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In this episode, I’m sharing ideas for how you might approach conversations about the violence in Gaza within your schools and classrooms. Many adults have told me they do not feel equipped enough to facilitate or engage in this conversation, however world events are happening and impacting adults and youth. At a minimum we should make space for students to share their emotional responses and experiences related to this trauma.
And as Michelle MiJung Kim wrote, “Even if you don’t understand the full history, you can draw on your knowledge of power dynamics, characteristics of white supremacy and colonialism, and the use of dehumanizing narratives to justify ethnic cleansing. Even when emotions are running high, you have the skills to create big enough containers to hold and validate people’s grief and fear, while guiding people to challenge the conditions that create violence. You know how to connect the dots to explain how all of us are implicated in this humanitarian and moral crisis.”
Note: This episode was recorded on October 31, 2023.
First, some historical context: Between 1947-1949, known as the Nakba, an estimated 15,000 Palestinians were killed, including in dozens of massacres, and an estimated 750,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes in a capturing of historic Palestine to create the state of Israel ("What’s the Israel-Palestine conflict about? A simple guide"). In the last 16 years, Israel’s occupation of Palestine has created the largest “open air prison” in the world, with Palestinians being banned from travel, including to the West Bank, despite it being widely acknowledged they are both part of a “single territorial unit.” This is clearly not the only context. For more details, you can reference the first link in this paragraph.
Most recently (as of this episode), on October 7, 2023, the Palestinian armed group Hamas killed 1,400 people in Israel, many of whom were civilians. Since then, more than 8,000 people have died in Gaza—many of whom were women and children—as a result of Israeli attacks. (Note: This is data as of October 29, 2023.)
Additionally, Israel has blockaded Gaza, cutting off critical supplies. In the last several days, Israel has cut off cell phone and internet access for residents of Gaza. Access to health care and clean water are concerns for many, including the estimated 50,000 pregnant women and girls in Gaza. Israel has denied visas to UN officials following a comment that Hamas attacks “didn’t happen in a vacuum.”
How do we talk about these events with students (and adults)?
Step 1: Establish discussion agreements that center the dignity and humanity of ALL people.
A specific clarification of agreements for this conversation might be: antisemitism and Islamophobia will not be tolerated. And critiquing actions of a nation, group, or leader are not antisemitic or Islamophobic. We should be able to critically analyze a government's decisions. This is not the same as expressing racism towards a group of people for who they are.
Step 2: Invite folx to share their emotions, and if helpful, personal stories and experiences. (Just speaking from the “I” here.)
Step 3: Invite inquiry: What do we want to know or learn more about? What specific questions do we have?
Step 4: Level-set on researched facts, and analyze sources and context for power dynamics.
Step 5: Practice criticality (Muhammad, 2020) with support.
I like to use questions adapted from Dr. Muhammad’s HILL Model: What do you think about the power and equity at play here? How are individuals or groups disrupting oppression? How might you/we?
If you are a social studies teacher, you may want to pull in a resource you’ve used. For example, the Genocide Education Project’s Stages of Genocide resource is one that could help students think through the relevance of the term genocide in relation to Israel’s attacks on Gaza. It would be particularly helpful to examine the Holocaust genocide case study in relation to the previous idea but also to provide the additional context of the Holocaust to deepen analysis.
If you are practiced in using a gendered or feminist lens, for example, you may investigate the interplay of militaristic violence and intimate partner violence. The example in this academic paper by Dr. Simona Sharoni is one that illuminates these parallels.
We cannot have conversations about challenging, high-emotion topics without the grounding in our collective acknowledgement of each person’s humanity. We don’t need to push particularly traumatized individuals to talk about this in classroom spaces when this could be further traumatizing. We also don’t want to avoid conversations about hard things because we don’t feel equipped. We can build our capacity to talk about hard things. We can seek to learn information we don’t yet have. We can enter conversations humbly, and ready to acknowledge our mistakes, while centering justice and human dignity.
As an example of how to set a foundation to build up to harder conversations about current events, I’m sharing my Staff Meeting Agenda series with you for free. And, if you’re looking for more details on the ideas in this blog post, listen to episode 144 of the Time for Teachership podcast. If you’re unable to listen or you prefer to read the full episode, you can find the transcript here.
If you enjoyed this episode, check out my YouTube channel where I show you how to embark on a policy change:
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Lindsay Lyons (she/her) is an educational justice coach who works with teachers and school leaders to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice, design curricula grounded in student voice, and build capacity for shared leadership. Lindsay taught in NYC public schools, holds a PhD in Leadership and Change, and is the founder of the educational blog and podcast, Time for Teachership.