It sounds a bit like something from Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, but Queen’s University’s Tony Gallagher has been in Israel to discuss shared education. The idea is that as shared (not to be confused with integrated?) education helps bring people together here, it could equally work in the Middle East.
I’ve got mixed feelings on this one, but the pros and the cons aren’t mixed in equal proportions. A small pro part of me says that when you get to know people, you’re more sympathetic to them even if you still reject their politics. To that extent, people who make up their minds about the worth of political thinking on the basis of how much they like someone as an individual - they’d probably be helped by shared/integrated education.
On the other hand a large con part of me says that if shared/integrated education made a difference, we’d have a changed society by now. We don’t. In fact, divisions and hatreds are deeper than ever.
When I was part of the working world of education, I watched as some people built successful careers out of a search for peace within the educational process. Cynically or naively, they argued that education had a major part to play in resolving the conflict. It’s true that it didn’t make it worse - visiting Catholic and Protestant schools on a regular basis and sitting in on classes, I never once heard a teacher so much as hint at sectarianism. The reverse, if anything. So I suppose education at least didn’t add to the flames. And of course no less a person than Padraig Pearse believed passionately in the worth of education: his book The Murder Machine is well worth reading still for its criticisms of what we accept as ‘good’ education.
But clearly Pearse didn’t believe education would change the Ireland in which he lived, otherwise he wouldn’t have gone out in Easter Week to meet his death. Education is a vital part of any society, but it’s impotent in terms of who governs and who controls. Good teachers, by and large, are seen as those who follow the rules. And part of the rules over the past forty years has been that education could change things here, because the problem is really a sectarian one and not a political one. Change the way we regard each other and political structures become irrelevant.
Gallagher on his Tel Aviv visit says he can’t understand why Hamas keeps firing missiles, since this only shows their impotence compared to the Israeli army and brings destruction on the people of Gaza. Maybe they do it, Tony, because they believe that the imprisoned people of the Gaza Strip, treated with contempt for decades, want to make some gesture of defiance, as the bully that is Israel beats them to the ground and starts kicking.