Campus radicalism is easy to spot—and condemn. Attempts to justify the atrocities committed by Hamas, and in some cases to celebrate it, have caused crises at dozens of universities, prompting deep-pocketed donors to publicly withdraw philanthropic support and threaten not to hire graduates. Even some stalwart liberals have been shocked by the depth and virulence of campus anti-Semitism.
Such scenes might be fewer and farther between in K–12, but that doesn’t mean there’s not cause for concern about how the Israel-Hamas war is being taught and discussed in public-school settings. The blunt truth is that America’s K–12 education system is uniquely ill-suited to help students make sense of complicated world events and navigate contentious issues, let alone achieve some level of moral clarity about them.
When major news breaks, social media and education news sites fill up with well-intended advice for teachers on “how to talk to students” about traumatic events. As often as not, that advice is aimed at reassuring children that distant events do not place them physically at risk or fostering “tolerance and empathy,” not teaching history. “When approached by children with questions about the Israel-Hamas war, parents and teachers should center conversations on empathy rather than politics,” advised Harvard “global health” lecturer Claude Bruderlein in the Boston Globe. New York City schools chancellor David Banks tweeted that New York City would be “providing resources to our schools to facilitate discussions about the conflict and supporting our students in being compassionate global citizens.” A fine impulse as far as it goes, but surely it’s of equal public interest to encourage students to become well-informed global citizens.