Academic Exchange Quarterly Spring 2011 ISSN 1096-1453 Volume 15, Issue 2
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Cross-cultural learning program
Yehuda Peled, Israel. Western Galilee Academic College and Ohalo Academic College
Gloria Dunnivan, US. Kent State University, OH
Peled Ph.D is a professor of Educational Technology and the head of the Information Studies department at the WGC. Dunnivan, Ph.D is an Associate Director, Pre College and Outreach Programs.
This article describes an ongoing Cross-cultural learning program (since 2005) that brought together students from three different communities: an Israeli Arab school, an Israeli Jewish school and an American public school. The goal of the program was to embark upon a process that would bring about intercultural awareness and acceptance at the subjective level, guiding all involved to develop empathy and an insider’s view of the other’s culture.
O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
would some Power the small gift give us
To see ourselves as others see us!)
Robert Burns - To a Louse, verse 8 (Steinbeck, 1939).
The Cross-cultural learning program described here, was titled TriWizard (Peled & Dunnivan, 2009). The TriWizard program brings together two high schools in Akko, Israel: a Jewish school, an Arab school, and one high school in the America, a public inner-city school. The goal of the program is to create a process of intercultural awareness. The program initiators and planners objectives are to bring about a feeling of empathy and acceptance through an insider’s view of the other’s culture. The American group, a typical inner-city high school class, was diverse, which created tensions. The assumption was that once the Arab Israelis and Jewish Israelis interact with this group, they would find commonalities between their struggles to those of the other minority groups, thus easing the tension between them. The purpose of this paper is to describe a feasible intercultural awareness program between different cultural youth groups which can be imitated in various high-school settings. The paper outlines the background to the tension between the Israeli Arabs and Jews and ways we have found are effective in dissolving the tension as a basis for a meaningful dialogue. Lastly, we outline the basic ground rules which need to be observed in order to build and maintain a sustainable intercultural awareness program.
The Educational Twinning Program is an activity whose goal is to facilitate contacts between communities in Israel and in America (Jewish Agency for Israel, 2005). The project involves “over sixty (60) pairs of classrooms in elementary, middle and high school” (Jewish Agency, 2005, p. 2) in the Western Galilee region of Israel and across the United States, and is aimed at developing collaborative joint learning programs (Zimmerman & Peled, 2009).
The main objective of the educational Twinning program was to twin classrooms in Israel with classroom in the partner communities in the U.S. in order to promote dialogue and understanding of diversity. As most of the K-12 Jewish students in the U.S. go to non Jewish schools, many of the Twinning activities with the Israeli schools were with American inner city schools. Both Israeli Arabs and Jews live in the Western Galilee which is about 50% Jewish and 50% Israeli Arab, of which there are relatively equal numbers of Druze, Christians, and Muslims (Israel’s Central Bureau of statistics 2007). Thus it is important to bring together Israeli Jews and Israeli Arab high school students in order to encourage a local dialogue between them.
In order to reduce the tension between the Israeli Jews and Arabs a third party was introduced to the program (American school) - to act as a buffer between the Israelis. The assumption was that a classroom from American inner city school of racially mixed students, which obviously has to deal with racial problems, prejudice, etc. will be an appropriate partner. Through a dialogue the Israeli groups could examine their difficulties and hopefully resolve their conflict in light of the difficulties and conflicts of the mixed racial American classroom, and vice versa. Since the first attempt in 2004 three groups have completed the two and a half year program. The fourth TriWizard program got underway with the 2010-11 school year. The fifth TriWizard is currently being assembled in Israel and the USA.
The TriWizard was designed to have participants begin with a dialogue; firstly about how they lived, what they ate, how they spent their free time, and then about issues, beliefs, and emotions. This corresponds to the framework for developing multicultural competencies in the classroom that was developed by Ken Cushner (Cushner, 1999). The framework is built on the belief that cross-cultural training strategies that have proven to be most effective in changing knowledge and behavior are cognitive approaches that effectively engage the emotions, and engage youth in actively developing empathy and/or insider’s views of another culture. Cross-cultural training strategies that have proven most effective on peoples’ knowledge and behavior appear to be cognitive approaches that effectively engage the emotions and actively engage students in developing empathy or having an insider’s view of the other culture (Cushner 1999). Cultural immersion is also an effective method of having participants examine and re-evaluate cultural assumptions about the backgrounds and influences of those whose cultural backgrounds are not only different from theirs, but also might be viewed with ethnocentrism. Immersion programs promote cross-cultural sensitivity, enhance self-awareness in relation to cultural contexts, focus on commonalities among cultures, and promote the awareness of the subjective level of culture (Wang 2003).
The program's curriculum
The program's curriculum is based on a concept of Humanistic Education approach which was developed by The Centre for Humanistic Education (CHE) (Kalisman, 2008). The CHE proposes an alternative approach to Holocaust education. The essence of this different approach is the universal perception, as opposed to the exclusively Jewish one; the CHE’s programs are based on the principle that the lessons of the Holocaust are applicable universally. By learning about the Holocaust, students and teachers come to understand the protective nature of democratic values, the necessity of speaking out against abuse of power, and the danger of remaining indifferent to human suffering. Thus, the TriWizard CHE based curriculum examines the Holocaust as a historical, Jewish and universal crisis that calls to confront social and human dilemmas and their current manifestation as part of an educational process that leads towards understanding the importance of democratic values; provides tools for moral judgment and civic responsibility; and combats the indifference to the suffering of others or the infringement of human rights that constantly endangers the existence of modern society.
