How One Teacher Discussed The Israel-Hamas Conflict With Her Students

How One Teacher Discussed The Israel-Hamas Conflict With Her Students

Due to the horrific tragedy that has taken place in Israel and its continuing aftermath, we are unveiling a special Beasley Best Community of Caring initiative focused on tolerance, respect, and empathy. For the next few weeks, we will publish features encouraging those values.

The conflict in the Middle East has dominated headlines over the past few weeks, and it’s likely to continue for quite a while. And, of course, kids are hearing about it. It’s one of the most complex and divisive issues of our time. So, how do you explain it to kids? How do you even approach the conversation?

Sari Beth Rosenberg is a history teacher at the High School for Environmental Studies in New York City. She notes that in her school, students were asking each other and teachers to identify as “Team Israel” or “Team Palestine.” Ms. Rosenberg notes that her school is very diverse and that the conversations in her classrooms tend to be more civil than conversations between older people. “They are used to being in a room full of kids from different perspectives, and they have to figure out a way to talk about stuff without hurting people’s feelings.”

So when she was asked about her “team,” she said, “Team Humanity.” (CNN included her response in a feature about teachers discussing the conflict.) “I always say that my opinion doesn’t matter,” she stresses. “I told them, ‘What happened on October 7 was absolutely horrific. And the bombing of civilians in Gaza is also horrific.’ One kid was asking, ‘What about the Palestinians? Do they have it worse?’ And I said, ‘Well, we’re not doing that here. We’re not going to compare different examples of how people suffer because we’re not competing. All suffering is bad.'”

She says that she tends not to share her opinions with her students. “At the end of the day, it’s not my place as a teacher in a classroom to share it. I think it’s inappropriate for teachers to share what they think.” And that’s true no matter what issue is being discussed.

“Even with January 6th, I didn’t tell them what to think about it. I presented them with images, what was said, what happened, and then they could tell me what they thought. I would never suppress that opinion in my classroom. That’s what teachers do. Good teachers know how to, and want to, create an environment where every kid feels safe expressing themselves and analyzing things.”

Ms. Rosenberg says that this is her goal. “You have to provide them with the critical thinking skills and the facts and the tools.” Those tools, of course, include websites. “Everything has a bias. But we point them to the least biased sites and teach them how to read horizontally — where you look up the author before you keep reading so you understand what their perspective is.”

“There’s this misconception that teachers are coming in with an ‘agenda.’ I’m not. I just want kids to learn and be interested in the world, in current events, in history. There’s this misconception that teachers are coming in to ‘indoctrinate.’ People who think that way don’t want teachers talking about anything that might be divisive or uncomfortable. But if you understand that teachers are not coming in with an agenda, then you should be encouraging teachers to have these difficult talks about these difficult, complex  subjects.”

She stresses the importance of that point. “They have to learn how to have those conversations now, because if they’re not doing it in kindergarten through 12th grade, then you’re not giving them the tools to exist as adults in a world where these things are going to come up. And then, they don’t learn how to have a rational conversation, where they’re listening to people and not just screaming over them, and not hearing other people’s perspectives. If you’re not doing that when they’re kids, then when are we going to teach them that? That’s why I have been outspoken about these bills that are issuing what are basically educational ‘gag orders,’ where teachers are scared to talk about uncomfortable topics like slavery and the Holocaust. These bills are not specifically saying ‘Don’t talk about slavery.’ Some of them are, but most of them are not saying specifically what you shouldn’t talk about. But the fact is that teachers are scared to bring up anything that might make a child — or really a child’s parent — uncomfortable. But then my question is, when are they going to have those discussions?”

Some might feel that these conversations aren’t appropriate until college. But as Ms. Rosenberg points out, “Not every kid goes to college. It’s expensive. So, they’ve never been given the skills or tools to engage with information that makes them uncomfortable. And then you just create a society of people who are just fighting with each other.”

Social media can help here. But as we know, it often doesn’t have that effect. She says, “I think that social media can be good if people can hear other perspectives and maybe have them shift the way they see things. But what it’s turned into is, it’s just people yelling at each other, and it’s not creating any common sense. It’s just further dividing us. So, I just that school is a place to learn to have these conversations. Especially public school, where anyone can go, from all different backgrounds.  We need to have conversations about all forms of hate in school, even though they might be divisive issues. The main focus and my main ‘agenda’ is: give the kids the tools and critical thinking skills, etc. to have those uncomfortable conversations in school so that we create a more comfortable environment for them once they’re not in school.”

This ‘90s Graphic Novel Can Give Insight Into Current Events

This ‘90s Graphic Novel Can Give Insight Into Current Events

Due to the horrific tragedy that has taken place in Israel and its continuing aftermath, we are unveiling a special Beasley Best Community of Caring initiative focused on tolerance, respect, and empathy. For the next few weeks, we will publish features encouraging those values.

Last week, we wrote about a graphic novel called Maus, a book that details one Holocaust survivor’s story and the generational trauma experienced by his son (the writer and narrator of the book). This week, we look at Palestine, a 1993 graphic novel by journalist Joe Sacco. As we wrote about Maus last week, this isn’t an attempt to influence how you think about the current conflict in the Middle East. It is instead intended to help you understand some of the reactions to it.

