Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Middle East: The New York Times Hasn't Learned It's Lesson--And Now It's Teaching It

Out of curiosity, I signed up for a feature from The New York Times where they send out lesson plans for Social Studies classes, based on source material from NYT and its website.

So I checked out  The New York Times Learning Network for January 9, 2009--and here is a curriculum on how to teach about last year's Gaza war:

Overview of Lesson Plan: In this lesson, students consider the current conflict in Gaza and explore multiple perspectives on the conflict through an image- and document-based writing activity.
Exploring multiple perspectives--that sounds good.
Let's see just what resources The New York Times is suggesting in order to do that:

Resources / Materials:
-selected images from the slideshows listed below, printed out and posted around the room
-copies of the article “The New Meaning of an Old Battle,” found online at (one per student)
-copies of the handouts “Filling in the Gaps: The Gaza Conflict” ( and “Multiple Points of View” ( (one per student)
And what are the suggested sources for these pictures that are going to be plastered all over the classroom?
In preparation for the main activity, print out selected images from the following Times slideshows. Ensure that you have enough images (i.e., one for every two students). Use your discretion in selecting images appropriate for your particular group of students. Be forewarned that several of them are graphic and hard to view.
-Israeli Troops Move Into Gaza
-Israeli Troops Advance Into Gaza
-Israel Moves Deeper Into Gaza
-Fighting In Gaza Continues
-Seventh Day of Gaza Attacks
-Assault in Gaza, Day 12
-Casualties Near a School in Gaza

(Here's a couple of questions I could think of asking the students:
1. What do all of these pictures have in common?
2. What Israeli city near Gaza is not referred to once in this curriculum?)
One thing all those slideshows have in common is that none of them have a title implying it might have an Israeli point of view.
Another thing they have in common is that the only reference to Sderot--or any other Israeli city being attacked by Hamas--is in the context of Hamas retaliating during the war. There is no reference in either the article or the slideshow to the thousands of rockets that Hamas has fired at Israeli civilians over the years.

The written source material is no better: “The New Meaning of an Old Battle" is supposed to be the main article and there is no reference to Sderot. The two worksheets are a fill-in-the-blank assignment based on the article and a boilerplate worksheet to fill in points of view. There are other suggested resources, but those are optional--and the slideshows show that the focus is the war and not what led up to it.

As a matter of fact, if you do a search for a lesson plan that mentions 'Sderot'...

Getting back to those images:
Then, ask students to examine the images posted around the room. Tell them that they will be doing some point-of-view writing based on one of the images. Assign to each pair, or allow them to select, one image to take back to their seats.
At least there are a handful of pictures of Israeli cities hit by Kassam rockets--but all in the context of casualties during the war; there is no background on what started it.

While The New York Times claims that the goal is to have "students consider the current conflict in Gaza and explore multiple perspectives on the conflict through an image- and document-based writing activity"--it would be interesting to know how often they recommend teaching about a conflict or war without mentioning what led to it.

Based on what I've seen of The New York Times coverage of the Middle East, I imagine that using their lesson plan will only prove the adage: ignorance breeds ignorance.

But that is not to take away from some of the other, more complicated, issues that The New York Times does a great job explaining to our kids:

Carry on...

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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