Linda Bevis wears many hats. She is a Washington state resident, an activist, a lawyer, a mother and a teacher.
And for the past few years, she’s worn a hat that combines many of her previous hats. The 53-year-old Bevis is the force behind the Palestine Teaching Trunk, a one-of-a-kind tool designed to bring Palestine into American high school classrooms.
Bevis’ project is springing into action at a time when the Palestine solidarity movement is growing in the face of spirited opposition–opposition that has also faced off against Bevis. The group StandWithUs has attacked Bevis, with members writing blog posts against her project. Bevis says that the group has pushed for a workshop on the trunk to be canceled.
In 2009, Bevis began work on the “trunk,” both a literal trunk full of educational materials and an online tool teachers can use. (The word “trunk” is often used in education circles to mean a collected group of materials for teaching on one topic.) Three years later, the Palestine Teaching Trunk was up and running. Its promise is to teach high school students about a topic that teachers normally don’t delve too deep into. Bevis’ materials detail how they align with state and national education standards.
The Palestine Teaching Trunk, Bevis says, is an initiative trying to educate Americans about Israel/Palestine and U.S. involvement with the conflict.
“I think a lot of how the United States is viewed in the world has to do with how its involved with Israel/Palestine,” Bevis, who is active with the Seattle-based Palestine Solidarity Committee, told me over the phone. “So I think for students to actually understand anything about America’s foreign policy or anything about how other countries view us, or anything about why 9/11 happened, for instance, they need to understand something about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
She is well positioned to make that happen. From 1991-1993, Bevis worked and lived in the Palestinian territories, where she was a human rights lawyer with Al-Haq. When she returned to the U.S., she became involved with local activism to raise awareness about Palestinians. And from roughly 1996-2007–with a few years off after she became a mother–she was a high school teacher. She has also given many public talks on Palestine and co-created a DVD called “Palestine For Beginners.”
Currently, Bevis is a part-time teacher at area colleges teaching English as a second language. It is in that capacity that she got the idea to create the teaching trunk.
In 2009, Bevis was using a teaching trunk on the Holocaust–which she called a “wonderful” tool–to educate Japanese students at the University of Washington.
“I thought, ‘oh, it’s too bad there’s not a curriculum that could be free to teachers on Israel/Palestine and we could include hands on materials and put it in a trunk and load it up. And that was the moment I started thinking about it,” she explained.
Bevis then began a three-year journey to create the Israel/Palestine teaching trunk. She asked teachers who had taught on the topic for ideas and materials, and also added her own. The result was hundreds of pages of information, lesson plans and suggestions for outside resources.
One teacher I spoke with told me that the trunk was “valuable because it has items in it that are difficult to come by in mainstream history lessons.” The teacher asked to remain anonymous because of the charged nature of the topic.
It’s clear that Bevis is consciously trying to bring the Palestinian narrative into high school classrooms. But it’s also clear that Bevis is offering materials that convey both Israeli and Palestinian perspectives. She said that the curriculum can be taught using frames of “competing narratives” or human rights.
So far, the teaching trunk has had limited success. Two teachers in Washington high schools have taught using the trunk. Other teachers may have downloaded the material from the website.
But even though Bevis’ project has had limited reach, pro-Israel groups have taken notice, calling the project an inflammatory piece of propaganda.
StandWithUs, the right-wing group that works closely with the Israeli government, has kept a close eye on Bevis. Last October, Robert Wilkes, a member of StandWithUs’ advisory board, harshly criticized the Palestine Teaching Trunk for being a “ruse” that is “intended to make Jews suffer.” (Wilkes was at the center of a controversy in November when he wrote a Times of Israel blog post calling Palestinians “bloodthirsty” and Black leaders in the U.S. “con artists.”)
Three potential domain names for the site–palestineteachingtrunk.org, palestineteachingtrunk.com and palestineteachingtrunk.net–were registered by Rob Jacobs, StandWithUs’ Northwest regional director.
And last fall, Bevis taught a workshop for social studies teachers in Washington about how to use the teaching trunk and how it aligns with national and state standards. In the days leading up to the workshop, Bevis said, StandWithUs lobbied the Washington State Council for the Social Studies, which organized the conference, to cancel her workshop. While the council did not do that, they did allow StandWithUs to run their own workshop at the conference. And a handful of members showed up to Bevis’ workshop and asked questions that “slowed” the conversation down, Bevis said.
StandWithUs’ Jacobs did not return a request for comment.
Bevis says the critics of her project are misrepresenting what she is trying to do.
“They’re not acknowledging that simply by providing at least two sides I’m actually providing more balance than they want to see because there’s been a big imbalance in schools and in general society and mainstream media, about talking just about the Israeli government perspective,” she said. “That’s changing, and the Palestine Teaching Trunk is part of what’s changing.”