Palestine has been compared to Maus. Maus writer Art Spiegelman complimented Sacco’s work, saying, “In a world where Photoshop has outed the photograph as a liar, one can now allow artists to return to their original function – as reporters.”

Joe Sacco created the graphic novel based on an extended visit to the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the early 1990s. During that time, he conducted over 100 interviews with Palestinians and Jews. The book does take some time to attempt to explain the historical context of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. But it’s more powerful when it simply shows the lives of the Palestinians, who are too often dehumanized in the media. Sacco has said, “I came from the standpoint of ‘Palestinian equals terrorist.’ That’s what filtered down in the course of watching the regular network news.” This book definitely counters that harmful stereotype.

Regardless of all of the history that has led to the stories shared in the book, the unfair cruelty that Palestinians have endured is heartbreaking. And that heartbreak is compounded by the realization that the book was published thirty years ago, and the situation hasn’t gotten better (and in the past few weeks, it has gotten much worse). Regardless of your stance on the conflict, the human cost of this conflict is devastating. And this book brings that to light in a powerful and undeniable way.

‘Maus’ Bears Witness To The Past

‘Maus’ Bears Witness To The Past

Due to the horrific tragedy that has taken place in Israel and its continuing aftermath, we are unveiling a special Beasley Best Community of Caring initiative focused on tolerance, respect, and empathy. For the next few weeks, we will publish features encouraging those values.

If you have Jewish friends or you follow Jewish people on social media, you will likely see a good amount of them posting “Never Again” on their timelines. This is a reference to the Holocaust. Per the United States Holocaust Museum, “The Holocaust was the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million European Jews by the Nazi German regime and its allies and collaborators. The Holocaust was an evolving process that took place throughout Europe between 1933 and 1945.”

The museum’s website explains that “Antisemitism was at the foundation of the Holocaust. Antisemitism, the hatred of or prejudice against Jews, was a basic tenet of Nazi ideology. This prejudice was also widespread throughout Europe. Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews evolved and became increasingly more radical between 1933 and 1945. This radicalization culminated in the mass murder of six million Jews. During World War II, Nazi Germany and its allies and collaborators killed nearly two out of every three European Jews using deadly living conditions, brutal mistreatment, mass shootings and gassings, and specially designed killing centers.”

The Holocaust wasn’t that long ago: there are still Holocaust survivors living today. Regardless of how religious a Jewish person is (or even if they are not religious at all), they’re aware of antisemitism. They’re aware of where it ultimately leads. (And even non-religious Jews know that Nazis and antisemites don’t care how observant you are.)

There are, of course, lots of sources where you can learn about the Holocaust. But one of the most powerful ways to learn about it is through the graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman. It was a bit controversial when it was released because some felt that a comic book wasn’t an appropriate way to discuss the Holocaust. But the book – which depicts Jews as mice and Germans as cats – not only looks at the Holocaust. It also addresses the multigenerational trauma that survivors pass on to future generations.

In the book, Art Spiegelman interviews his father, Vladek, a Polish Jew and a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp. The story goes back and forth between the Holocaust and the family’s story in the years since, including the suicide of Vladek’s wife, Anja, in 1968.

Art Spiegelman first published segments of the story in a comics anthology called RAW starting in 1980, and the first six chapters were later published in 1986 as Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History and the second six in 1991 as Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles. The first volume has won a Pulitzer; The Washington Post called it “the greatest graphic novel ever written.” The Atlantic said, “Maus’s importance cannot be overstated: It shifted how people talk about history, trauma, and ethnic and racial persecution.”

There’s no doubt that it’s a difficult read. But it’s worth the effort if you’re looking to understand not only the Holocaust but how it affects people today, eight decades later.

This feature isn’t an attempt to influence how you think about the current conflict in the Middle East; rather to help to understand some of the reactions to it. With that in mind, next week, we will feature Joe Sacco’s graphic novel, Palestine.

The Importance Of Empathy

The Importance Of Empathy

Due to the horrific tragedy that has taken place in Israel, we are unveiling a special Beasley Best Community of Caring initiative focused on tolerance, respect, and empathy. For the next few weeks, we will publish features encouraging those values.

You hear a lot of people talking about empathy these days. We’re in a very divisive era: disagreements about national and international political issues cause sharp divides between friends, family members and colleagues.  Sometimes the chasm seems too far to cross. Sometimes, unfortunately, the chasm is too far to cross. But this isn’t always the case. And it’s empathy that allows us to see things from another person’s perspective. This may sound a little bit trite. It isn’t. Empathy entails opening your eyes (and heart) to someone else’s experiences. Those experiences may be completely unlike yours. Other people’s experiences may have led them to believe something that contradicts your dearly-held beliefs.

