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“It falls to us, teachers, to practice with professionalism and integrity; setting aside the bias that all humans possess and teaching with equivalence. We have an obligation to pursue truth and to provide our students with a balanced approach to history.”

Ben De Jong, JCoSS

 
 
 
 
 
 
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"…it is impossible not to be biased but nevertheless we should be able to listen to the other side, and that’s what Parallel Histories is encouraging us to do from as neutral position as possible. And we need more teachers who are able to tackle these sorts of contentious topics in the classroom, so I hope that Parallel Histories achieves everything it has set out to do."

- Lord Turnberg, closing remarks. 


After the talks were concluded, the audience were invited to ask questions. Below is a transcript of the conversation which followed:

Lord  Turnberg:  Only  a  very  small  number  of  schools  teach  the  Middle  East  history  and  it’s  hard  for  exam  boards  to  introduce  new  subjects.  How  are  we  going  to  encourage  more  schools  to  adopt  this  as  a  topic  and  where  are  we  going  to  find  the  teachers?

Dr  David  Lundie,  Liverpool  Hope  University:  Teacher  education  is  in  crisis,  but  at  Liverpool  Hope  all  our  teacher  trainees  take  a  module  called  Wider  Perspectives,  although  there  is  increasingly  little  space  for  this  type  of  broader  thinking  in  a  narrowing  curriculum.  

Mohammed  Amin,  Curriculum  for  Cohesion:  There  is  a  natural  market  for  the  Parallel  Histories  product  at  schools  with  a  predominantly  Muslim  intake.  Those  schools  should  be  aware  that  their  pupils  care  passionately  about  Palestine  and  that  they  have  an  obligation  to  teach  it,  and  to  teach  it  properly.  The  same  could  be  said  of predominantly  Jewish  schools.    

Michael  Davies,  Parallel  Histories:  Although  the  government  has  promised  to  make  no  more  changes,  they  could  and  should  put  Israel  and  Palestine  back  on  the  school  curriculum.

 Ian  Black,  LSE:  I  appreciate  the  need  for  approaches  like  Solutions  Not  Sides  and  Parallel  Histories  but  what’s  been  missing  from  this  discussion  so  far  is  an  acknowledgement  of  the  enormous  imbalance  between  the  two  sides  today,  which  has  become  a  part  of  the  problem,  and  within  that  context  I  noted  that  the  JCoSS  school  trip  had  just  visited  Israeli  and  Jewish  sites,  and  while  the  LRGS  School  trip  had  visited  Hebron  and  Nablus  in  the  West  Bank,  neither  trip  visited  Gaza  where  2  million  people  live.  Surely  that  is  a  problem?  

Lord  Turnberg:  I  agree  about  the  need  to  include  the  voices  from  Gaza  but  on  a  practical  basis  it’s  so  hard  to  get  in.  

Sharon  Booth,  Solutions  Not  Sides:  At  SNS  we  ask  all  speakers  who  come  on  our  programmes  to  acknowledge  the  power  imbalance  between  the  two  sides  and  it  is  also  dealt  with  in  the  content  of  the  programme  itself,  but  in  a  way  which  is  meant  to  help  understanding  rather  than  score  points.  

Prof  David  Feldman,  Birkbeck:  The  study  of  History  is  the  pursuit  of  the  truth  about  the  past  which  is  different  from  the  pursuit  of  peace  and  reconciliation  and  although  I  applaud  your  initiative  should  you  be  worried  about  muddying  the  waters?  

Michael  Davies,  Parallel  Histories:  We  don’t  see  it  that  way.  Showing  school  students  two  competing  historical  narratives  which  agree  on  the  facts  but  not  their  interpretation  allows  them  to  see  how  History  is  constructed.  This  is  something  you  do  at  university  so  we  are  simply  taking  a  leaf  out  of  your  book.    

Dr  David  Lundie  Liverpool  Hope  University:  I  don’t  believe  that  academic  rigor  and  wanting  to  understand  the  strongly  felt  narratives  of  competing  groups  or  faiths  is  mutually  exclusive  at  all.  

