R-E-S-P-E-C-T Tell You What That Means to Me

Fostering respect between students and teachers goes a long way towards creating a classroom environment which is conducive to children’s academic success. This is evident as, according to authors such as Mark Boynton and Christine Boynton, students are more apt to listen to teachers and avoid creating problems within the classroom when they feel that teachers values their contributions and respect them as individuals. Additionally, it has been noted that children who are cared for in the classroom are much more likely to in turn, care for others. Unfortunately, in the Palestinian context, these relationships of mutual respect between children and adults are often lacking. According to a UNICEF study 44% of Palestinian teachers use physical punishment to discipline students and 77% use verbal punishment. These problems aren’t just isolated to schools. While hard data on child abuse in Palestinian homes is hard to find, a recent surveys suggests that at least 37% of women in the West Bank reported experiencing violence at home, and as is the case in all domestic violence reporting, the reality is likely to be much higher. This means that many children are also a victim of that violence, or at the very least, they witness it. This reality has many impacts on child development. Most importantly, when respect at home and in the classroom is lacking, children begin to feel animosity toward parents, teachers, peers and even themselves. This creates a chain of violence that results from living within an oppressed and often violent environment, where a lack of respect becomes the norm and creates a standard that children not only accept, they perpetuate. We see this time and again when our students do not expect to be respected by us or by their peers, and they have trouble understanding the need to respect each other.

Class Hard at work Learning the Importance of Respect through a musical Painting Exercise in Cynthia’s music class

One study conducted by a consortium of researchers funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that Palestinian children with the highest exposure to violence had correlative levels of aggressive behavior. This causal relationship probably seems obvious to anyone who has worked with children, but the struggle every child faces on a daily basis is inadequately expressed through a single correlation. Political and ethnic friction permeates the everyday lives of families and children, building tension felt so internally that it is inescapable.

The values held here at TYO stress the need for respect regardless of a person’s religious or political affiliations. Unfortunately, these particular factors can often lead to the marginalisation of respect within and across many societies. Consequently, despite the establishment of an international Bill of Human Rights, which stresses equality and liberty for all, politics and religion appear to override even these most basic and fundamental issues of respect.

Students learn to respect each other through sport

In Palestine we are undoubtedly caught up in an environment of interconnected politics and religion. The lives of the children, women and university students that we teach at TYO are essentially molded by these very things, from the call to prayer to the segregation of people based upon religion. With so many differences in opinion, culture, and experiences, diversities that are usually positive in influence can even more easily breed conflict and animosity. Some tension is universally inevitable, however organizations like TYO instill values that can create a less hateful and violent future. Therefore, in many ways TYO, as non-religious and non-political organisation, is able to provide a haven in which the burden of these factors can be shaken off and circumstances can be considered in a different light. At TYO we understand that respect goes further than these issues, for instance, in the need to respect a woman’s right to a life outside the home, and a child’s right to an education.  Promoting mutual respect at all stages of life has the power to soothe hurt feelings and curb the infectious nature of hate. Understanding another individual’s opinion and experiences are essential to ensuring peaceful relationships between children. Realizing the inherent self-worth of every single person would mean a society where everyone is treated with respect—a day without conflict. Unfortunately, this day is certainly not the time we live in, but that does not mean it cannot be tomorrow. Simply understanding that respect is something earned, not forced, can serve as a foundation for a future where lack of self-worth and insecurity do not channel abuse or animosity.  

Though the concepts and content taught within TYO programs touch on a diverse range of themes from week to week, fundamentally, our lessons always involve reminding our kids to be respectful. This respect is at the heart of healthy communication, a value that TYO’s approach rightfully situates at the core of its mission. We believe that if children can learn to have respect for peers, family members, communities and themselves as people, it will go a long way towards providing them with the core skills necessary to become amazing members of society later in life.

- Noah, Rachel, Rosie and Cynthia

Noah, Rachel, Rosie and Cynthia are Fall 2013 interns at TYO in Nablus.