The best way to explain our unique educational approach is to define the terms we use in our work. Below you will find an organizational “glossary of terms,” which better explains the process of how we work with groups in conflict.
Education/Educators: In our work, education embodies both ‘teaching’ and ‘facilitation.’ Each of these aspects requires a particular skill set, a specific base of knowledge, and the appropriate professional training. While we maintain that all of our staff are educators, we recognize that our various experiences have given us different strengths; some are trained as teachers and others as facilitators.
Encounters: We define an encounter as any situation where a minimum of two groups, or individual members of a minimum of two groups, meet in a structured setting where the interaction between the two is the basis of the activity. We identify two main kinds of encounters in our work: (1) an individual educating the ‘other’ about one’s own community and (2) different groups coming together to create individual and collective learning opportunities. Our organization views encounters as a means to an end rather than an end in itself, as we utilize encounters to enable our participants to explore patterns and roles taken up in inter-communal and intra-communal relations. As such, encounters serve as a tool for the magnification and reflection of our identities, thoughts, and feelings vis-à-vis both the ‘other’ and the ‘self.’ This process must be led by trained and experienced facilitators.
Equal Partnerships: Our organization’s decision-making process involves all full-time staff members, who are themselves equally divided across ethnicity, religion, and gender. In our work, each program and educator grouping is shared by a Jewish-Muslim or Jewish-Palestinian pair.
Experiential Learning: We see our experiential learning operating on two levels. First, we seek to go beyond written texts, utilizing field trips, guest speakers, and creative exercises in order to enhance our content-based learning. Second, we conceptualize the student-group as the source of knowledge, where learning occurs both when content is brought into a group (i.e. external knowledge) and from within the group itself (i.e. internal knowledge). The exploration of a group as a source of knowledge is a process that is facilitated as opposed to a text that is taught. The main subjects of this second type of exploration are the roles and patterns that we each take on within and across our communities.
Facilitation: As discussed in the entry above (see “Experiential Learning”), we consider groups to be a primary source of knowledge. This knowledge is revealed through facilitators’ reflecting back to groups how their identities, roles, and patterns are playing out in any given inter-group encounter, examining how these dynamics are themselves reflections of the reality outside of the group (i.e. in the macro-world), of which the group is a part. The process of reflecting group dynamics back to a group requires a specific level of experience and skill set, which focuses on the dynamics of interaction as opposed to the content of interaction. In other words, facilitation focuses on process rather than content only, the process of how participants are relating to one another. This allows the focus to be on how groups, rather than individuals, interact with one another, allowing our participants to explore their relations within their group and the interaction between their group and the ‘other’ group.
Groups in Conflict: Our commitment to working together as a staff that represents a range of different group identities illustrates that we, like the communities with which we work, have a self-understanding of being individuals that are also part of groups in conflict. We do not see ourselves as third parties, or neutral observers, to these conflicts. While the relationship between Muslims and Jews is quite different than that of Jews and Palestinians, and the relationship between Jews and Palestinians in the United States is distinct from Jewish Israelis and Palestinians abroad, we understand all of these inter-communal relationships to be primarily defined by conflict. For us, ‘conflict’ is broader than armed confrontation only. Rather, we understand this term to include relations of power, levels of interaction, processes of dehumanization, and more, reflecting certain patterns, which broadly include competing narratives, cultures of denial, questions of minority/majority status, roles of perpetrators/victims, and assumed homogeneity. Jews, Muslims, Israelis, and Palestinians, in their respective relations with one another, exhibit these patterns and merit the analytical category of being labeled groups in conflict.
Identity (group): We maintain that human beings living in societies are social by virtue of their societal relationships. As such, each of us is a member of various social groups, defined by ethnicity, gender, religion, socio-economic class, etc. A significant aspect of our human-to-human interaction is based on group identities, individual relating to an ‘other’ as a member of the various social groups that s/he belongs to, regardless of whether or not s/he chooses to be part of such groups. In conceptualizing our world and how we perform within it, we believe that our actions are representative of the various social groups to which we belong. Consequently, each one of us has group identities that we take on as well as group identities that others impose upon us. We work with individuals in this context.
Identity (individual): We understand individuals to possess unique identities that are the product of particular intersections of varied social identities, personal experiences, and dominant identities within the larger groups with which they identify. In addition to maintaining that each individual is inherently unique, we work with individuals in the contexts of groups, exploring the interplay between individual identities and group identities.
Political Education: Our call to education emerges from the political realities in which we live and our individual and collective relationships in relation to these realities. As opposed to the dominant method of formal education, which explores political developments as something separate from students, we seek to place the relationship between individual and groups at the center of the educational experience. In addition to exploring political developments in and of themselves, our educational approach expands the scope of inquiry to include the relationship of these political realities to our individual participants and the groups represented by them.
Power Relations: We understand individuals and groups to function within a context of power relations, understood as inter-personal and inter-communal dynamics that represent the struggle for the ability to influence others and/or the actual act of influencing others. On one level, power can be materially based (e.g., based on capital), and on another level, power can be discursively based (e.g. privileging one form of knowledge or information over another). We maintain that the struggle over power and its corollary, the enactment of power, lie at the core of the dynamics between groups in conflict. Power relations between groups in conflict must be examined in order to transform these conflicts, removing these groups from their cycles of violence.
Teaching: We understand teaching to mean the exploration of written texts, having group discussions, taking field trips, introducing students to guest speakers, and leading creative exercises. All of these educational methods focus on content-based activities only, in contrast to facilitation.