07 SES 13 B, Religious Diversity and Interreligious Dialogue
Controversial Public Issues (CPI) are defined as relating to phenomena on which social opinions are divided, whereby different groups in society offer distinct interpretations and solutions (Lieb, 1998). On the one hand, studies have indicated the many benefits that discussions of CPI have for students’ tolerance, critical thinking and for society as a democracy (Hess, 2009; Parker, 2012; Tannebaum, 2013). On the other hand, teachers are ambiguous about discussing CPI and sometimes even reluctant (Rossi, 2006; Bekerman, 2016; Author & Author, 2018). Teachers often feel unqualified to discuss CPI in the classroom, and the more current the topic, the more difficult teachers find it to conduct a discussion (Oulton, Day, Dillon & Grace, 2004). Teachers often note the difficulty to anticipate the outcomes of such discussions, and that students habitually come up with a variety of biases and unexpected interpretations (Barton & McCully, 2007).
In recent years, teachers found themselves judged and criticized in the media and in the public eye for expressing their opinions on CPI in class. In December 2016, a Canadian teacher was dismissed after a female student complained that he had expressed his opposition to abortion in a law class (Blatchford, 2016). The teacher reported that he had brought up his own view of abortion to illustrate the gap that often exists between private morality and the law. For the 2019 legislative session, a Republican member of the Arizona House of Representatives has introduced a bill that would explicitly ban teachers from endorsing political issues in the classroom (Altavena, 2018).
Teachers worldwide have to face CPI in the classroom. The issues may be different in different communities and may differ in intensity. The issues may be global (environmental issues, immigrants) or local such as the Jewish—Palestinian conflict, which is the focus of our study. The rift between the Israeli-Jewish majority and the Israeli–Palestinian minority is one of Israel’s defining characteristics (Paul-Binyamin & Reingold, 2014). The relationships between the two populations are complex due to the occupied territories, where the Palestinians seek independence. Israeli-Palestinians are formally equal-rights-citizens holding Israeli passports, and the tension between Israeli Arabs and Jews is predominantly around equality (Cohen, 2017).
Teachers face many unique challenges when discussing Jewish-Arab relations in class. As part of the wave of separatism world-wide (Hirschl, 2018), the Israeli Knesset has lately legislated the nation-state law that specifies the nature of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and further divides and alienates the Arab minority (Knesset, 2018). Along a similar vein, Israeli public support for a two-state solution has been found to be at its lowest in nearly 20 years, especially among youths (Steinmetz, 2018). Moreover, the Israeli education system is mostly segregated, especially when it comes to Jews and Arabs. Accordingly, Jewish students learn only in Hebrew, and do not usually encounter Arab students or Arab peers for that matter until they reach adulthood.
Israeli teachers’ attitudes toward discussing Jewish-Arab relations in class has been studied on a large scale before. Most Israeli teachers were not aware of their right to conduct such discussions in class, not to mention knowing its merit (Author & Author, 2018). In this study we sought to learn about Jewish teachers’ experience when discussing Jewish-Arab relations in class. We explored the triggers to such discussions, whether teachers initiated discussions or reacted to them, what strategies teachers employed when these discussions surfaced, and how they experienced the outcome of the discussions.
As part of a wider research, teachers were asked to describe a significant event in which they dealt with a CPI related to Jewish-Arab relations in the classroom, and to describe it briefly. Of the 1625 teachers who responded to a quantitative online questionnaire, 405 answered this single qualitative question. The research employed a qualitative methodology to analyze the 387 teacher answers that were usable. The teachers’ answers were uploaded to qualitative analysis software (Atlas.ti, version 7.5.6.) and analyzed according to Braun and Clarke’s (2016) theme analysis. The authors first read all the materials several times and immersed themselves in the data. Next, the authors generated initial codes, identifying themes, reviewing and revising themes, and refining themes and subthemes. In order to enhance internal coherence and consistency, the authors used a constant comparative approach.
