Palestinian Studies

2018 Workshop

Mezna Qato

Junior Research Fellow in the History of the Middle East, King's College, Cambridge

Schooling Stories Across a New Terrain

On 15 May 1948, a ten-year-old child woke to find a country had vanished from under her.  How she was made to believe that she was no longer who she thought she was, and that, anyway, only one man can save her, is the tale this paper seeks to tell.  Anchored in the story of the first geography primer printed for the Palestinian refugees under Hashemite rule, this paper utilises oral histories, archival ephemera, notebooks, planners, and Ministry and UNRWA/UNESCO files, to consider how Palestinians were instructed to teach other Palestinians how to be Jordanians, and in so doing, enter a logic of social and class aspiration against collective political desires.

It is a story of tale-weaving in classrooms, and how those tales were told, and how the telling was enacted, performed, subverted, modified, shrugged off or refused. It is also a story of the before, the small window in the midst of war, when Palestinians organised the very first classes in the camps and frontier villages, in the open air, without desks or blackboards, copy-books or pencils, run by literate fellow refugees and, most significantly, without required textbooks. These autonomous schools were the first and perhaps last time Palestinians more or less crafted their own education. They were the self-determined pedagogy foreclosed, gagged by humanitarian reflux and state imperative. In thinking through the mechanisms of that first moment of capture, this paper aims to reconsider the purchase of nationalist tropes on education and what, exactly, education means for liberation.

Mezna Qato is junior research fellow in the history of the Middle East at King's College, Cambridge, and a Spencer Fellow at the National Academy of Education. She is completing a book on the history of education for Palestinians after the Nakba.