Interview with Dr. Uki Maroshek-Klarman, Executive Director of the Adam Institute for Democracy and Peace in Jerusalem and creator of the "Betzavta-Adam Institute's facilitation method".
Anna Kudarewska: Can you please share a bit about "Betzavta-Adam Institute's facilitation method" and how it's used.
Uki Maroshek-Klarman: The "Betzavta-Adam Institute's facilitation method" deals primarily with education for democracy and peace. It‘s relevant, useful and applicable from kindergarten through high school in the formal and informal educational systems as well as for groups working in civil society, NGOs promoting human rights and democracy, communal leaders that encourage communities to help themselves, improve their quality of life, etc... The method is equally suited to young children up to the elderly. It‘s informed by philosophy, sociology and education. The notion was to enable everyone to take part in discussions about democratic values. How can we help understand folks democracy and have intrinsic motivation to promote it in a way that's accessible to all? Of course, the question arises: what should be taught if we want people to be more democratic? If we want everyone involved, we need to create a method that can facilitate that; not force people that are highly educated to lower their standard of teaching or study, and concurrently share their knowledge and thoughts with those that have fewer tools to understand/share their opinions and ideas. Through the "Betzavta – Adam Institute's facilitation" method, everyone partakes from their vantage point of understanding. The activities and games are "Betzavta" tools. You take part in activities that force you to reflect on what you're doing, understand things through this reflection, grasp the principles of democracy and how you can incorporate them into your private life, social life and politics. The activities are designed to enable you to communicate with your peers in the group from an equal standpoint. Games are played together in separate groups of different ages, interest or motivations. We can really learn about ourselves and our peers in the group. From the outset, it's about teaching, educating for democracy and peace.
I wrote "Betzavta" when I was at university, teaching political philosophy. I noted that philosophers use complicated language to describe very simple phenomena. That made it difficult for people to share their opinions or take part in the study. It's critical to translate complexity into simple language; "Betzavta- Adam Institute's facilitation method" is also about that complexity. If you know something very well, you can explain it simply. That‘s one of the assumptions.
In the first "Betzavta-Adam Institute's facilitation method" book translated into Polish, you give a definition of democracy, which is uncommon. We colloquially understand democracy as a process of voting and having elected representatives that make decisions for the society in a given country. Please share the definition of democracy used by "Betzavta".
When we talk about democracy, there is great confusion between means and goals. Most of the programs I know address the means as if they were goals. That confusion leads to people finding it difficult to differentiate between what's important and what‘s less important. What can be changed and what we should be very careful about. The main thing is not institutions of democracy, but rather democratic values and the way we want to share our lives. If we understand values, we can consider best practices to promote them. Democratic institutions are partly the answer. In my opinion, democracy is about having equal rights to freedom for every person and group. Groups can be cultural groups, national groups, international groups. But we're talking about equality between individuals and sub-groups and large groups as well. If we understand that it's about equality and freedom, that produces the question mark: what are the best institutions or processes that enable us to treat each other equally and live as free agents and people all over? That's very important for democracy education, but also for politicians and citizens to know because it helps us understand that sometimes direct democracy will be great at achieving equality and freedom and in other instances, you need representatory democracy. That doesn't mean direct democracy is bad or the opposite. It means that institutions are not the primary thing we're talking about; they‘re a means to bring into reality the things we're talking about. "Betzavta – Adam Institute's facilitation method" is about ensuring that we know the meaning of those values. It's very important to know the different meanings and respond to the situation at hand, consider the optimal way to act to ensure our equality and freedom. On the one hand, it's very malleable, open to change; on the other hand it's very closed because the goal is very specific and understandable.
In 2020 the Krzyżowa Foundation and Adma’s Institute organized a seminar for Polish and German educators from formal and informal settings. What issues do you think ought to be discussed among Polish and German educators? What issues did you propose for this seminar?
We're dealing with equality between individuals and groups. What can they take and learn from each other? When we bring groups together, it's important to consider their democracies in their respective countries, learn about the other's democracy and see what can they take and learn. Bad experience and good experience are both very important to promote the process of learning one from the other. When bringing groups together, we first have to enable them to know each other. That's just good for the process. But then we want them to know how previous contact, agreements and disagreements create/perpetuate inequality between them. I'll give an example. The issue of stereotypes and how to deal with them is very relevant in a meeting between Poles and Germans. Stereotypes are not individual; they're about groups. The Adam Institute for Democracy and Peace‘s method has a unique way to address stereotypes that differs from the other programs. Certainly, there are some well-known methods for dealing with stereotypes. But we've found that some do not facilitate promoting equality; they do just the opposite. At the Adam Institute, we encourage participants to share criticism about stereotypes and about our methods for fighting them. That is very important. The idea is to deal with group and individual stereotypes, mindful of our goal to promote equality and freedom.
