Debates can be informative and rewarding to those who love arguing about even the most trivial of topics, but also difficult if you’re not that type of person. But what if you were to have a debate on issues with students from the other side of the world? This is exactly the task that JAC Humanities professor, Alan Weiss, has put his class up to in his course, The Struggles of Ideas in Modern Drama. In a series of web conferences held on April 10th, 17th and upcoming on May 1st, JAC students discussed various ethical issues examined in three Israeli feature films with teacher training students from Kaye Academic College in Israel. Between April 10th and April 14th through open forums called Moodle, Kaye Academic students were also interviewed about their lives and feelings about topics in the films. So, to understand more about this project, we asked Dr. Weiss some questions:
Q1. What brought you the idea to have this international classroom?
A1. I organized a trip to Israel with Geoff Cook of the English Department and two close friends of mine from Germany, one of whom taught English as a second language to students in a program at his college to train early education teachers. The school that he found that most closely met his needs was Kaye Academic College. So, I contacted the college and Liron Shokty, the head of the English Department and a teacher and organizer of the college’s multicultural program, to set up a meeting and it led to this project.
Q2. What was your purpose in doing this?
A2. I think that there is something special about Israel because of its historical and religious significance for various religious groups. So, my purpose with the project was to further examine this with my students.
Q3. How do you think this is different from a regular in-class debate?
A3. Making contact with students from a foreign country takes the classroom debate out of the realm of theory and abstraction and brings it down to people’s real life experiences. Because JAC students have developed intense and meaningful Moodle contact with Bedouin and Jewish Kaye Academic students around important and controversial issues, this is an experience they’ll never forget in their entire lives.
This was the first day of the debates, and as usual, during the first few days of getting to know people, everybody was getting acquainted to each other, so it was a quiet environment. However, Professor Weiss kept the ball going as each side exposed their assigned view on the movie. Go, Live and Become is a movie about a black Christian Ethiopian child who was sent to a Jewish family in Israel where he was subject to both racism and support. From there, both Kaye Academic and JAC students shared personal testimonies about their own experiences with racism. One of the most memorable moments was when Brenda Rowe, a Pedagogical Counsellor at the College, talked about the importance of having a platform to talk about issues like racism and that personally she felt she has faced more racial discrimination in Canada than in Alabama.
On the second day of the web conference, the participants discussed the movie Sandstorm, which depicts the life of Bedouin women in polygamous marriages. As some Kaye Academic students were Bedouin or had known people who had personal experience with polygamy, this gave the JAC students an opportunity to hear firsthand their stories, instead of only reading about them. Due to the subject matter, the discussions were, at times, heated with back and forth disputation between students and teachers alike. Nevertheless, the debate revealed many different stances that exist on the issue of polygamy and its practice.
In the future, Dr. Weiss hopes to conduct a similar project with another Israeli college or even with an Indigenous school in Canada to further broaden the discussion of sensitive, contentious, and meaningful topics in different international contexts.
Kimberly Oileng and Connor Sin-Chan
Staff Writer and Assistant Editor-in-Chief
Originally Published in Bandersnatch Vol. 47 Issue 13 on April 25, 2018