In light of the recent atrocities in occupied Palestine, I must admit that as a teacher who always championed diversity in her classroom, in schemes of work, in my own university dissertation where I referenced the wonderful Edward Said, I am wholeheartedly ashamed. I am ashamed and baffled by my ignorance and my lack of discussion about Palestinian history with my students.
For a school to fully represent and embrace diversity, inclusion, equity and global humanitarianism, it must feature lessons and conversations on Palestine. Without lessons on Palestine’s place and context within the Middle East, its culture, its history, its place within The Ottoman Empire and so much more, a school’s approach to D&I is all but lip service, performative; without these lessons, along with lessons about Myanmar, Columbia, the Uyghur community, D&I will yet again be another box to tick, which will just perpetuate the accepted lessons of a curriculum narrative. And, every day we learn that narrative can be anything but ‘rich’.
Let me clarify that I do not say the above lightly. Instead, I want this blog to be a lesson plan it itself and an uncomfortable one at that:
If you are angered and triggered by the statements above, if you think they in some way imply notions of racism, prejudice, hatred or any such negativity, ask yourselves why?
Why is the mention of Palestinian legitimacy, identity, culture and history such a threat?
Why is the outcry of freedom for Palestine such an institutional taboo?
Why is it that when it comes to the history of Palestine, to the occupation, to the Gaza strip, to the Middle East, our knee jerk reaction is, ‘it’s complex’ and we need to ‘move on’?
Why do we shut down these conversations when, by their very nature, they have the power to educate peace, solidarity, change and perspective?
This is everything we aim to teach our students – so why are they so non-existent in our schools?
Last week, a school sent a letter to parents explaining that their child had been excluded for saying ‘free Palestine’.* Recently, an Instagram post has attracted over 10 000 people as a student was allegedly told she committed an ‘act of terror’ as she cut off the Israeli flag and replaced it with the Palestinian flag. Whilst there is more context to both events, one thing that screams through these incidents is the lack of education and conversations on how to have uncomfortable, moral and ethical conversation. Students are crying out for conversations about these worldly events and if we do not enable them in the classroom, through research, solidarity, compassion and a listening ear, schools are in danger of fuelling the polarisation and disillusionment we see in the world today.
How do we educate students about the Palestinian history and the creation of Israel?
Spend time researching and looking for unbiased sources that can teach you and your students about the history of Palestine. In my dismay and horror as I watched the atrocities in Gaza last week, I pulled out my university copy of The Penguin History of The World. I flipped straight to the chapters about The Ottoman Empire, Palestine’s presence in the Middle East and Britain’s involvement in creating Israel. It’s heavy going, but of course it would be – it’s a narrative mainstream media purposefully complicates due to its uncomfortable history. As educators, it is our job to make these lessons accessible for the sake of all students.
Share the history of Palestine and what is was like pre-1948 – representation is everything. It can be difficult to find these images online. Now, and even when I was at school, students associate protest, poverty, violence and rubble to name but a few things, with Palestine. But, its history is so much richer than that and the beautiful architecture, the people, the culture and place can make great research projects, interesting discussions and dispel prejudices and inaccuracies that are in constant circulation about Palestine. There are also websites dedicated to lessons and resources about Palestine – share them, use them and create schemes of work around them.
Does the word Nakba feature on your curriculum? Do your students know about the dispossession and displacement of thousands of Palestinians who still live in diaspora over 70 years later? Do you refer Mohammed Abdel Rahman Abdel Raouf al-Qudwa al-Husseini (Yasser Arafat) in your lessons on Middle Eastern History? Do your students know he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to bring peace to the Middle East? I didn’t and still have so much more to learn – but like we all aim to do in teaching, we must make space, the time and the resources necessary to teach our students different sides of the narrative.
If we teach and encourage our students to read The Diary of Anne Frank, we must also include books about Palestinian teenagers and their childhood. Why is it that these books don’t roll off the tongue as Anne Frank does, or even as Noughts and Crosses does? I am so guilty of this, but I am grateful for the opportunity to fix it too.
And, it doesn’t stop there. We have seen how powerful social media is and for once, I disagree with the fake news argument. If we look carefully enough, we will find truth, the raw, painful, lived experiences of the voices we need to listen to and share with our students.
There are freely shared book lists about the history of Palestine – music to a bursars’ ears! There are accounts such as @drsofia_reading and @ilhamreads sharing some very thoughtful and nuanced perspectives of literature and history – exactly what we want our key stage 5 students to experience and learn. This is a perfect opportunity to build a healthy relationship with social media – and to learn with your students too.
The uncomfortable lesson that needs no discussion: advocating for the freedom of Palestine does not take away the human rights of others
If you disagree, if you flinch or hesitate as you read this, or if your mind is somewhat preparing rebuttal arguments – there are lessons in unlearning you must take to be a teacher for all of your students and colleagues – perhaps with them too:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The discussion of religion is an extremely sensitive one. it is important to teach students that whilst the history and origins of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in some way are rooted in the places and narratives of the land, discussions about Palestine and Israel are not religious. They are not prejudice or racist. They are absolutely not anti-Semitic. They are simple discussions about basic human rights.
As teachers, it can be really scary to address these topics in the classroom. Teachers are vulnerable and become the unnecessary targets of criticism and sometimes resentment and negativity too. However, if we admit to this vulnerability, if we tell our students we want to learn and unlearn with them, that we will make mistakes along the way – we are likely to gain their trust. We are likely to get them talking and learning with compassion, integrity and empathy too.
As Adiche tells us, we have a huge opportunity to change the narrative and facilitate the learning of our students. We must work towards teaching them to learn through different perspectives, voices and histories. Above all, we must teach them to be just, confident activists, to be kind and compassionate – it is everything the world needs right now.
*Although it has since emerged the context of this particular incident was allegedly antagonistic towards the teacher, the language used in the letter to parents is what I draw attention to here, in that parents were initially informed their child was excluded for saying 'free Palestine'. It is the use of language that we need to be more informed about and mindful of.