Tackling Mideast issues head-on

The Education Beat

Complexity: A graduate course at Baltimore Hebrew University probes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

May 01, 2002|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

HANA BOR asks her students to line up in the front of the classroom, right to left, forming a "continuum" on the question of whether Israel should withdraw from the cities it has occupied in the latest Mideast crisis.

Most students congregate to the right, taking a stand with Israeli authorities. It is not a surprising result. This graduate course at Baltimore Hebrew University is designed for teachers in Jewish schools. All 16 students are Jewish, and three hold Israeli citizenship.

With emotions crackling like a live wire on a wet street, it's hard enough to teach "current events" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in public schools. Many teachers ignore the subject. But in this course at Baltimore Hebrew University, the conflict is confronted head-on.

It's a new course titled "Teaching the History, Politics and Culture of Israel." Bor, an assistant professor of education, teaches it with Robert O. Freedman, a political science professor and former president of Baltimore Hebrew who has written extensively about Israeli history and politics.

"We're not out to convert anybody," says Freedman. "We're out to help [students] think for themselves about these very complex issues."

And in so doing, adds Bor, "we leave the emotion aside as much as possible."

That is hard to accomplish in a classroom full of students with friends and families in Israel. It's also hard when the enemy is so clearly understood and defined.

Or is it? One of the lessons of this course, EDUC 555.0258, is that issues are seldom as simple as they seem. Another is that a knowledge of history helps us understand its complexity.

Typically, Freedman comes armed with a sheaf of photocopied news clippings from the week's Middle East news. A professed news junkie, the professor reads several newspapers a day, including Arab publications. He and his students examine the slant on the news given by various outlets and discuss the uses of propaganda.

Freedman breaks up the serious conversation with humor. "Would you buy a used car from this man?" he asks of Yasser Arafat, whom he has met twice. Arafat, he says, "is an actor trying to keep as many people as he can together under the broad Palestinian tent."

One graduate student, who asks not to be identified, says her students at a Jewish school "are afraid of death. They're not familiar with war, and they know very little about what is happening in Israel. They're leading the good life here, so why bring conflict to this land where there are no problems?"

Bor leads the class in role playing. Students are asked to pretend they're advisers to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Their assignment: Using sound arguments with which they might disagree personally, advise Sharon on how to proceed.

Freedman says he hopes the students will model this graduate course where they teach. One of his students, Michael Goldsmith, 45, a Maryland Public Television videographer who teaches ninth- and 10th-graders at Har Sinai Religious School, says he's doing just that.

"I took one of Dr. Freedman's handouts in ... and we did some content analysis," he says. "It's good for them to see a media piece from outside the Jewish realm and discuss who the audience is and what the purpose is. ... These kids are sometimes more interested in the death of a pop singer than they are in major developments in the Middle East. That's not an indictment of the students. It's an indictment of the age."

Freedman says he and Bor are pleased with the course and hope to repeat it next year. They haven't handed out course evaluations, he says, "but I hear a lot of excited conversation in the parking lot after class."

TU summer camp to enjoy ultra-international flavor

Most summer camps with an international flavor concentrate on one country, perhaps two. But a new multicultural camp sponsored by Towson University concentrates on 18 countries, ranging from Cuba to Norway and Indonesia.

The nine-week program for grades three through eight features field trips, visits to ethnic restaurants, presentations in music and dance, storytellers and Peace Corps speakers.

Information: 410-704-4556.

School thwarted by 9-11 to have reverse exchange

Ridgely Middle School band's planned trip to Europe was wiped out by the events of Sept. 11, so families who were to play host to the Marylanders asked if their kids could visit in reverse.

But of course, said the Ridgely folks. Sixty-eight kids and nine chaperons from Wales and Scotland will visit families in Lutherville and Timonium next month.

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