In September 2018, Canada’s Bishop Strachan School, under it’s newly appointed headmistress, produced a “satire” on The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare’s controversial play about Jews, where the audience was hysterically provoked to “participate” — by yelling such phrases as ”burn the Jews,” “burn their books,” and to hurl vile anti-Semitic epithets at the Jewish students in their midst. See Full Article HERE
The Institute for Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) is partnering with the School of Peace in Mytilene, Lesbos to help develop curricula based on peace and tolerance.
The school, established and run by Israel’s Hashomer Hatzair youth movement, educates hundreds of refugee children who currently live in the Moriah refugee camp in Lesbos. Many of these young refugees lost years of formal education during the Syrian civil war and in other conflicts and have not been integrated into the Greek educational system.
As the uncertainty about where they will ultimately live lingers, the students are being taught in a school environment similar to that of their home countries, giving them a degree of security, familiarity and the anchor of national identity.
The current Syrian curriculum, (reviewed by IMPACT-se) does not offer peace education. It indoctrinates, does not provide a balanced worldview, avoids respect for the Other, and professes an ideology that is exclusionary, militaristic and authoritarian. It perpetuates an environment of intolerance and a stress on radical martial heroism conjoined with pan-Arab nationalistic ambitions. Jews and Israel are demonized.
The initiative will supplant the hate education in the Syrian curriculum with positive virtues of tolerance, peace and respect for the Other, ensuring that students at the school will receive education grounded in the values of peace.
Educational curricula are uniquely authoritative: they may embody negative influences, including skewed historical narratives and hatred of others where gender inequality and political violence take root. But curricula can also be the key to achieving tolerant and open-minded societies of the future.
The School for Peace is a remarkable place, established by a group of extraordinary young Israelis. Most of the children at the school have endured the horrors of war, a dangerous sea crossing where many perished and where survivors live in very difficult conditions in the Moriah camp. The school brings them joy. We hope to be able to offer them even more—a peace education based on respect for the Other which may be instilled in them wherever they may finally settle.
A national curriculum is the main tool with which a nation prepares its young generation for the future. Steady, systematic and authoritative education along a clearly charted line for twelve consecutive years imprints an indelible worldview on the new generation.
There are consequences to what children learn in school. If a curriculum teaches hate and violence toward a demonized Other, a culture of hate and violence is likely to ensue, as shown by a recent research project on the Nazi curriculum during the 1930s (Tamar Ketko, Ice Creatures, 2016). But accumulated hate may take unexpected directions. The Iraqi curriculum during the 1990s featured Islamization, hate and militarism. The emergence of the ISIS horrors in Iraq a decade later should not be viewed as unrelated to that curriculum. Similarly, the pre-civil war Syrian curriculum taught hate against Israel and the West, but the violence unleashed inside Syria surpassed anything inflicted on either Israel or the West.
In Turkey and Egypt, Islamization of their curricula began in the 1980s under secular regimes. In both countries, anti-democratic Islamist leadership later emerged. The Iranian curriculum’s “imperial dreams” anticipated the accelerated expansionism and internal oppression that followed the 2015 Nuclear Deal. As Iranian politicians were smiling to the cameras, hate was being inculcated into the classrooms. The failed transition to democracy in Egypt and Syria and the great obstacles facing the peace process with the Palestinians are largely the result of “resistance” and/or radical Islamic education.
Tunisia, under a secular, authoritarian regime, educated for tolerance and secularism and is thus far the only Arab country in which transition to democracy has been successful. Again, the role of education cannot be overlooked.
The Syrian curriculum includes good elements, mainly secularism, multi-cultural heritage, equality for women and encouragement of independent thinking and dialogue. Russia is depicted as a close ally while Islamist Iran is not. Regarding the liberal and Islamist opposition groups, there is an effort to pave the way for a future reconciliation after the civil war. However this is not spelled out in the curriculum, which treats the civil war’s disaster only indirectly. As such, the disconnection between the horrors perpetrated by the regime and what is taught in the curriculum is remarkable. Since the opposition does not exist there is neither hatred nor understanding toward the non-existent Other.
However, hate is widespread throughout the curriculum when it comes to radical pan-Arab nationalism, which considers the eradication of Israel an ideological mainstay.
With respect to the civil war, the current curriculum does not concern itself with morality, introspection, or peace education. Rather, it holds on to a militaristic worldview and radical pan-Arabism. It teaches that the international community justifies “resistance” (guerilla-terrorism) while using “all available means” to destroy the Other.
What the curriculum ultimately fails to teach is that long bloody wars often lead to the next war, which begs the question: Will the lingering lesson of the Assad regime be that more war is inevitable?
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