For nearly a century, teaching American Jewish students about Zionism and Israel—an endeavor now commonly referred to as “Israel education”—has been a challenge that reflects the evolving relationship between American Jewry and The Jewish State. Traditionally, American Jewish educators focused on a heroic, sometimes mythic narrative about the founding, growth, and strength of the State of Israel in modern times. However, Israel’s increasingly complex political and social realities have challenged this idealized view of the past, both in the United States and in Israel. Scholars, educators, and American Jewish communal leaders now recognize the need for a more realistic and nuanced educational approach that addresses Israel’s controversies and imperfections as well.
This comparative case study examines how the intractable Arab-Israeli conflict influences teaching and learning in three Jewish day high schools in the US representing three different populations: Yeshiva High (Orthodox), Conservative High (Conservative), and Community High (pluralistic). Three research questions guided the work: What do students learn about the Arab-Israeli conflict and why? How do teachers’, students’, and the schools’ cultural, pedagogical, and/or ideological commitments regarding Israel impinge on the Israel curriculum presented in the classroom? How do teachers and students manage and respond to classroom discussions about controversial Israeli issues? The literature that informs this study derives from research on the teaching and learning of controversial issues and from the idea of intractable conflict, which occupies a central place in Israeli society. Data was gathered over a year-and-a-half of fieldwork, which involved classroom observations, multiple teacher and student interviews, and the collection of instructional materials.
This study demonstrates the pervasiveness of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the three schools. Findings suggest the location of an educator’s ideology on a continuum between an “ethos of conflict” and an “ethos of peace” predicts how that educator will teach about the conflict. This study presents three detailed cases of curriculum enactment and impact, thus providing glimpses into the complex relationship between schools’, teachers’, and students’ ideological and pedagogical commitments. It offers educators four common frameworks utilized in conflict curriculum, and identifies strategies teachers employ to manage controversial discussions in classrooms.