Four main themes emerged in the qualitative analysis: 1) context, 2) discussion triggers, 3) teacher strategies, and 4) outcomes. The context included teacher and student attitudes toward the ‘other’, emotionally-laden content and the discussion arena (e.g., in class or outdoors). The main triggers were: current affairs (e.g., terrorist attack), content studied (e.g., history), and direct Arab-Jewish interactions in the school context (e.g. an Arab student in a Jewish classroom). Many teacher strategies were identified and are still in the process of comparison and further thematic analysis. Notably, 88 teachers employed the strategy of elevating the discourse to a conceptual level. 73 teachers used the strategy of toning down opinions by presenting a wider array of views, and 54 teachers used a proactive strategy of promoting a shared life between Jews and Arabs. When it comes to the discussion outcomes, many teachers reported that the discussions were hard to handle due to the outburst of emotions. Nonetheless, 77 teachers reported that a meaningful educational process took place in the classroom. These preliminary results exemplify the two opposite poles: the educational benefits of well-conducted discussions of CPI versus teachers’ ambivalence towards such discussions. The findings will be further analyzed to produce a model that better explains the inter-relationships between the themes. For example, what are the patterns in the relationship between the triggers and the strategies? Which strategies produce positive outcomes, and which are associated with more negative outcomes in teachers’ opinion? How does the teacher’s position relate to the strategies used and to the outcomes?
Altavena, L. (2019). Teachers who talk politics in class could be fired if state lawmaker's bill passes. Arizona Republic. 20 December, 2018 Barton, K., & McCully, A. (2007). Teaching controversial issues... where controversial issues really matter. Teaching History, 127, 13-19. Bekerman, Z. (2016). The promise of integrated multicultural and bilingual education: Inclusive Palestinian-Arab and Jewish schools in Israel: What happens to children when adults find solutions to problems they do not have. New York: Oxford University Press. Blatchford, C. (2016). B.C. teacher fired for having the wrong opinion. National Post, 7 December, 2016. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2016). Conceptualising themes, thematic analysis, and other problems with Fugard and Potts’(2015) sample-size tool for thematic analysis. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 19(6), 739-743. Cohen, A. (2017). Between teachers' perception and civic conceptions: Lessons from three Israeli civics teachers. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 49(4), 542-560. Hess, D. E. (2009). Controversy in the classroom: The democratic power of discussion. New York: Routledge. Hirschl, R. (2018). Opting Out of “Global Constitutionalism”. The Law & Ethics of Human Rights, 12(1), 1-36. Knesset (2018). Basic Law: Israel- The nation state of the Jewish people. Retrieved from http://knesset.gov.il/laws/special/eng/BasicLawNationState.pdf Sep 25, 2018. Lieb, J. (1998). Teaching Controversial Topics: Iconography and the confederate battle flag in the south, Journal of Geography, 97(4-5), 229-240. Moore, J. (2012). A challenge for social studies educators: Increasing civility in schools and society by modeling civic virtues. The Social Studies, 103(4), 140-148. Oulton, C., Day, V., Dillon, J., & Grace, M. (2004). Controversial issues - teachers' attitudes and practices in the context of citizenship education. Oxford Review of Education, 30(4), 489-507. Parker, W. C. (2012). Democracy, diversity, and schooling. In J.A. Banks (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Diversity in Education (pp. 1-10). New York, NY: Sage Publishing. Paul-Binyamin. I., & Reingold, R. (2014). Multiculturalism in teacher education institutes: The relationship between formulated official policies and grassroots initiatives. Teaching and Teacher Education, 42, 47-57. Rossi, J. A. (2006). The dialogue of democracy. The Social Studies, 97(3), 112-120. Steinmetz, T. (2018). The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, Palestinian Israeli Pulse, PSR and Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research. Accessed March, 2018. http://www.pcpsr.org/en/node/678 Tannebaum, R. P. (2013). Dialogue, discussion, and democracy in the social studies classroom. Social Studies Research & Practice, 8(3), 99-109.
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