What is the definition of a border? It is a question that we have been asking our students at the Eastern Mediterranean International School since the start of the academic year. It is a question with so many answers from so many perspectives.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is:
‘A line separating two countries, administrative divisions, or other areas.’ (Border n1)
But surely it is more than that. Is a border just physical? Literal? Or can it be more than that? Metaphorical? Social? Is it a matter of identity?
Living and studying in a school in a country in the Middle East, surrounded by borders, many of which, we cannot legally cross brings up many issues and questions that we, as educators and our students want to address. It would be too easy just to go to the various borders and explore what is happening there on the surface, but when approaching the concept of ‘borders’ I wanted my students to have a deeper understanding of the issues that could lie beyond the physical borders that we are going to as part of the school’s ‘Crossing Border’s Week’. With our student body compromising of Israelis, Palestinians and a representation of forty-five other nationalities, how were we going to tackle and explore these issues without emotional ties or a one-lens perspective?
Using the tools of the Sustainability Compass, the Systems Iceberg and the notion of Mental Models, the Borders Week Committee started to explore the issues with a different perspective and engage with complex systems that exist at each of the locations we intend to visit, the borders with Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank, Egypt and Jordan.
During this three-hour workshop, student leaders were asked to bring one issue that their border faces. It would have been easy to discuss these issues on a surface level, the shared water issues faced by Israel, Jordan and Lebanon, the disappearance of the Dead Sea, the Druze community in the Golan Heights and their allegiance to the Syrian Government, the political complications on all sides, the fact that we cannot meet a Gazan to hear their side of the story, but education is more than scratching the surface.
Firstly, it was important to have a shared definition of what a border actually means, more than it’s physical entity before exploring why we were going to the borders physically and what we hoped to achieve educationally by going there to meet with people, see the lines and fences and understand what this actually meant. Upon asking their expectation of the course and of the project itself, many students expressed their desire to remain unbiased in their opinions despite their nationality, political inclination or their preconceptions. To prepare the students for the variety of perspectives they were going to hear, witness and experience, we explored the concept of mental models and why this was so imperative to understand when forming our own judgments on other people’s narratives. To take this further, we delved into the question ‘Why can’t we explore situations in isolation?’ Students used the points on the Compass to explore the drivers behind each situation they brought to the table at each of the borders and ask questions regarding the intended and unintended consequences of the actions of the drivers that caused these situations. Through this exercise, students started to understand the notion of thinking in systems and that nothing stands alone.
As an educator, It was inspiring to watch the students go through this process and see their minds open to this new way of thinking. Maybe they crossed their own borders!
“Border, n1.” Oxford English Dictionary Online, June 2018, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/border. Accessed 13 February 2018.