A controversial teach-in, endorsed by the Oakland teachers' union but opposed by the school district, was set to begin Wednesday, and parts of the curriculum have been revealed to be misleading and take a hardline anti-Israel approach.
Since a video appeared on YouTube last week and curriculum suggestions appeared in a Google doc, media stories have swirled about a pro-Palestine teach-in planned for today across the Oakland Unified School District. The teach-in, which is endorsed by the teachers' union, is being billed as a "counternarrative" to the prescribed curriculum that some teachers feel is too pro-Israel.
The shared curricula include lesson plans for children as young as four, and one particular alphabet lesson from an illustrated children's book called "P Is for Palestine" has gotten a particularly large amount of attention. It includes example words for letters like "I is for Intifada," and it teaches that Jesus comes from a town in Palestine — ignoring that the state of Israel exists.
A video posted to YouTube last week encouraging Oakland teachers to participate in Wednesday's teach-in suggests that teachers "apply your labor power to show solidarity with the Palestinian people." And it suggests that students can be taught to "think critically" about the situation in Gaza.
Many of the suggested lessons — which include suggested material like this Vox article presenting a "10-minute history" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and this animated YouTube video from Jewish Voice For Peace — offer fairly balanced perspectives.
But the teachers' union has referred to Israel as an "apartheid state," and not everyone sees the teach-in materials as balanced enough. There is a coloring book, for instance, called "Handala's Return," posted by the Palestinian Feminist Collective, that includes a character who says, "A group of bullies called Zionists wanted our land so they stole it by force and hurt many people."
"The District is aware that some educators want to teach their students about the situation in Gaza and Israel with a very specific view of who is at fault and why. This is not what teachers should be teaching, and the District made this clear to all principals and teachers,” the school district said in a statement. "It is the job of educators to teach students how to think critically, not to teach them what to think. We are reminding all educators of their responsibility to adhere to principles of education, and to keep their personal beliefs out of the classroom."
The New York Times picked up on the story of the teach-in, noting that it's unclear how many teachers are participating, and to what degree any of the suggested teaching materials will be used.
Mike Hutchinson, president of the Oakland school board, tells the SF Chronicle that "Having a teach-in to get more information about an issue is a positive thing," but he adds, "I really hope everyone is just careful around this issue."
"Our classrooms are not the places where this issue is going to be solved no matter where you fall on it," Hutchinson says.
State Senator Scott Wiener called out some of the materials being suggested in a tweet, saying, "It’s straight-up anti-Israel/anti-Jewish indoctrination."
"Today’s Oakland K-12 teach-in calls for the destruction of Israel," Wiener writes. "It lies about Jews, eg: Jews weren’t in Israel until 1948 (Jews have been there millennia) & only 'white Jews' are welcome (3.2M Jews of color live there)." (It should be noted that two of the suggested teaching materials cited above do not make these assertions, and a number of the lessons acknowledge the historic presence of Jews in the region.)
It remains to be seen what the impact of and fallout from the "Gaza to Oakland" teach-in will be. OUSD substitute teacher Judy Greenspan tells KTVU that the 100 or so teachers who were planning to participate in Wednesday's teach-in were being "intimidated" by district Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell.
Johnson-Trammell put out a statement Monday saying, "I want to again make clear that our expectation is that all educators, in every classroom across the District, take seriously their responsibility to adhere to principles of education, and to keep their personal beliefs out of the classroom."