New initiative provides staff and resources to boost Israel education in K-12 day schools

By Dr. Tal Grinfas-David

In a time when history is being rewritten by vocal interest-driven groups, the imperative “VeShinantam LeVanecha” (You shall teach your children diligently) has become more pressing than ever. Not only do our students encounter the typical online disinformation and the various narratives of the Arab-Israel conflict, but also the legislation of European elected officials disavowing any culpability or responsibility for the past. Against the overwhelming tide of so-called “fake news,” it is hard for students to discern truth from fiction and even harder for teachers to know what and how to teach about Israel.

The Center for Israel Education (CIE) has trained thousands of educators with effective strategies for teaching Israeli history, politics, economics, and culture. At the core of this instruction is the use of primary sources to tell the story of Jewish self-determination, state building, creativity and ingenuity. Now, through a generous grant, CIE is able to extend our impact to meet schools where they are and guide them to achieve new successes in the teaching and learning of Israel. Over the next three years, CIE will mentor the faculty of eight schools to enhance their teachers’ content knowledge and pedagogic approaches leading them to create new impactful Israel curricula for all ages. We will be visiting schools in the U.S and Canada to deliver customized professional development and resources for teachers of Judaics, Hebrew, social studies, science, art, and more.

When teachers of all subject areas, Jewish and non-Jewish, come together to create integrated units of study about Israel, it sends a powerful message to students and families that Israel is central to the school’s mission and purpose. This also provides opportunities for teaching high level critical thinking skills, as students learn to compare and contrast Israel’s history and political systems with their own. Finally, as graduates of Jewish day schools will engage in the difficult and nuanced conversations with those who wish to rewrite history, they will be able to say that they saw the actual document, photo, land deed, or other primary source to support them, rather than be swayed by memes or social media posts.

As we move forward and get to know the mission, administration and faculty of each school, we recognize the variety of challenges we face. First, some schools are more advanced than others in terms of what and how they are teaching about Israel. This requires careful analysis of existing curricula and where gaps exist. Second, schools, like many organizations, can be hesitant to initiate change. This can be exacerbated by concerns about parent political bias and community responses. Third, thinking differently about how Israel is woven into the fabric of the school may require leadership to think differently about some of their basic structures. For example, modifying the schedule to allow for common planning time among teachers of different divisions and disciplines may have a cascading impact on the typical master schedule. Despite these challenges, the schools we are working with have demonstrated a willingness to make major and minor changes, because they view their students’ Israel literacy as paramount.

This exciting project builds on the success of the annual CIE and Emory Institute for the Study of Modern Israel Educator Workshop. Now in its 17th year, more than 1,800 educators from across North America have participated in this intensive five-day seminar, reaching more than 360,000 students. The workshop is highly subsidized by The AVI CHAI Foundation and includes double occupancy lodging at a four-star hotel, kosher meals and snacks, and educational materials at no additional cost to participants.

When we teach our children diligently, Israel is taught year-round by all teachers and across all subjects, without bias or political leanings. Attention is given to our Jewish values and characteristics that sustain a dynamic collective and a valued identity. We are excited to partner with schools and educators seeking to fulfill their mission and purpose, preparing students for the increasingly challenging world they will face.

Dr. Tal Grinfas-David is Day School Education Specialist, at the Center for Israel Education.

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