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March 1996 - Issue No. #22 (p. 14 -15)
Scene I: A culturally-diverse group of twelve visiting EFL professionals are in a comfortable, medium-sized classroom on a university campus in the United States. Some are classroom teachers, some are teacher educators, and others are EFL teacher supervisors. A few of these teachers huddle, brainstorming ideas about ways to combat negative stereotypes in textbooks. A second small group shares ideas for the creation of cooperative learning activities, while a third engages in the development of a thematically-based English language unit on the topic of conflict resolution.
Scene II: It is mid-day in a food court in a bright, noisy, American shopping mall. The air pulsates with a powerful mix of aromas from Italian, Mexican, Thai, and Tandoori cooking Our twelve EFL teachers, clustered together around a few tables, have just visited a local public school and are now enjoying a brief lunch break. While the food is quite good, the focal point of this gathering is shopping. The teachers enthusiastically offer each other information about sales and other good deals they have come upon in the shopping mall. All are thinking about souvenirs and gifts for loved ones back home and are eager to take advantage of these useful tips.
Scene III: It's a hot summer night in a small college-town coffee house in the United States. The lighting is soft and the music lively, with a strong, steady beat. Patrons are keeping cool with iced-coffees, cold beer, or frosty soft drinks. The same group of twelve EFL teachers have been joined by half-again as many American colleagues. It is their last night in this small town; in the morning they will begin their return trip home. They fill the dance floor arm-in-arm, forming a jubilant circle, swaying, whirling, laughing, singing, and hugging each other.
For those of us who teach English to speakers of other languages or who are involved in global education in any of its other myriad forms, the scenes described above may seem rather typical of the types of interactions that occur when we gather together with colleagues from our own and other cultures. What marks the above scenes as special, however, is the composition of this particular group of EFL professionals; six of them are Israelis and six Palestinians. These twelve came together in the summer of 1995 to participate in the first phase of a unique and exciting project which holds promise not only in terms of opportunities for professional growth, but also in terms of opportunities for Palestinian and Israeli educators to get to know one another and to enjoy the benefits of working collaboratively in areas of mutual interest.
In July of 1995 English language professionals from the Gaza Strip, Israel, and the West Bank gathered in Athens, Ohio for Phase I of the Professional Development Program in English Language Teaching (PRODELT), a USIA-sponsored project administered by the Ohio Program of Intensive English at Ohio University. The two goals of the project's first phase were:
The academic and professional development training courses which filled the daylight hours during the 4-week instructional program addressed: methodologies for EFL teacher and trainer training, curriculum design and materials development, staff development, technology in education, testing and evaluation, and the implementation and diffusion of innovation.
In addition the project included: a series of workshops on developing professional networks, attendance at the All TESOL Conference of the TESOL Summer Institute on Peace Education at St. Michael's College in Vermont, an American cultural program including local field trips and a homestay weekend, and a final project designed to enable participants to develop work in areas of their own professional interest.
During their first week in Athens, Ohio the twelve EFL educators plunged with commitment and energy into their intensive program schedule: up with the sun, classes stretching straight through the day, and evenings taken up with guest lectures, and personal research. They participated actively in class with serious interest and professionalism, but with the reserve that is often evident when members of a group don't yet know each other very well.
During the second week of the program, these visitors began thinking about gifts for family and friends back home, hoping to find unusual treasures and irresistible bargains. So, off they went on their excursions, yet not Israeli with Israeli or Palestinian with Palestinian, but in a variety of configurations which more often than not culminated both in a grand display of the day's finds and a good-natured battle-of-the-sexes over who managed the best bargains. As they dined and studied together, took part in field trips and a variety of other outings, these Palestinian and Israeli men and women exchanged information about their lives and their work as well as ideas about teaching and learning. They openly offered one another their insights, concerns, and their wonderfully contagious sense of humor.
On the third weekend the group traveled from Ohio to Vermont to attend the All-TESOL Weekend at Saint Michael's College where the theme of the TESOL Summer Institute, Peace Education, served as a constant affirmation of the significance of the commitment that these educators had made not only to their own professional development but to their determination to find ways to live and work in harmony with each other. As a member of the PRODELT faculty, this writer was privileged to accompany the group to Vermont and to participate in the weekend activities with them. We returned to Athens from the Columbus, Ohio airport in a university van, and as was often the case, there were numerous simultaneous conversations, some in Arabic, some in Hebrew, some in English.
As we traveled, a few of the Israeli teachers were talking among themselves in Hebrew, when one of the Palestinians joined in, also in Hebrew. Eyes grew wide with surprise as one of the Israelis exclaimed, "You speak Hebrew so beautifully! When did you learn it? Where did you learn it? WHY did you learn it?"
"There are more teaching assignments available to us if we're fluent in Hebrew. Sometimes there are salary bonuses too."
The van was abuzz with questions and comments, exclamations and stories as we travelers began to rediscover one another. After many questions about job conditions and living conditions, about safety and roads and rock-throwing, one teacher asked, "Do you think we can ever have peace?"
"What do your YOUNG people want? Do they want peace? Do you think they will keep fighting?"
What do YOUR young people want? Do they listen to you? Do you think we can make a difference?"
By the time we reached Athens, they were making plans, discussing what they, as teachers, might be able to do to make a difference.
During the last two weeks of their stay, members of the group embarked upon projects related to their professional responsibilities as English teachers or teacher-supervisors. They formed groups across geographical and political boundaries and formulated their own project goals. One group decided to launch an advocacy project to work toward the elimination of negative stereotypes in textbooks across the curriculum, explaining that in Israel and in Palestine textbooks quite often portray the other as evil. Another group decided to develop a thematically-based unit on conflict resolution and peace education, while a third decided to work toward the establishment of a professional organization that would regularly bring together EFL teachers from throughout the region.
These first four weeks comprised only Phase I of this very special program. Phase II, which is just now getting underway, includes on-going project work as well as travel by four faculty consultants to conduct follow-up workshops in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank.
Although there are sure to be snags and delays, obstacles in the paths that these twelve courageous people are exploring, they are demonstrating to all of us with professionalism and with dedication, that we humans can learn to work through our differences, that while we might have to strive for it each day for the rest of our lives, we can indeed live in harmony with one other, and that the idea of peace through education just might not be all that far-fetched.
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