Guidelines adopted by the Texas State Board of Education in November to teach about the Arab-Israeli conflict and the geopolitical history of the Middle East were a huge win for the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and the Jewish community as a whole.
Since June of this year, Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) staff has been working with the San Francisco-based Institute of Curriculum Services (ICS) to monitor the state school board as it updated the social studies portion of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards. TEKS determines the content of textbooks produced for Texas school districts, which are purchased and utilized by 34 other states. Therefore, this has an enormous impact on what students across the country learn about Israel and the Middle East.
The JCRC and ICS have worked collaboratively since 2009. The Public Education Initiative was launched as a grant-funded joint program of the JCRC and ICS with the goal of impacting the Texas textbook adoption process, known as Proclamation 2015. The initiative successfully worked with members of the education board and the educational community to ensure accuracy about Jews, Judaism and Israel in Texas educational standards, textbooks and classroom materials.
During the state review process, more than 1,400 edits to the new Texas social studies textbooks were adopted by the State Board of Education, representing 88 percent of total recommended edits. This means that 2.1 million students in Texas received more accurate information about these topics.
ICS, in partnership with the JCRC, exhibited and presented at the 2018 Texas Council for the Social Studies Conference in mid-October in Houston. Hundreds of social studies educators statewide attended the conference. ICS presented in three separate sessions at the conference, engaging over 50 educators on topics like Teaching the Arab-Israeli Conflict with Primary Sources, Environmental Challenges and Cooperation in the Middle East, and Teaching Religion in the Classroom.
Feedback from educators who attended ICS breakout sessions at the conference was extremely positive, JCRC officials said. Following the Teaching Religion in the Classroom session, one teacher shared that she loved the open discussions that were held about the case studies that were provided. The teachers who attended the Environmental Cooperation session appreciated the collaborative activities that they can use with their students. In addition, one of the attendees shared that the Teaching the Arab-Israeli Conflict and Peace Process session was one of the best presentations at the entire conference.
Prompted by the positive feedback received at the conference, several social studies coordinators inquired about offering professional development within their districts, and the JCRC is working with ICS to try to bring a two-day summer institute to the Dallas-Fort Worth area in 2019. The institute is an in-depth opportunity for teachers to learn about teaching the Arab-Israeli Conflict and Peace Process. Participants are selected by application, and receive a $300 honorarium for attending.
As the public affairs division of the Federation, the JCRC’s mission is to build understanding and generate support for Israel and public policy and social issues that are important to the Dallas metro area Jewish community. To learn more about the work of the Dallas JCRC, visit www.jewishdallas.org/JCRC.