Teaching tolerance; teaching peace

On Nov. 7, community members gathered for ICUCME’s monthly Dinner Conversation to talk about teaching tolerance, but speaker Mihal Ronen challenged attendees by asking whether being “tolerant” should really be the goal. “Think of it instead as teaching peace,” said Ronen, who has been teaching for 27 years and is currently a 2nd grade teacher at Ithaca’s Fall Creek Elementary School.

Ronen offered examples of her techniques to teach children “to be human beings,” such as helping them learn how to recognize their feelings and to respond to others with curiosity rather than fear. Each day, she teaches them to say “good morning” in a language other than English. “Different languages are like stretching, yoga for your mouth,” she explained.

Non-Violent Communication (NVC) techniques have been valuable to help students understand their own needs and that of others, said Ronen. The techniques are helpful to parents, too, as one participant attested. Ronen agreed.  “A lot of unkind behavior is rooted in fear, and that fear doesn’t end when you become 18,” she said.

In her remarks, ICUCME chair Linda Glaser echoed Ronen’s emphasis on teaching peace rather than fomenting fear. She cited the bilingual Arab-Jewish Hand in Hand Schools in Israel as models for how to teach coexistence and build a peaceful society.

But what inspired the topic for the Dinner Conversation, said Glaser, was a disturbing report on new United Nations Relief and Works Agency textbooks produced for Palestinian Authority schools. The textbooks deliberately foster a culture of fear and hatred; one book refers to a Molotov cocktail attack on an Israeli civilian bus as a “barbecue party.”

“Most chilling of all,” said Glaser, “the texbooks state that after the Palestinians win total control of the land, the 6 million Jews living in Israel ‘will endure expulsion from the land and extermination of its defeated and scattered remnants.’”

After reading this report, said Glaser, ICUCME felt it was important to examine what teaching for peace really looks like.

As one participant said after the group discussion, “Peace is a behavior. You can think whatever you want: it’s what you do that matters.”