Between the Lines: Textbook biases, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

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.




Separate but Equal? The Two School, One Roof Policy in Action

My last article concerned itself with ethnic and religious division in American schools, and how that division has been exploited by a political demagogue. It is, however, important to note that the United States isn’t alone in its unequal treatment of students. In the former Yugoslav republics of Bosnia & Herzegovina, students of different religions are taught under the same roof, but with significantly divided curriculums.

The subject first came to my attention in the 2014 Boston Globe article, entitled “Bosnia’s Segregated Schools.” The article discussed the concept of “two schools one roof,” a very real segregation policy enacted after the vicious civil war between the three major ethnic groups (Croats, Serbs, and Bosniaks, or Bosnian Muslims) in modern day Bosnia/Herzegovina. The Globe went on to discuss the implementation of integrated classes for the first time in some of these students lives. Many of the subjects taught in school would still be taught in the students’ mother tongues. But the integration program, sponsored by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, based off the contact theory of racial integration, hoped to use English as a middle ground to help students discuss difficult topics on an even playing field.

The Balkan Insight article, written in 2016, attests that the integration process hasn’t been successful, and the rights to learning ethnic history, religion, and language of all groups was not being successfully and adequately enforced. The article begins with a plea from local Bosniak groups, saying that their curriculum is being bulldozed by ethnic majorities, and requesting a new, dedicated Bosniak secondary school for their children. The insight that the BI article makes is the connection between political activism and the separate curriculums, as they pertain to student identity.

The political overtones of the ethnic and religious segregation of people within the same state is an eerie and extreme parallel to the difficulties experienced by minority students in our own country. The perceived inequality in both systems is troublesome, and leaves many questions about the political futures of Bosnia/Herzegovina and the United States.


Challenging the Conflict Discourse: Playground Polarization: Trump’s rhetoric, and the effect on youth development

The purpose of this project, initially, was to discover different views and interpretations of similar subjects in the news from differing news sources. As a member of the conflict and post-conflict education group, there have been many interesting and engaging articles about the struggles of students across traditional conflict zones around the world. As Evan described in his article on schools in Chicago, however, conflict zones might not be as foreign as we think. To complicate the matter further, I’ve decided to look at two articles investigating the “Trump Effect” on schools, and the conflict that has arisen from the rhetoric of the now President-elect.

The two articles, one by The Washington Post, the other by Al-Jazeera English, are similar in their subject matter, but, in my opinion, dissimilar in execution. The Washington Post article was a direct response to a more in-depth look at this phenomenon done by the Southern Poverty Law Center in April about the virulence of the political rhetoric in the Republican primary race. The Al-Jazeera piece was written in April as well, and has a deep and nuanced interpretation of the racial and ethnically charged attacks cropping up in schools across the country.

Al-Jazeera’s article was well balanced, and while it was clearly concerned with the safety and well-being of Islamic students and students of color, it pointed out that the rhetoric went both ways, identifying the term “Trump” as a new euphemism for “jerk” among school students. Another triumph of the article was the way in which it identified the vitriol as a travesty of the educational aspect of the political process. In it, the author quotes a source that states this education cycle, as a process for educating the future electorate, has only shown the cycle as a medium for hate speech, intolerance, and oppression.

Both articles frame the classroom as a new conflict area, a place where children are unsafe because of their heritage, appearance, or beliefs. The Al-Jazeera article, however, does a far more compelling job of investigating the ramifications to a future electorate, and the effects we will continue to see from both sides of the political aisle.


Myanmar’s Invisible Extermination: How News Media plays into Pre-conceived Notions

When it comes to the analysis of what new stories we see (or don’t see) in mass news media, I’ve often been an apologist for the business side of selection bias. I would often defend the coverage of violence in Western countries over the violence in countries of the East, both Near and Far, by arguing that people in the United States have a more vested interest in the goings on of Europe, and companies like CNN are driven by viewership, after all. However, this lack of information about the struggles and hardships of other peoples across the world, especially when those hardships can challenge the preconceptions that companies like CNN, NBC and Fox News cash in on, can be problematic. I can see a no more obvious case than the persecution of Muslims in the country of Myanmar.

Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country run by a President who was formerly a member of the ruling Military junta. However, also in Myanmar, lives a group of people who have been systematically disenfranchised, ostracized, and recently killed, for their religious beliefs: The Rohingya people. The Rohingya people, the Indo-Aryan Muslims who inhabit remote regions in Myanmar, have been barred from citizenship, victimized in the judicial system, and have become the targets of Buddhist nationalist violence, in varying degrees since Myanmar gained independence from Britain.

The point of this post is to bring light to the fact that there are people of many different cultures, religions, and backgrounds are both perpetrators and victims of hate crimes across the globe. These articles, detailing the victimization of Muslims, who are often portrayed as perpetrators of violent crimes, help us to see that alternative and non-Western news sources can give us views into conflict that we normally might never see. In essence, the news media, as a method of educating the public, is open to a wide variety of biases. This case, and these two articles, are strong indicators that a diverse news platform palate is essential if we want to have a better understanding of the world and the forces at play across the globe.





Germany’s Refugees: Applying a Divided Identity to Youth Development

While the two articles I chose to examine were contextually concerned with the asylum seekers from Syria in Germany, what they both chose to focus on was the waning German acceptance of these people into their society. The application of this disillusionment crisis to the development of the German and Syrian youth is a fascinating and troublesome exercise.


The Al-Jazeera English article framed the disillusionment as a process: the article indicated that much of the country had initially supported the influx of Syrian refugees, and that majority feeling has begun to change as time has worn on, and numbers have increased. The article even referenced assaults allegedly committed by asylum seekers as a reason that the German people have begun to lose their commitment to the cause of social and political freedom for the Syrian people.

The Washington Post, on the other hand, viewed the initial acceptance as a far less complete picture of German society as a whole. The way they framed their article indicated that the German people had been divided since from the beginning, and that the more tangible distaste for the Syrian refugees represented less of a polar change, and more of a gradual shift in views of the victims and Germany’s responsibility to them. The inclusion of data regarding self-identification as a global citizen was introduced into the article as well, indicating the German people’s shift to isolationism. An intriguing connection the article makes is Germany’s allegedly self-imposed duty to help those escaping conflict, to their terrible past in the Second World War. These two conflicting identities are serving to divide the German people on the issue of refugee absorption.

These articles don’t interrogate issues of post conflict education outright; however, they do introduce dynamics which would certainly be problematic to educating tolerance for these two groups of people. On one side, German children are being raised in an environment that is growing increasingly hostile to the idea of foreign non-citizens being granted asylum, while being told by the world and many in the older generation that past atrocities demand they be accepting. On the other, Syrian children seeking asylum are growing up in a country that is divided in its response to their presence. How will these children cope with feeling like an unwelcome burden, and at the same time a quasi-contractual obligation? The development of both of these groups of children will play an interesting role in Germany’s diversity and tolerance for generations to come.


Al Jazzera English:

The Washington Post: