Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Dogs and Students, Teachers and Dogs: Education in Aid Dependent Palestine

Originally published:  September 16, 2010

I want to try to explore what education is, what it can constitute, and what it can obstruct as well. Yes, the thing we call education can be just as much a liberator as it can be an oppressor. I wish I blogged more about my experience in Watts and Compton and the Los Angeles area in general about educational inequalities. Alas, I was busy being a student myself.

Now I am at the other end in another world. And now that I have nearly a year of surveying what education is in the Occupied Territories, perhaps I can draw some parallels and throw in some research.

I include the above picture because it blatantly contrasts groups or ideologies or even approaches. We can call this pedagogy, any fancy word really. Here you see one of nine civil rights activists, a black woman walking with books in hand. You see angry white women. You see men meant to enforce law or protection or order in the backdrop, along with other civilian men.

Why do I include this picture in the first post under "Education" on this blog? Because this picture is today; black and white, obvious, yet somehow casted as fundamental knowledge everyone seems to accept as a part of their said institutions.

First because I believe women are the backbone to society. The ones going crazy are the white women. The men are in the backdrop, they will follow as much as they carry guns and look official. But we all know if momma is not happy at home, the whole family is probably miserable. And if momma has an idea for us, we sure as hell listen.

I have taught workshops and tutored as a college student in Watts. I coordinated a project that dealt with high school students who faced gang violence, drugs, and a horribly failing educational institution somehow missing from the famed notion of "American equality."

I will never forget one particular student. It was my first year in college, and I met with him every week after his school let out. He was high half the time, under nourished, and from a single parent household with mom working several jobs. He needed someone, and school was not that person. It took forever to get him to talk--to be his true self. He would often look down at his papers and give simple answers. And then finally, when we made that breakthrough and he became comfortable, he got expelled. He was banned from the school premise. 

Consistency is what is missing from the ghetto--consistency in figures, people, resources. One program comes in, and then the next, and the students become these sort of case studies or guinea pigs for new approaches so long as someone can fund it.

But once our very own center faced cuts, of course as puppets to our funder, the State, our members wanted to cut site visits saying, "they needed to be paid else they wouldn't go." I was outraged: was this how the communities at UCLA, communities that came from the same harsh background, suddenly thought? That they needed money and to be paid to create the so-called revolution they dreamed of? I was disenchanted with these activists who were suddenly marching for dollars and not their students. But then again, they needed jobs, and if they had none, they too would drop out or face terrible debt. Thus notice the domino effect of educational access.

Funding is a trap. Money comes with a leash. You become its bitch and God forbid a dog bite the hand of its owner--else it is put to sleep. Unequal, costly education is a power mechanism

Although my student was expelled and was sent to a school across town, he continued every week to sneak onto campus to see me. And then summer came, I left. And he disappeared. The guilt till this day haunts me. I hope he is ok. 

I am now on the other side of the world, and no one be shocked when I say that USAID and European government donors fund so many of the schools here and educational institutions like the one for which I work. And no one be shocked when I say that once again, teachers and outreachers are again made into bitches. Nothing is consistent. Dogs and students, teachers and dogs. Administration like the one in Watts is like the administrations of schools I go to here--pompous officials who have no clue what the state of their classrooms are, or rather, purposefully ignore it. Or volunteer their schools for UNRWA funded programs so that they can make some cash, secure some sort of fame for themselves.

My students and I at Abu Dees university for a science fair.
One principal continuously interrupted my classroom with UN officials and Americans from the Embassy so that they can look at my students like some pity case. They showcase my students like those commercials you see that tell you to sponsor a refugee child, and then they walk out. They were not invested in these bright, beautiful students who were forced everyday to wear a shirt and cap that branded them as owned by those who funded them.  They simply marketed them.

They called it "Camp Discovery." It started under Bush as a de-militarization program--but us teachers know, that despite the agenda funders wish to push, in the end we help nourish the educational environment of our students.

And for me that is to think with an open mind not just about the book. I told my students, look at who writes your books, what words they want you to learn, who are these people coming and visiting you? Why is the principal posing with you for pictures in the middle of lecture and then disappears? Why are they making you into a giant show? Why do we have to perform a skit for all the foreigners and donors and showcase you all as products on the NGO manufacturing belt?

Of course I didn't literally say all this. They already knew, who was I kidding. They rolled their eyes every time, but in other instances I saw the eyes of children who needed someone when they held up their art and asked, "Isn't it beautiful, Miss?" "Miss, come paint with us and create like us." I enjoyed that we were together in this.

I wanted them to notice that next door there was a settlement, an illegal one, of Zionist colonizers. Of course, I didn't have to make them point it out. They knew it was them who shot up the place or arrested their relatives or threatened them. Just like in Watts there was an abandoned bomb factory next to the campus. Environment shapes what goes on during school. Unfortunately school gates and walls are the facade we believe lead us into an unbiased and completely academic world. What the heck is an "academic" world anyways when we see so much politics bleed into the books and playgrounds?

Students, the ones who can perhaps provide the most to the world because they have had no shelter beyond a roof over their heads and who have witnessed the brutal reality of life, are being used as mere pawns. Both here, in the US, and I bet anywhere on this damned earth. Fund them, keep them subdued, but do not allow them to climb the social ladder. Keep them in refugee camps or keep them in the ghetto.
That woman in the picture made a symbolic sacrifice, one that is good for pictures. But how much has really changed? The only thing different is rather than blatant physical forms of discrimination, the elitists have poisoned the institutions to ensuring that black and white is education. Not colored pages of real life, but just black and white print. No wonder my students sleep and find it so boring at times--real life is education, these buildings stagnation.

I suggest this book to get more of an idea of what it is like to be a teacher. Enjoy.


  1. Thanks for the education on this topic. What an endearing, sweet photo of you and your students. Precious - too bad they are not treated as such.

    1. Much needed reform on this front... education shapes society, so what goes on in schools is a microcosm of Palestine. I truly believe our liberation will be in education.

    2. Agreed, education is the key, both for your people and their future, as you imply, as well as humanity at large. It may be a cliche, but knowledge is power. I pray that that the journey to attain that knowledge is successful, and thus, as will be the journey to the freedom of Palestine.