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The Student Newspaper of Jackson-Reed High School

The Beacon

The Student Newspaper of Jackson-Reed High School

The Beacon

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Social studies department creates lesson on history of Israel-Palestine

In light of recent events, teachers in the JR social studies department have developed a lesson on the Israel-Gaza conflict that is being taught during the current term. 

The goal of the lesson was to better inform the student body in a way that allowed students to personalize their learning based on their specific interests regarding the conflict and comfort level with the subject matter. Social Studies Teachers Ashley Bryant, Nicole Felmus, Margaret Pierce, and Betty Mfalingundi spearheaded the project, designing the lesson in a way that acknowledged that this topic is nuanced, sensitive, and can be viewed from many different perspectives.

“We really felt that as teachers [we] have the right to teach what we want in our classrooms, especially if it’s aligned with our content,” said teacher Nicole Felmus. “And we as social studies teachers are uniquely prepared to have these conversations and lead this type of lesson.”

The teachers said the goal of the group was to build a lesson that could be taught in any grade level and any class. Their motivation to create this plan came from students expressing curiosity about the current conflict.

“It was community-driven,” teacher Margaret Pierce said. “It’s not just us saying, ‘oh, we need to be teaching this.’ It’s the students coming to us and asking for resources and information, and wanting to provide everyone in the school with that opportunity.”

The lesson follows a basic structure familiar to many JR teachers: a do now, an overview of vocabulary, a timeline activity that examines the history behind and events leading up to the conflict over the Gaza Strip today, and stations covering different aspects of the longstanding conflict between Israel and Palestine and its impediments to peace. 

The social studies department collaborated to corroborate many different credible historical sources to consult when developing the lesson, teachers said. The content of the lesson includes the role of outside forces in the region, environmental impacts, and religious claims in creating the tensions.

“Our hope is that the majority of the department uses [the lesson] in some capacity to teach their students about this important topic,” teacher Ashley Bryant said. “That may mean teaching the lesson as is, adapting the stations to fit their students’ needs, or just using the timeline activity.”

The teachers said that taking this initiative risks provoking backlash, but they hope that with many members of the social studies department teaching this lesson, it will be effective.

“The main reason why we have the whole department trying to be on board with teaching this lesson is that there is power in numbers,” Bryant said. “It can be isolating being the only teacher who is trying to teach about this difficult topic.” 

The teachers took their framework and proposed the idea to administration with the expectation of support, knowing their rights as teachers to determine course content. The legal basis of the lesson falls under a Washington DC law granting academic freedom for faculty. Those rights include free inquiry, expression, transmission of ideas, and many others.

While the lesson itself is meant to encourage individual exploration of the conflict, the team of teachers hopes their efforts will promote collaboration outside of the classroom.

“We are trying to foster more of an environment where we’re willing to talk about different perspectives and challenge our own understandings,” Bryant said.

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