Another thing about facilitating groups from different places, especially those previously in conflict, is the way they address the past and how they tell the story of their nation and the other when they're together. Significantly, the way we deal with the past can either help us promote democracy or do just the opposite. In those binational meetings, we try to explore each group's narrative as a separate group and what narrative they have about their common history with the other. It's critical to understand the conflict about narratives because we tell ourselves stories that sometimes don't reflect what really happened. Rather, they're more about justifying actions in the present as we compete with or remain in conflict with the other group. We want our participants to realize that they can use narratives not only as means to "win" the conflict but also to see reality's complexity in the past, present and future. I'll give an example from our region: when we talk about sharing narratives between Palestinians and Israelis, we generally see a past describing wars. If you tell yourself and future generations only that information, the picture in their mind is of "other" as enemy rather than as a potential life partner. What about if you teach them how to deal with narratives differently—for instance, what happened between wars? You're stuck in the story of the potential of living together as not utopic. Muslims and Jews lived together in many countries very positively over the course of history. But those historical parts are not being told; each side uses the historical narrative to win the fight against the other. Groups from a joint conflictual history need to aware how we can reframe narratives, not in order to forget what happened in the past but in order to see what obfuscated points are not enabling us to communicate and cooperate. The second part of the meeting deals with the past and narratives. The third part focuses more on the present. If the meeting involves neighboring countries like Germany and Poland, there are democratic questions where answers depend on each other and affect both sides.
I wanted to ask you to share how it was to run the seminar that we co-organized, to be the lead person of a specific Polish-German group. Many were already involved in Polish-German dialogue in some fashion because at the Krzyzowa Foundation, we attract people who are interested in Polish-German relationships. Can you please share your reflections?
U: What I saw during that Polish–German seminar was very interesting. First, it was very clear that each group harbors a very strong stereotype about the other that needed to be addressed. We also found out that both groups experience deep feelings of inequality. It was important to be mindful of that, discuss and see how and if we want to deal with it. It was very important to be conscious of these group stereotypes rather than individual stereotypes. And then the inequality felt between those two groups. It is important to know it, be aware of it and address it. Another thing I've learned is how difficult it is for groups to deal with their past. As separate groups and also as those who share a joint past. I think it's of value to deal with joint narratives, not only the separate ones-because it has a profound impact on relations between the nations. And also about the way in which both regimes use them for political reasons rather than realizing what the past was really about. In essence, dealing with the past is important to promote better relations between nations. It's also important to not deny things that happened in the past, which we should remember as democratic people, so that we can learn from the past. I found it very difficult for the groups to learn/internalize this issue — underscoring that we need to invest more. I found it compelling to deal with the issue of immigration between nations. As noted, those decisions are relevant to both groups. The participants were relatively young. What will happen at their borders will impact upon their quality of life. The freedom to move from one place to the other, the impact of this openness, proximity, how it's going to impact them. How free they'll be to earn salaries if they want to move or don't want to move from one place to the other. I found the discussion on immigration very productive and very important.
What about schools: how is "Betzavta-Adam Institute's facilitation method" used in schools, working with children and youth?
There are two different aspects. One is the question educators address while doing their job and how it relates to democratic principles, and in what way democratic principles can aid educators and teachers in their profession. The Adam Institute for Democracy and Peace has seminars for teachers about educational democracy, democratic pedagogy and democratic education. For instance, freedom of speech in class is a very important topic. We want all of our students to participate, but we also want them to not incite or offend each other; we want to promote tolerance to listen to views deemed illegitimate. We want them to be able to do that as people. and it's useful for the learning process overall.
The current methods used in schools to educate for democracy are very few, outdated and not especially creative. Besides, there are so many other ways to educate for democracy, not just at school. This process ought to be rooted in what we said at the start of of our discussion, which is to know the language of democracy: What is equality, liberty? What are human rights, student rights, children's rights? Teachers can really understand democracy and translate it at school. Of course, one needs to be mindful of the constraints of age, level of learning, etc... Children need to understand what's going on outside of school. Not just to watch television with no understanding of what's being said. One needs at least basic knowledge to be critical of what they're watching. To say "yeah, I agree with that, no, I disagree". Not just form an opinion because the politician is not nice enough or handsome enough. Rather, to be critical from the democratic point of view. Students lacking this knowledge hold positions without knowledge. Ignorance about politics isn't helpful for a citizen's quality of life. That's also part of what we're doing. All in all, it's about pedagogy. It's about democratic institutions that exist at school, creating new and different ways to educate for democracy. It's about understanding how teachers ought to deal with current events outside of school. Should they speak to their students? How can they do so fairly? Teachers can have seminars more relevant to them, e.g. history teachers. We go back to narratives and how we deal with history. At the same time, how do you use literature? Should you use literature for such things? We invite teachers to deal with these matters, with amazing results. From first grade, children fashion their own institutions very creatively. That's amazing. One city in Israel created five new models of democracy. Concurrently, they learned very well how to deal with their own needs at school. They're participating in the thinking process of creating solutions to problems they have as children. The results are amazing, incredibly creative; they understand things teachers assume they cannot grasp. The Adam Institute has a "Betzavta" book of seventy activities teaching democracy to children aged six to twelve. They understand the topics perfectly; everyone experiences power relations in the family with siblings. And they know what's happening at school. The book has drawn much praise. It would be thrilling if it could be translated into Polish.
That's our goal — bring more Betzavta methods to Poland! Thank you very much for the interview.