Solutions

How to respond to students’ questions about Israel and Palestine

Anjum Peerbacos offers some short- and longer-term ideas to ensure all teachers are able to reassure students about a highly complex and sensitive subject

Anjum Peerbacos offers some short- and longer-term ideas to ensure all teachers are able to reassure students about a highly complex and sensitive subject

17 Oct 2023, 5:00

The world has witnessed shocking events unfold since last Saturday. Escalating violence in the Middle East is once again dominating the news.

As educators, we cannot work, live and learn in a silo, pretending our students are not affected or at least curious about such events. The classroom is precisely where they should be able to ask questions with the expectation of informed and knowledgeable answers. But how many of us can honestly say we feel confident and comfortable with this complex topic?

History is worth repeating

First, there is the question of the historical context of these attacks. This needs to be explained incredibly clearly and in sufficient detail. It isn’t just a matter of exercising great sensitivity, but also a great deal of knowledge of the region’s history. Indeed, one might argue that greater sensitivity can only come from being knowledge-rich.

Unfortunately, our young people are not always given the opportunity to learn about this region in our history curriculums. For all the diversity of periods of history we can teach in primary and secondary, there is no compulsion or statutory requirement to teach any other than the Holocaust.

Students can study the Ancient Egyptians, the Aztecs, the Tudors, the Stewarts and the Sioux tribe. However, their understanding of the British Empire is still inconsistent at best and largely absent in the worst-case scenarios.

Yet its consequences have largely shaped the world as we know it today. Without this fundamental understanding of its legacy, it is incredibly challenging to comprehend why we are where we are today, as a nation and globally.

As a result of its optionality as a topic, there are gaping holes in our historical understanding across the nation. And as any historian knows, you cannot understand the present (or gaze into the future) without an awareness of the past.

How to respond now

Brushing up every teacher’s knowledge of the Middle East in time to field the burning questions in our classrooms over the coming weeks is an unlikely ask (though it is undoubtedly a worthwhile CPD endeavour given the regularity with which conflict in the region flares up).

In the meantime, history teachers will be best placed to teach this important knowledge in the informed, impartial, balanced and age-appropriate way legally required of us all. Perhaps it’s their time to shine in assembly this week.

‘Fine, Anjum,’ I hear you say. ‘But I’m tutor/English teacher/pastoral lead. What should I say now?’

There are some handy quick guides out there that might be worth brushing up on. But honestly, if you don’t know, tell the students you don’t know. Please do not try and make up a version of the answers that they need. The situation is too sensitive.

One clear teachable moment here – for us and our students – is about news gathering. A lack of knowledge makes us susceptible to misinformation and disinformation, which always grow amid the fog of war – and especially so in our social media age. This makes it all the harder to exercise the necessary criticality about the content we are exposed to. This includes teaching resources.

As teachers, it should be easy at least to remind students that knowledge is power (which includes knowing what we don’t know). Inform yourselves together if you can, and in doing so model best practice. Access information from a variety of sources, ensuring each one is reputable and robustly fact-checked.

The same approach is crucial too in combating antisemitism and Islamophobia, which also heighten with every new Middle East conflict. Knowing what they are and how they manifest can protect us all from falling into that trap.

In the end, the big takeaways should always be that violence and war are never the solution. Everything should, can, and ultimately will be resolved with diplomacy. Peace is always the ultimate outcome.

And the best way to model that is to allow students to discuss these issues in an open manner as you learn collectively. We may not all know the history of Israel and Palestine, but we do all know when a conversation is uncivil or uniformed.

Latest education roles from

Electrical Installation Trainer

Electrical Installation Trainer

Barnsley College

Sessional Science Lab Technician

Sessional Science Lab Technician

Merton College

Sessional Lecturer – Plumbing

Sessional Lecturer – Plumbing

South Thames College

EA to the CEO & Senior Directors

EA to the CEO & Senior Directors

Haberdashers’ Academies Trust South

Chief Executive Officer Cornwall Education Learning Trust (CELT)

Chief Executive Officer Cornwall Education Learning Trust (CELT)

Satis Education

Head of Faculty (History and RS)

Head of Faculty (History and RS)

Ark Greenwich Free School

Sponsored posts

Sponsored post

How can we prepare learners for their future in an ever-changing world?

By focusing their curriculums on transferable skills, digital skills, and sustainability, schools and colleges can be confident that learners...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

Inspiring Education Leaders for 10 Years

The 10th Inspiring Leadership Conference is to be held on 13 and 14 June 2024 at the ICC in...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

Inspire creativity in your classroom. Sky Arts’ Access All Arts week is back!

Now in its third year, Access All Arts week is a nationwide celebration of creativity for primary schools (17-21...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

Unleash the Power of Sport in your setting this summer! National School Sports Week is back!

Unleash the Power of Sport this summer with National School Sports Week powered by Monster Kickabout! From 17-23 June,...

SWAdvertorial

More from this theme

Solutions

Academy trusts: From growing pains to gains

As more leaders consider growth, what do we know about how to do this well?

Jack Dyson
Solutions

Can the new teaching apprenticeship solve recruitment woes?

New route for those without an existing degree will be introduced next year

Freddie Whittaker
Solutions

How schools with the poorest intakes boosted progress

Heads explain how they improved behaviour, changed leadership and reached outside of the school gates to boost results

Samantha Booth
Solutions

School funding: Can a ‘magic formula’ cut spend but not standards?

Integrated curriculum financial planning has been around for years, but the government has increasingly seized on its benefits

John Dickens

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One comment

  1. Julie Chase

    It is impossible to teach about the history of Palestine and Israel without breaking the law. This is how democratically oppressed we are and why it’s no coincidence that children receive no rigorous education about the history of the British Empire.