Bush, K., & Saltarelli, D., 2000, p.33) Are we as educators, especially when teaching within an intergroup conflict, ever really free of our own personal and collective trauma while educational planning and teaching? What progress can teachers make in approaching these difficult topics if not supported by the wider education system, and when segregated education ensures “inequality, inferiority, and stereotypes”? (Bush, K., & Saltarelli, D., 2000, p.34)
In the case of the nonformal programs I work with, educators typically have more opportunities, space, and support in which to ask and reflect upon these challenging questions, after all this is the crux of our work with Israeli and Palestinian youth musicians and singers. And yet there still is not at this point any “blue print” in which to approach these issues even amongst us. The amount of segregation, frequency of “hidden curriculum” (Freire, 1970) supporting the status quo of inequality and oppression, and susceptibility of programs to exclude a critical lens and approach to these topics, are the norm, which further portrays how deeply planted the systemic structures of conflict and injustice are within society. As music educators using music as a transformative tool to be seen, heard, co-create, and learn with and through, we must also be especially aware of the dangers of cultural appropriation, normalization (See: When Music Becomes a Place of Subjugation), and the strength of power dynamics during “musicking” (Small, 1998) and co-creation.
During the many tedious hours and meetings of program preparation, I found myself struggling internally and alongside my incredible colleagues. How could we shed light on different situations of educational discord within the topics of nationalism, privilege, dominance, and identity, and yet enable “locations of possibility” (hooks, 1994) to break through the dualities of the “oppressor-oppressed distinction” (Freire, 1970), “Othering,” and “Us vs. Them?” As a jumping off point, we began to think about the possibility of Israeli-Palestinian binationalism through the writing of Bashir Bashir and Amos Goldberg’s newest co-written book The Holocaust and the Nakba: Memory, National Identity and Jewish-Arab Partnership. Their book explores how Israeli and Palestinian societies are more intertwined, though unequally, than ever before, and how co-witnessing and co-learning about the traumatic, identity-constructing events of both people, the Holocaust and the Nakba, could disrupt the current inequality, separation, occupation, and conflict. They desperately call for a “new moral and political vocabulary” (lecture, March 27, 2016) to make sense of what has been happening for the past 20 years in Israel/Palestine and in light of people’s current mentality, and the facts on the ground, of returning to the reality of 1948 (One-State Solution) instead of 1967 (Two-State Solution). To learn and adopt this new language, both Israelis and Palestinians must not only recognize and learn about the “Other’s” most catastrophic events, the Holocaust and the Nakba, but with and through a deep, equalizing process. This educational journey of redefining national identity and consciousness could enable new understandings of Palestinian-Israeli binationalism, which could lead to the pursuit of equally shared societies. Through this lens, we began to question how to uncover, decode, and relearn how to understand differently nationalistic days of remembrance and commemoration within the Israeli and Palestinian narratives. Essentially, we asked ourselves “How do we know what we know?” and “by what warrant can we call our knowledge true?”
A final dimension to touch upon before closing is the emotional weight which accompanies this work. Educators examining these topics often experience an emotional toll as well, since we are not separated from our vulnerability in relation to discussing and teaching about these topics. After all, like our students, we also all have our own collective memory and trauma which have constructed the strands of our identities within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself. How should we as educators face vulnerability in front of our students? Is it fair to share this vulnerable space with our students? How can we co-create a space for our youth musicians and singers to address the most traumatic parts of their collective identity on their terms, and yet within the aim of equality within binational understandings? Brené Brown, a researcher, professor, and storyteller, who studies vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame, speaks of vulnerability as “the birth place of joy, creativity, of belonging, of love.” (Brown, 2010) And yet when vulnerability is not embraced and certain feelings are numbed to avoid vulnerability, this also in turn suppresses all other feelings, like joy, belonging, and love. Selective numbing of only certain feelings is not an option. In other words, as educators diving deep into difficult emotionally-charged topics connected to our own identities and nationalistic leanings, we must take it upon ourselves to embrace our vulnerability alongside our students.
Now in reflection six months later, I have concluded that the following questions which accompanied me along the way may serve as a self-reflection guide, when contextualized, for educators undergoing this process:
- What does it take for me as an educator to look at myself in the mirror and ask: “How does the greatest human tragedy that my people experienced make me who I am today and in what ways does this affect my actions, ideas, and spirit?
