I took a language policy course here at Teachers College, Columbia and we studied bilingual education in different parts of the world.
This is a really interesting video that I think everyone should watch. It's only fifty minutes.
BRIDGE OVER THE WADI FILM (50 MINUTES)
Here is my response (Read after you watch the video because there are spoilers)
Bridge over the Wadi is a film that leaves me a bit bewildered. The film captures much of the angst and frustration families and teachers experience in a bilingual and binational school. In fact, it captures so much of the tension in the families, communities, and teachers that I actually thought that the school would not continue. At the end of the film, though, the text tells us that everyone thought the school was a success and enrollment doubled the second year. The director sends mixed messages though, which makes me feel very frustrated with how he presented his material. The text at the end tells us it was a success. However, the two scenes preceding the final texts of the film are of a Jewish girl feeling guilty all alone because she claims her people took the land of the Arabs and a scene in which boys are talking about bombing each other when they get older. It is frustrating for the viewer because the film leaves many questions unresolved and ends the film with a brief texts saying it was successful and enrollment doubled. Perhaps the director intended to capture the inherent unanswerability some of the issues brought up.
An idea I want to focus on from the film—that I think can be answered—is how teachers deal with balancing the views of clashing cultural histories. As a bilingual school, the Jews and Arabs have a different set of historical facts that each believe is true. The Arabic teacher insists that the Arabs were “uprooted” from Israel when the Jews began the war. When she causes the Jewish children to feel guilty and sad for removing the Arabs, the teachers hold a meeting to discuss their and her teaching. A teacher points out that when teaching the meaning of the Jewish Independence Day, it is important to remember that “there is a distinction between our pain as adults and the children.” This was a particularly salient quote for me because it brings up the idea that in a classroom, even bilingual classrooms, whose history we teach must always be presented in an objective, safe space, where all children feel comfortable enough to discuss their ideas without becoming too emotionally involved. Important to the question of creating safe spaces and whose history we are teaching, is the question of how we are shaping students’ identities. We discussed in class that the model of teaching at this school can hopefully give the student’s a space to reimagine their current and future reality, to see new possibilities and opportunities for peace. The teachers intrigued me because they spoke mostly in Hebrew; Arabic, despite being the predominately dominant language in the community, was only spoken during the Arabic lesson.
The school is distinctly characterized by the language of those in power, Hebrew speakers, and Arab, just seems like another foreign language being learned, and not necessarily a supplementary language of instruction. The film addressed how the school included texts in bilingual format, Hebrew and Arabic, so the Hebrew students could help the Arabic students and vice versa. The underlying tension, though, between what the Arabs and Jews think of their history and right to Israel seem to influence the tone and attitudes of the teachers. It seems that Hebrew as the medium of instruction is tolerated now. This film really brought to light how bilingual education affects the communities and families. One father said that while he would like the school to be bilingual, he does not want it to be binational. By already demarcating the limits of how he views the schools, the father is setting parameters up for what should be taught and what should not be taught, something that is still under debate by the teachers. Other parents scoffed at Jewish parents letting their children bow to the chant of Allah. These scenarios brought to mind the difficulty of catering to a diverse student population when one is trying to be more deep and real about teaching another culture, rather than being superficial. It is about respecting another culture, but just as the Arabic teacher released her frustration, she has been so self-conscious about her mannerisms and attitudes that she’s tired of being so respectful.
My question is how can you establish a safe classroom environment to discuss/explore ideas that may be conflicting if you do not respect all parties involved? Bridge Over Wadi left me frustrated; while it was interesting to get a glimpse of a bilingual/binational school, the problems that arose in school and the presentation of those problems in the film were left unresolved. Even if they were resolved, the film does not show its audiences the potential that these schools have.
The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and do not reflect those of institutions, organizations, or employers associated with me, past or present.