As the JVP member who helped develop the materials for Teachers for Social Justice’s workshop on teaching Palestine, I’d like to correct a few errors which have been commonly reported about this story.
On May 4, Teachers for Social Justice, the Us Palestinian Community Network, and Jewish Voice or Peace gave a workshop on Palestine in the school curriculum, in response to a professional development training from the Institute for Curriculum Services. ICS is an initiative of the Jewish Community Relations Council, a lobbying group promoting “effective Israel advocacy.” and has been pushing state departments of education to adopt their curriculum rationalizing the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Our workshop looked at a variety of curricula: from Israeli advocacy organizations like ICS, Stand With Us, and the Anti Defamation League; but also from Jewish organizations like Reframing Israel, an association of rabbis who developed a dual Palestinian/Israeli narrative curriculum specifically for Jewish children; and the If Not Now liberation syllabus created by young Jews to model for Jewish schools, camps and youth groups the necessity of engaging with the reality of the Occupation. The If Not Now resources were submitted by Rabbis, teachers, parents, journalists and other members of the Jewish community. Our workshop resource list included materials from the Middle East Children’s Alliance, the Peace Research Institute in the Middle East, the American Friends Service Committee, and the Institute for Middle East Understanding, as well as a variety of Palestinian organizations.
The workshop was so successful that we decided to organize a summer Inquiry to Action Group discussion, or ItAG for teachers on the same theme. ItAGs are not “courses”, they are not part of any school districts curriculum or professional development program. ItAGs gather educators, activists and others to study a topic and collectively create an action around that area of study, consistent with TSJ’s principles of education that is pro-justice, anti-racist, multicultural/multilingual, and grounded in the experiences of students and their communities.Recent ItAGs have looked at Islamophobia , policing in Chicago, and US relations with Honduras.
A staff member at Niles Skokie District 219 emailed the Director of Equity a list of 4 TSJ summer ItAGs , including the one on Palestine, and suggested they be included in a list of summer offerings for teachers. Then, as you know the District was inundated with angry calls and messages, not only from district residents but around the country, accusing us of anti semitism, creating a pro-terrorist propaganda exercise, and the veneration of mass murderers. Predictably, the mere mention of the words “Palestine” and “occupation” were described as threatening and as “making Jewish students feel unsafe”.
None of the organizations that called for the elimination of the ItAG asked to see any of our materials; neither did anyone at District 219. The Teaching Palestine ItAGs was de-listed solely because of its subject matter and perspective. We find it interesting that our ItAG on Palestine was de-listed for being “one sided” while the district considers training materials from Stand With us and the Anti Defamation League, two organizations whose central mission is advocacy for Israel.
I’m happy to say that the ItAG will still take place; in fact it is completely full, (the publicity we received probably helped).