are Us: Symbols, Stories and Making the Window Bigger
you know how the Dead Sea got its name?
Can you imagine twenty-three different explanations
for why it's called "Dead"?
A grade 3-4 class in a New York City public school
did.........in under five minutes.......and every idea
was clever and imaginative. Here are some highlights from their remarkable
demonstration of quick thinking:
nothing alive in it so they called it Dead."
really polluted...people didn't care for it and so it
are tombs with mummies surrounding this sea."
might have been an underwater burial place."
in the desert where it's too hot for anything to be
must be some legend about it or a historical battle
that happened nearby."
..."I know! It's full of sharks so that everyone who
swims there ends up dead." (This comment elicited a loud chorus of "NOOOO! Then it would be the Red Sea because of
all the blood in the water.")
summer my 10 year old daughter, Chloe, and I had the
great good fortune to visit the schools and organizations
in the Middle East that had partnered with OTHERS ARE
US during the pilot phase of Imagining You and Your
I told students we met that the most frequent
question American children had when they looked at a
map of the Middle East/North Africa region for the first
time was "Is the Red Sea really red?" The question immediately asked
in reply was "Don't they also ask if the Dead
Sea is really dead?" And thats how the 23 explanations came
being fun and acquainting children with places they've
never heard of, it's easy to see how a simple activity
like this one can generate a science exploration, a
creative writing activity or a research project. And for schools that love the arts, there's
a musical theater production or a puppet show just waiting
ARE US created Imagining You and Your World to serve a dual purpose.
The first is to promote children as leaders in
building bridges of communication and tolerance between
people in the United States and the Middle East/North
second is to develop a learning-saturated program showcasing
our world as a vast learning-laboratory and research
struggle to create meaningful "real-life"
curricula... so why not go to the source! Can you imagine
those 3rd and 4th grade
Yorkers actually getting to know a child who lives near
the Dead Sea and who has, maybe, taken a float in it? Excitement, awe and curiosity are what
I imagine— not hatred, fear or stereotyping. And
don't you think these children would be happy to learn
I spend time at a participating school in New York City,
I know that something right is happening through Imagining
You and Your World.
We've put a little window in a thick, solid wall
and our children are eager to look through.
We at OTHERS ARE US hope to turn this little
window into one with a broad and expansive view, making
it easier to see more clearly and fully what our world
is about. And
we're inviting you to help by participating in two new
Unfinished Story and A New Language
You and Your World
is in large part about adults listening to the voices
of children as they explore and learn to shape their
world and our future. And that's what I did during my
visit to Jordan, Israel, Occupied Palestinian Territories
and Egypt—listen to children. There were two ideas that I heard over and over,
which have now become part of our forums for the 2003-2004
school year. The first is Start a Story, Finish
and the second is A Language for All.
Start a Story, Finish a Story
children from different parts of the world complete
a story written by another child who shared the beginning
of his/her story but kept the ending secret. Through
this forum, children who have never met and who are
from diverse cultural backgrounds focus their thoughts
and creativity on a common topic. Will all the endings
be similar, will they be completely different, will
they reflect cultural differences, different flora and
fauna and geographical characteristics like the climate
or desert? The activity promises to be fun and the results
will undoubtedly be surprising and eye-opening.
inaugurate the forum, OTHERS ARE US chose an illustrated
story, A Tale of Two Frogs, written by a 12 year old student.
It's about two frogs who are tired of being green
and long for a change. If your school or youth organization is
interested in participating in this activity, please
contact OAU at firstname.lastname@example.org
and we will send you the first five pages of the story.
The more children who participate, the more fun we will
all have. We would like to have stories in English, Arabic and Hebrew.
1: Once upon a time in a beautiful Green
field lived two frogs, Croaker and his wife Green Paw.
Both of them had been green all their lives.
Paw chose a red tulip for a .dress
and a mushroom top for a hat. When she was
all dressed up, she admired herself in the mirror
and thought, "I always knew frogs should
OTHERS ARE US
The second comment echoed by children in every school
we visited was "Why can"t there be just one
language for us all? It would make things so much easier!" We have the beginnings of this "one
world language" all around us... symbols, a language
in pictures that mean the same things to people everywhere.
We want to take this beginning and expand it.
an old cliché but when children are struggling
with literacy skills, learning a second language or
don't share a common language, a picture really is worth
a thousand words.
In A Language for All,
we invite students to find commonly used symbols in
the world around them, establish new symbols based on
their own culture and even invent a few of their own.
Here are three that we’ve added to our
dictionary—one commercial symbol and two that
children extracted from their artwork.
Ancient and traditional peoples evolved highly sophisticated
pictorial languages, like the hieroglyphics of the ancient
are incorporating those into our visual language as
well. Once we have gathered enough symbols,
with their meanings, and shared them in English and
Arabic, we will create and exchange visual messages
and other artwork to discover how we can understand
one another without words.
- . _
contribute to the creation of this language of peace
and tolerance by sending symbols as you find or invent
them to email@example.com. Both projects will be ongoing and we hope
to expand them to more corners of the world over time.
additional information about OTHERS ARE US or Imagining
You and Your World, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
or visit our web site, http://www.othersareus.org. (We have a new look
thanks to webmaster, David A. Hirsch, who is donating
his time and expertise to OAU!)
Are Us by Tariq A. Al-Maeena
OTHERS ARE US,
Swierzbinski, November 18, 2003