The Israeli teachers and students' works in closed groups learning communication skills before meeting with each other. At the same time, a two-way communication channel is opened between the American participants and their Israeli counterparts using computer cams, IM, Skype, Video Conferencing (which is sponsored by the Western Galilee College, Israel and local American resources) and email. The program consists of weekly meetings, each approximately three hours long. The working methods are films; TV reports; text-based discussions; dilemmas; role-playing; and the study of relevant displays in the adjacent museum. Emphasis is put on actualizing historical issues and encouraging personal reactions. They watch the movie “Remember the Titans” and discussed it, identified various issues as reflected through their eyes, thus are able to hold a discussion. Teachers are constantly coordinating activities. As the three groups learn how to lower suspicion and how to conduct a dialogue and they are able to work as a single group which is not divided by ethnicity, they are divided into teams of three. Each team consists of an American, Israeli Jew and an Israeli Arab student. Their objective is to write a family history book – together, as a team. The book describes each of the students' background as an immigrant (voluntary or involuntary), thus they share their family history, discuss it, compare and accept.
In the third part of the program the three groups meet in Israel or in the US. The delegations, hosted in family homes, meet with the young people with whom they worked. The students stay in their peers' homes, they go to school, share everyday activities, and speak at various forums and present the idea of coexistence in educational institutions, synagogues, churches and mosques about the TriWizard project. In ongoing interviews the students said they and their friends were skeptical when the program began to bring together Jewish and Arab Israeli teens. "Some of my friends thought the idea was hopeless," said an Arab student. “Bringing Jews and Arabs together would never work. I've seen it work.” Another student shared her thoughts. “I used to see Arabs as people who hated me because I was Jewish. I thought they wanted to kill me. I saw it's not that way. They want to be friends. And they want to get along in life, like I do," "We solve problems by talking," one said. "I am here to make peace" said another. The American students agreed that much of the prejudice they carried before starting the program came from not knowing the real story. Opinions were based on perceptions. "I was wrong… …It's been eye-opening," a student said. "We see that everybody's the same." Students said they have learned that they can live with their differences. "We don't have to agree about everything, but we can accept each others' opinions," said an Arab student. A Jewish student said she hopes to use what she has learned to change the opinions of others. "I really think that peace will come one day," she said. "I really hope I live to see it."
The TriWizard guidelines
In light of the attempt to launch the first group of TriWizard which failed because of lack of communication among the teachers from the three schools, a set of guidelines was developed:
Koehler (1990) mentions that if expected acceptance of the other group's perspective is not attained, an examination of the way the program is carried out reveals that instead of allowing participants to examine the "other's" point of view, they are busy defending their own, resulting in greater entrenchment. In our case, contrary to Koehler (1990), differences are discussed; the students listen to each other's argument, facilitating an ongoing discourse at a time of great tension between Jews and Arabs in Israel and the same among the various groups in the American Inner city schools. Current evidence from various sources (former students in the TriWizard program and the teachers who coordinated the program) indicates that apart for ongoing activity in the TriWizard forum well into its third year, some of the Arab and Jewish students keep up sporadic connections. As Bar and Bargal (1995) claim, we do not know for how long these connections will last and/or what is the long-term effect of the positive experience these youth have experienced on their adult lives in Israel. In contradiction to the Biton & Solomon (2006) findings, we know that some of the Arabs who participated in the program retained an extreme national view, expressed in their Blogs.
The added values of the project to the American group are beyond expectation. The alertness of usually unaware students about worldwide issues or even local issues has changed. The climax occurred during Israeli air raids over the Gaza Strip in 2007, which was well after the first program was officially concluded. The three groups continued to be in touch through their forum. During the air raid, the dialogue between the Israeli groups was heated and was intense. Hard words were exchanged. S., the American teacher, reports that at that time the American students intervened in order to calm the Israelis, reminding them what they had learned in their joint activities, what are the proper ways to express opinion, and how to listen to the other as a partner in a dialogue and not as an enemy.
Beginning in 2004, working on an enhanced model of the ideas put forth by earlier researchers, we instituted the TriWizard Program involving Israeli Jewish students, Israeli Arab students, and American students. Over a six year period involving four sets of students, we observed that, with the American students acting as a catalyst, the Arab and Jewish Israeli students were able to develop a positive frame work for dialogue.
The TriWizard program's success is due to the unique approach to dialogue incorporated in it that is based on allowing participants to examine the "other's" point of view, rather than defending their own (resulting in greater entrenchment). In our case, differences are discussed; the students listen to each other's argument, facilitating an ongoing discourse. In light of the failure of the first attempt, we stress the importance of creating a sound and solid relationship between the program's coordinators. It is not clear to what extent the involvement of the American group actually eased the tension between the two Israeli groups, or to what extent the three ways dialogue helped the involved parties examine their aches and pains in respect of others. Although the American group benefits from the interaction with the Israeli groups it seems that the third party involvement is not a must.
Further research is needed to determine the long-term influence of the TriWizard program on the participants and to what extent the Centre for Humanistic Education (CHE) concept of learning about the Holocaust so that students and teachers come to understand the protective nature of democratic values, the necessity of speaking out against abuse of power, and the danger of remaining indifferent to human suffering, is influencing the program’s outcome.
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