Empathy is not sympathy, although there are similarities (and some people use them interchangeably). Sympathy is when you care and concern for someone. You wish things were better for them; you hope they can be happier. For most people, sympathy isn’t too difficult.  It doesn’t require much of you. Empathy is different and it requires a lot more. Exercising empathy may entail considering ideas that run counter to those of the people closest to you: your family and your friends. You might experience peer pressure against expressing empathy for others. Having empathy can entail taking a hard look at deeply and long-held beliefs.  And it doesn’t mean you will abandon or change your beliefs. It only means that you are willing to examine why other people might have opposing beliefs instead of seeing them as “wrong,” or worse, “bad.”

As mentioned above, this essay was inspired by the conflict in the Middle East, but it isn’t specifically about that. However, as families gather in the next few weeks for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and other celebrations, there will surely be opposing opinions about any number of issues. The Middle East will surely be one of them. It might also be a topic that has come up in the workplace. If you’re going to go there and have the conversation, empathy might help to keep things civil.

Empathy helps us to avoid tribalism and absolutes. Dan Rather has been a voice of reason in American media for six decades. In his latest essay on Substack, “Anger And Sadness,” he says, “To mention both [the suffering and pain of Israelis and Palestinians] and feel pain for all is not false equivalence; it is an acknowledgment that human suffering will be the most enduring legacy of this conflict, as it is of all wars.”

He adds, “It is possible to ache for those on both sides of the divide.” Empathy allows for this, and it is more important than ever today.

How To Defeat Hate: Here Are Some Resources

How To Defeat Hate: Here Are Some Resources

Due to the horrific tragedy that has taken place in Israel, we are unveiling a special Beasley Best Community of Caring initiative focused on tolerance, respect, and empathy. For the next few weeks, we will publish features encouraging those values.

On June 17, 2015, a 21-year-old white supremacist opened fire in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. He killed nine Black worshipers, including the senior pastor and a state senator.

On Oct. 27, 2018, Robert Bowers entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh armed with multiple firearms, including three Glock .357 handguns and a Colt AR-15 rifle. Bowers opened fire, killing and injuring members of the three congregations. He also injured multiple responding police officers as they attempted to rescue surviving victims.

In March of 2022, a 28-year-old man was arrested and charged with hate crimes following a two-hour spree of attacks on seven women of Asian descent in Manhattan. It was an ugly year for New York as four Asian Americans had died by beatings in apparently random attacks.

On August 22, 2023, a California clothing store owner was killed by a gunman. Police say he tore down a Pride flag outside her business and made homophobic remarks toward her. The married mother of nine had confronted him about the flag before he shot her.

Some Statistics

Millions now live in fear of being targeted for their faith, race, ethnicity, and identity. In the Federal Bureau of Investigations report on hate crimes released in March 2023, hate crimes reported in the United States increased nearly 12%. The FBI said close to 65% of victims were reportedly targeted because of their race or ethnicity. 15.9% were targeted for their sexual orientation, and 14.1% were targeted because of their religion.

Over half of religious-bias hate crimes in America in 2020 targeted Jews, yet only 2% of Americans are Jewish. Jewish families worry if it’s still safe to wear a Star of David necklace in public. They worry if it’s safe to put a mezuzah on their front door. It’s common to see armed guards patrol synagogues and metal detectors greet members.

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Asian communities have seen a drastic rise in harassment, verbal abuse, and hate speech. A study by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism found that hate crimes against Asian Americans rose 339% nationally between 2020 and 2021. Women and the elderly were the most frequent targets.

What can you do? Look to the internet and social media for ways to combat prejudice. Take a stand against hate in all its forms. Become educated. Learn to recognize hate speech and research “facts” and stories before reposting. (The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions provides a great checklist called “How To Spot Fake News.” You can find it here.) Know what to do when you see an act of discrimination and how to support its victim. Teach your children about prejudice and discrimination.

Some resources

There are many trusted and well-vetted organizations to help you in this fight. It’s worth checking out their websites, and following them on social media.

Shine A Light is a purpose-driven platform for organizations, companies, institutions, and individuals to unite to fight antisemitism in all its modern forms. The platform offers resources for advocates and allies. This includes research data, educational material for children and teens, and information about antisemitism through the decades. They trace how today’s Jewish hatred was shaped by literature, culture, policies, and law in the past.

Stop AAPI Hate is a coalition dedicated to ending racism and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAs & PIs), working with other communities of color to advocate for equity and justice. Like Shine A Light, Stop AAPI Hate challenges harmful misconceptions about their community. They work towards social change by shifting how everyday people and lawmakers see them. At the same time, they offer resources for their community, with guides to knowing your rights through a fifty-state recap of local anti-discrimination laws, safety tips, and downloadable flyers.

For over 100 years, The Anti-Defamation League has fought “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment for all through research and advocacy,” per their website.  They offer educational materials, global data, an extremism glossary, and a hate symbol directory. The ADL is also a leader in battling online prejudice and hate speech.

The Sothern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is an agent for racial justice, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements, and advance the human and civil rights of all people, Blacks, children, women, the disabled, immigrants and migrant workers and the LGBTQ community. Their Intelligence Project tracks and exposes the activities of hate groups and other domestic extremists.

With understanding and education, hopefully, one day, we can defeat hate.