From Multiple Choice to Multiple Choices: Rethinking Israel Literacy in Our Schools

Spring, 2016

Source: Hayidion Spring 2016


The most important questions for students to consider as a part of Israel education are not factual questions, but contested, debatable, and open-ended ones: What is Zionism? How can Judaism be enacted in the realpolitik, and how (if at all) should Judaism influence political and military decision making? Why is there a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and what might it take to make steps towards a peaceful resolution? What responsibilities does the Jewish State have for Jews outside its borders and non-Jews under its rule? What responsibilities do Jews outside of Israel have to Israel and its citizens? These are not questions that can be answered in an Israel quiz bowl or on a multiple choice Israel literacy test. They have been answered differently in different times and places, and by those with different political and religious beliefs today. It is the very multiplicity of answers that make up the rich tapestry of true Israel literacy.

Helping students understand and engage with these big questions requires shifting from a “multiple choice” approach to Israel literacy to a “multiple choices” engagement with challenging, debatable questions. In a “multiple choice” approach, Israel education is focused on teaching students the right answers to factual questions about Israel’s geography, population, government, history and culture. Teachers ask questions that have clear answers. Student success is measured by how much they know. Teachers have done their job well when all students have the same answers.

In a “multiple choices” approach, facts about Israeli history, society and culture are not an end but rather a means to understanding that Israelis and Jews have made critical decisions, affecting their self-understanding and ways of life, in response to the ongoing questions of Zionism and Judaism. In this approach to Israel education, teachers ask questions that have no clear answers and present challenges that have no simple solutions. Student success is measured by the extent to which they can develop articulate, passionate, well-reasoned and empirically substantiated ideas. Teachers have done their job well when their students give voice to a multiplicity of thoughtful answers.

A “multiple choices” approach to Israel literacy stands upon three interrelated, underlying principles: the notion that Israel has been shaped by multiple voices, multiple visions, and multiple values…

As with all good curricula, both the ideas and the examples of how they manifest can become increasingly complex over time. But all young learners are capable of—and deserve—a curriculum that focuses on the multiple choices that Israelis and Jews have made about how they live. For only by learning about the diversity of voices, visions and values in Israel can students come to truly understand and care about what happens there.

Read the entire article in Hayidion.

Updated: Mar. 16, 2016