Essay: Education in Israel, Not Advocacy, Belongs to the Class
It is important to adopt the position taken by the Center for Israel Education: educators should not use their forums to disseminate their political views or start controversy.
II’ve dealt with all kinds of conflict as an Israeli educator over the past 25 years, from the mad parent who barges in and says, âWhy do you have this map on your wall and not this map? To parents arguing in the carpool queue because they disagree about something that is going on or what someone has posted on Instagram.
Education in Israel could face even more pitfalls and political pressure this fall after the May conflict in Gaza and a new poll of American Jewish voters that found that 22% of all respondents believe Israel commits genocide against Palestinians and that 20% of respondents under 40 do not believe that Israel has the right to exist.
It is difficult to make the classroom a safe environment for such conversations if the home and community are not. This is why it is important to take the position we have taken at the Center for Israel Education: educators should not use their podiums to broadcast their political views or start controversy.
Our job is not to tell students what to think, but rather to teach them to think, an effort best accomplished by incorporating as many primary sources and as many different voices as possible.
Taking this apolitical stance, checking your prejudices at the threshold of the classroom, is a stimulating approach to education in Israel for teachers and students. Educators can explain to parents that their job is to enable students to think for themselves, assess sources, understand the differences between story and narrative and between competing narratives, and appreciate ideals. of a Jewish state and its realities, which are messy, complex and imperfect.
Israeli educators should establish a tone of respectful speech incorporating listening and critical thinking at the start of the school year. It’s okay to disagree with someone else’s opinions and ideas, as long as the discussion is based on the sources.
This is how we teach all other subjects. A literature student, for example, who wants to claim that Nietzsche or Sartre was a nihilist must provide evidence from texts, not just quote a parent, teacher, or social media influencer.
Educators should also help students understand the vagaries of vocabulary: which words are loaded and to whom? âOccupationâ means different things to different people, and there are reasons why some people speak of Judea and Samaria while others speak of the West Bank.
Vocabulary comprehension is a skill that must be taught, as is map reading and literary analysis. When we teach students these skills, we enable them to draw and defend conclusions based on documents that they themselves have reviewed.
This educational approach is very different from the advocacy model: âIf you hear X, you should say Yâ. My two children, who are now in college, would have rebelled if I had told them that. They would have done the opposite just because they were teenagers.
We cannot engage, empower, and prepare students for these sensitive conversations by teaching them automatic responses or bypassing the complexities altogether. This path leads students to conclude that their teachers lied to them and to believe in the worst accusations against Israel.
Instead, we educators must approach these difficult topics by modeling respectful and informed conversations regardless of personal opinions about, for example, whether Israel used disproportionate force in Gaza in May. We need to provide historical context and complexity to endow our students with resilience and help them become critical consumers of information so that the catchphrases they encounter on campus and on social media don’t resonate.
This effort cannot be limited to a single Judaic study hall; it must be anchored in the consciousness and the daily experiences of everyone in the school. This requires the support of non-Jewish educators and those who teach science and mathematics, literature and social studies. It involves school administrators, board members, rabbis and parents engaging in these same respectful and informed conversations and accepting that the best practice in education in Israel is to treat it as education. .
This is how we avoid the pitfalls and politicization of teaching about Israel and produce thoughtful Jewish adults who can tackle difficult questions rather than being drowned in competing narratives.
Tal Grinfas-David is the vice president of pre-college outreach and management initiatives for the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Israel Education in Atlanta and is a former Jewish school principal.