- Does my collective memory and trauma stop with me, or how am I tacitly reviving it in my teaching?
- If nationalism is identity-building, can I, as an Israeli/as a Palestinian, ever be truly equal to the “Other” and if so, in which ways or contexts?
- If it is my purpose or right to disrupt the patterns of socialization (Hansen, 2010), and to “name the injustice” (Allsup, R. & Shieh, E., 2012), how is this translated into the educational programming I write and my interactions with my students and colleagues?
- What do I personally need to do to support myself in filling my “empathy wells” and implementing self-care during this emotional struggle seeking equality, justice, recognition, re-membrance, coexistence, and coresistance?
Of course these are not the only questions to ask. To seek answers to these questions or even say that one doesn’t know how to answer them is very critical, honest work, and perhaps a first step along the journey towards transformative and liberatory education. The educator is called to face and process the rawest, most terrifyingly uncomfortable nationalistic and identity-building elements of her/himself in what we loosely call peacebuilding education and reconciliation. Perhaps this is exactly the vulnerable space we must coexist through coresisting the oppressive fronts preventing (e)quality of education, from standardized testing and education reform to “education as a weapon of war” (Bush, K., & Saltarelli, D., 2000, p.34) and “segregated education as a means of ensuring inequality, inferiority, and stereotypes.”(Bush, K., & Saltarelli, D., 2000, p.34) In turn to be able to do this, we educators, must let go of the “need” to know all and preaching to our students that they must also be all knowing without questioning what it means “to know.” This is as much relevant to the struggle in Israel-Palestine, but as well in other locations of conflict, post-conflict, and systemic injustice. We, educators, including myself, are all embedded in this reality of interrupter, of resistance, of loving and caring, of vulnerability. Will we take upon ourselves the responsibility to enter this vulnerable space as our exploration continues? The invitation is always there.
As always, time to close with more questions as a guide for further exploration into the topics of nationalism, identity, equality, trauma, inclusion, power, and pluralism:
- Can an intergroup society built upon the nationalism of a dominant power also be pluralistic and multicultural?
- Does nationalism truly allow space for inclusion and equality of those across difference within an intergroup dynamic?
- What is our individual and collective identity without nationalism?
- What role do nationalistic days play in the formation and reformation of our individual and collective identity?
- Is nationalism a form of power?
- And finally, how does this feed the way we learn about ourselves and others, and affect the way we see our world and whether we are willing to invite those across difference into it? If we must have nationalism to build our identity, can two nationalisms exist in the same space equally?
It is the fact that, at a certain moment, when we are so far from our own country… we are seized by a vague fear, and an instinctive desire to go back to the protection of old habits… At that moment, we are feverish but also porous, so that the slightest touch makes us quiver to the depths of our being. We come across a cascade of light, and there is eternity. –Alfred Camus (Camus, p.13-14, 1963)
Thank you to Michal Levin for all of your insights and deep wealth of knowledge, and as well to Heartbeat and YMCA Jerusalem Youth Chorus staff for journeying through this exploration, and hence enabling this reflection. And finally, thanks to my awesome editor.🙂
APA Citation: Gottesman, S. (2016, September 6). On Nationalism, Pluralism, and Educators Actively Questioning Our Identities. Retrieved from: http://wp.me/p25nNc-j9
- Allsup, R. & Shieh, E. (2012). Social Justice and Music Education : The Call for a Public Pedagogy.
- Bashir, B. and Goldberg, A., lecture, March 27, 2016.
- Brown, B. (TED Talk). (2010, June). The Power of Vulnerability. Retrieved from goo.gl/GZZL7e
- Bush, K., & Saltarelli, D. (2000). The two faces of education in ethnic conflict.UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence.
- Camus, A. (1963). Notebooks, 1935-1942 (Vol. 1). Knopf.
- Dewey, J. (2007). Experience and education. Simon and Schuster.
- Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans. Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Continuum.
- Galtung, J. (1990). Cultural violence. Journal of peace research, 27(3), 291-305.
- Greene, Maxine. The dialectic of freedom. New York: Teachers College Press, 1988.
- Hansen, D. (2010). Cosmopolitanism and education: A view from the ground.The Teachers College Record, 112(1).
- Kashti, Or. (2014, August 23). Israeli teenagers: Racist and Proud of It. Retrieved from http://www.haaretz.com
- Palmer, P. J. (2010). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. John Wiley & Sons.