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By: Sarah Jayne Bleiweis

I teach because I have an earnest desire to make a difference in the world...

I teach because I believe in education as "painting on a human canvas"...

I teach art because my paintbrush is my best tool for change ... being my ability to not only create art, but to teach & inspire my passion for art in others...

"I cannot think for others or without others, nor can others think for me" (Freire, 108).

Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed has inspired me to continue teaching and reminds me of the importance of my role, as a teacher, in making a difference.  My 1st experience as an Art Teacher in the Middle East, has inspired me to always strive to grow as a teacher.  Freire's words help remind me of the reasons for why I teach.

"...humans exist in a world which they are constantly re-creating and transforming...because they are aware of themselves and thus of the world...they are conscious beings [who] exist in a dialectical relationship between the determination of limits and their own freedom...As critical perception is embodied in action, a climate of hope and confidence develops which leads men to attempt to overcome the limit-situations" (Freire, 98-99).

During those first few difficult months of teaching in Bethlehem, I was struggling to cope with the harsh realities of the surrounding conflict and my 1stcrash-course experience in the classroom.  I found myself fighting back the feelings of hopelessness & despair, while questioning my ability to really make a difference in the world.  As I look back now, I realize that it wasn't so much about ME and the difference that I could make in the world, but instead it was more about the Palestinian teachers AND students at the school who were the ones who really made THE DIFFERENCE in my world, as they helped and inspired me to be resilient like them, and continue on.

"Teachers and students (leadership and people), co-intent on reality, are ...not only in the task of unveiling that reality, and thereby coming to know it critically, but in the task of re-creating that knowledge.  As they attain this knowledge of reality through common reflection and action, they discover themselves as its permanent re-creators" (Freire, 69).

During school recess, the students would sit with me and help me with my homework for Arabic class.  Often times when they saw me, students would come running up to me to proudly to share pictures they drew in their sketchbooks.  The students would discover artistic abilities that they never before had the opportunity to encounter.  I witnessed how children who were failing in other subjects became passionate in art, and they began to succeed in other aspects of school.  It was at moments like these, that the Palestinian students showed me the positive impact that art had in their lives, which inspired me to continue teaching at the school in Bethlehem.

"The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach.  They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow" (Freire, 80).

I became well-acquainted with the Palestinian teachers I worked with.  Within the first month, I had visited the homes of almost every teacher who worked at the school because they had all insisted I come eat dinner with them and their families.  One of my favorite memories was visiting Ms. Hind's family for the 1st time. Ms. Hind was the Assistant Principal at the school, and her home was in a nearby Bethlehem Refugee Camp.  She was one of the most inspirational Palestinian teachers I worked with because she was the most positive and happy person at the school.   She always gave me uplifting advice about teaching, and served as my mentor during the most challenging of times.  Ms. Hind opened up her home and her heart to me, as did all the other Palestinian teachers at the school.  They were eager to tell me stories about their life experiences, and I was eager to learn about their perspectives and to learn about their culture, directly from a Palestinian person, for the first time ever.

"The important thing, from the point of view of libertarian education, is for the people to come to feel like masters of their thinking by discussing the thinking and views of the world explicitly or implicitly manifest in their own suggestions and those of their comrades.  Because this view of education starts with the conviction that it cannot present its own program but must search for this program dialogically with the people, it serves to introduce the pedagogy of the oppressed, in the elaboration of which the oppressed must participate" (Freire, 124).

As I became more acquainted with the culture and community of the school, I soon found myself opening the door to a classroom full of cheering Palestinian students almost every day.  I can still picture the delight on the children's faces as they worked on their art projects during class, and proudly displayed their work to each other.  Despite the school's water being cut off for weeks at a time, and despite the heavily manned guard towers only a couple of streets away, the classroom felt as though it were magically sealed from the outside world.  When the students are focused on their art, everything else fades into the background - for the duration of their creative sessions, at least. "The students became lost in a world far away from guns and grenades" (Freedman, The Guardian).

I now believe in art education as a tool for positive change, not only in the Palestinian students I taught, but also as a tool for positive change in the world as a whole. 

"Only human beings are praxis- the praxis which, as the reflection and action which truly transform reality, is the source of knowledge and creation..." (Freire, 101).



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