How does NPS ensure the objectivity of classroom materials about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?
Objectivity can be difficult to define, much less achieve, as even content created with the intent of being completely objective will still reflect the perspective of the author(s). In order to reflect on the material used in our courses, we typically ask ourselves as well as students a series of questions:
- What material is presented and what material is left out?
- How much time is spent on one side vs. another?
- How many different voices are enough?
- What is the more essential vs. the less essential material to present?
- Which points of view are most instructive or revealing?
The way we navigate this challenge is not to vet material for neutrality, since all primary and secondary sources are written from a particular perspective. Rather, we look at materials as a starting point for discussion and exploration. Our students are taught to ask: Who created this material, and when? Why was this material or perspective chosen rather than a different one? What overt or subtle points of view might the creator be trying to communicate? How can this material be placed in the most useful context? What is fact and what is opinion?
Unfortunately, some have misunderstood the classroom use of some primary source material and opinion pieces to mean that we are actively promoting the content or point of view established in those documents. This is inaccurate.
Historical documents serve to illustrate the experience of an individual or collective group or to demonstrate a way of thinking that influenced a historical time period or world event. Some primary documents convey discriminatory and hateful rhetoric, such as the racism in a defense of American slavery or the antisemitism in Mein Kampf or the Hamas Charter. Sources that are recognized to contain racist, sexist, homophobic, antisemitic or other discriminatory ideas are presented with careful explanations about their historical origins and impact. Teachers strive to present all primary sources with rich and balanced classroom discussion to promote critical thought regarding each source and perspective. In each case, it is the discussion and critical thinking about documents that is the key to developing deeper learning for our students.