 Imogen  Resnick  UCL:  My  question  is  for  Spencer  Lewis  and  Ben  De  Jong.  As  Jewish  faith  schools,  how  can  you  begin  to  attempt  to  teach  this  topic  without  a  pro  Israeli  bias?  

Ben  De  Jong  and  Denis  Antor,  JCoSS:  Our  school  trip  did  meet  and  hear  from  a  number  of  Palestinian  children  and  adults,  and  we  do  learn  about  the  conflict  in  Y8.  I  recognise  we  are  all  biased  in  some  way  and  the  best  we  can  do  is  be  aware  of  our  biases  and  work  to  be  as  balanced  as  possible  in  the  classroom  

Spencer  Lewis,  Headteacher  Yavneh  schools:  Schools  are  really  squeezed  at  the  moment  in  terms  of  what  they  have  been  asked  to  do  and  the  resources  they  have  at  their  disposal;  we  can’t  do  everything  so  we  have  to  consider  what  our  remit  is.  In  the  case  of  faith  schools  our  remit  is  to  teach  children  about  their  own  faith,  culture,  and  history.    

Sana  Knaneh,  LSE:  Is  all  this  just  a  study  of  the  status  quo,  in  which  case  should  we  be  doing  something  more  proactive  to  find  a  settlement?  

Lord  Turnberg:  We  won’t  find  a  peace  settlement  here,  all  we  are  trying  to  do  is  improve  understanding.  

Lord  Palmer:  How  far  back  do  you  go  in  your  historical  studies?  

Michael  Davies,  Parallel  Histories:  It  should  be  noted  that  the  only  GCSE  course  on  offer  runs  1945  to  1995  and  given  the  constraints  of  the  timetable,  that’s  where  we  have  to  focus.  However,  the  course  wouldn’t  make  any  sense  unless  we  gave  the  students  a  thorough  historical  background  and  that  goes  back  millennia.  

Nadine  Sibai,  UCL:  Do  you  consider  the  roles  that  media  and  language  play  in  the  conflict?    

Sharon  Booth,  Solutions  Not  Sides:  All  the  students  who  participate  on  our  courses  get  access  on  Twitter  or  Instagram    to  a  newsfeed  which  collates  news  coverage  over  the  previous  week  from  a  wide  range  of  media  outlets.  

Dr  Seth  Anziska,  UCL:  I  understand  that  faith  schools  may  see  it  as  their  duty  to  strengthen  ties  of  identity  but  when  their  students  arrive  at  university  they  often  times  say  they  feel  unprepared  to  think  critically  and  objectively,  but  my  question  was,  have  you  encountered  difficulties  at  immigration  in  Ben  Gurion  with  your  school  trips?    

Michael  Davies,  Parallel  Histories:  Israel  provides  a  list  of  the  passport  stamps  which  will  cause  a  problem.  Syria  was  on  the  list  and  we  had  a  couple  of  students  with  Syrian  stamps  in  the  passports  so  we  weren’t  able  to  let  them  come  on  the  trip.  

 

Lord  Turnberg:  Thank  you  all  for  coming  and  contributing.  This  is  a  very  difficult  subject  and  very  hard  to  get  agreement  on.  Fortunately  that’s  not  what  we  are  trying  to  do,  although  it  would  be  nice  of  course  if  it  happened.  The  aim  of  Parallel  Histories  is  to  educate  more  people  about  a  historical  and  current  subject  which  often  raises  very  strong  opinions,  sometimes  based  on  incomplete  knowledge.  Of  course  it  is  impossible  not  to  be  biased  but  nevertheless  we  should  be  able  to  listen  to  the  other  side,  and  that’s  what  I  think  Parallel  Histories  is  encouraging  us  to  do  from  as  neutral  position  as  possible.  And  we  need  more  teachers  who  are  able  to  tackle  these  sorts  of  contentious  topics  in  the  classroom,  so  hope  that  Parallel  Histories  achieves  everything  it  has  set  out  to  do.