Growing up, textbooks always represented a bastion of knowledge to me. A physical embodiment of truth. Because the information was on paper, in ink, it carried the weight of permanency that leant itself to true and irrefutable fact. Through high school and undergraduate study, this idea was violently changed; I learned quickly that everything had a purpose and even (sometimes especially) textbooks could have motivations. The final blog subject that I chose to focus on was the outcome of a 2013 study by the United States’ State Department, that analyzed over 150 textbooks from Israel and Palestine, and determined that both sides had severe biases against the other.
This post was inspired by an article in the Los Angeles Times that was informed by the outcome of this extensive textbook study. The results found that the likelihood of extremist statements increased from state funded Israeli books, with a 49% incidence rate, to Orthodox Israeli textbooks with a 73%, to Palestinian textbooks with an 84% incidence rate. The LA Times article was also very supportive of the research methodology, which had a Palestinian and an Isreali professor investigate their own country’s textbooks, then peer-check each other’s findings to eliminate biases. A Yale based researcher oversaw the entire research operation.
The Jerusalem Post wrote about the issue, as well. In their article, as well as in the article by the LA Times, they addressed the fact that, before the findings were published, the Israeli Ministry of Education rejected the study. They believed that Israeli textbooks were so far superior to the book produced by Palestine that any attempt to analyze them as equal was a fallacy and inherently unjust. They also felt that the methodology was biased and may have excluded several instances of bias in Palestinian school media through the method used to select textbooks.
As an integral element of education, educational literature’s biases and shortcomings need to be met head on; it is problematic that both groups painted “the other” so irredeemably poorly, but more so that a ministry of education as important as that of the Israeli government would be so unwilling to admit the need for change. This exchange can be seen, more broadly, as an indictment of the politicization of education material, especially in the context of foreign relations.