Eyes on Israel: A Curriculum on Israel and the Media

by: Hillel Zaremba

Hillel Zaremba (hillelz@camera.org) received a BA in Oriental (Near Eastern) Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and a Masters in Religious Studies from Yale. He is currently a senior research analyst and developer of special projects for CAMERA.

Researchers may differ on how much the news media influences individuals but few would dispute that public perception is shaped substantially by journalistic reporting of events. Israel’s struggle for survival and acceptance as a legitimate, sovereign nation in a turbulent region is perceived by most Americans through the lens of the media.

For 25 years the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) has been at the forefront of examining, and alerting others to, the role of the media in covering the Arab-Israeli conflict. CAMERA monitors and analyzes reports in newspapers, magazines, television, radio, Web sites and other news sources on the Middle East. Its professional staff and representatives brief community groups and educate thousands of Americans about Israel and its neighbors. CAMERA’s outreach includes reporters and editors as well as TV and radio anchors and producers. Educators and other community leaders have contacted the organization with requests for curricular materials for middle- and high school students to help deal with media portrayals of Israel and the Middle East. In response, CAMERA developed Eyes on Israel, a series of curricular modules to be used by day school, community high or congregational school teachers to help students practice analytical thinking and develop a critical eye regarding what they read, see and hear about Israel in the media.

Eyes on Israel is designed as a tool to be used in varied settings and for varied audiences. While many teachers will probably come to Israel education with a strong identification with the Jewish state and the need for its citizens to live within recognized and secure borders, students may have other connections. To some students, Israel is Eretz haKodesh, the Holy Land promised to Bnei Yisrael; to others, it may merely be that far-away place where terrorists strike with tragic regularity. Still others, depending on what they have seen or read, may have an even more jaundiced view.

One of the chief goals of Eyes on Israel is to help students to explore media “texts” (articles, radio and television broadcasts, Web sites) and historical facts so as to encourage insight into the nature of the Middle East conflict and the way in which it is portrayed by the media. It is our belief that this approach will appeal to students’ developing need to question and probe, while providing them with the data necessary for understanding the challenges Israel faces.

CAMERA makes Eyes available free of charge to schools and other institutions because we strongly believe in educating the next generation about this vital issue.

Curriculum Structure

Eyes on Israel is composed of four modules, each designed to function independently, since not all schools are able to devote extensive time to covering “Israel and the Media” within their programs of study. The four modules are:

  1. Journalism and Its Responsibilities: An introduction to the core issue of this curriculum, touching on the obligations of journalists in covering complex issues like the Arab-Israeli conflict. Students explore journalistic standards and ethics and their relationship to reporting on Israel.
  2. U.N. Resolution 242: A Case-Study in Media Coverage: Students examine the background, content and meaning of UN Security Council Resolution 242, the diplomatic foundation-stone of Arab-Israeli negotiations and how it is described in the media.
  3. What You Can Do: Mindful of journalists’ responsibility to follow their own professional standards, this module teaches students how to promote balanced and accurate coverage of the Middle East.
  4. A Brief History of Modern Israel: A concise overview of the history of Israel from the late 19th century to the current day providing basic facts and events concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict. Full of richly illustrated materials, including an extensive appendix of recommended books and videos.

Each module is a thematic “tent” including a number of recommended lessons, with a least one overall objective for students to master. For example, in Module 1, Journalism and Its Responsibilities, one lesson focuses on the topic of journalists’ codes of ethics while another examines one of the central items of those codes, the responsibility to “pursue the truth.” Each lesson has a least one objective for students to master which, in turn, contributes to mastery of the module’s larger, overall objective.

Within each lesson there are a number of activity options (comprised of lesson plans, Student Handouts and Teacher’s Aids) providing various ways for students to approach the subject. Most lesson plans are geared to a 7-12 grade level with the teacher adapting material as necessary (see Age Suitability below). Most activity options include a Digging Deeper section appropriate for more advanced students or teachers who wish to pursue a subject further. Options offer teachers an opportunity to let students use a variety of abilities, including linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, body-kinesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal, to experience and explore issues related to Israel and the news media.

While activity options within each lesson were developed with a recommended sequence in mind, each lesson plan can, for the most part, stand on its own, without students’ use of a prior activity option. A Brief User’s Guide, laid out as a grid, is designed to help teachers see at a glance how best to use Eyes on Israel depending on time limitations and the subject areas upon which they wish to focus.

At the beginning of each activity option, the estimated time required to complete the lesson plan is noted, along with materials needed. All materials needed to conduct a lesson are provided; teachers only need to make the appropriate number of copies of handouts for their students. Each lesson plan is composed of a warm-up activity, followed by a number of suggested steps for the teacher to follow. Teachers are encouraged to adapt the lesson plans in any way they feel may be more suitable for their classroom setting.

Pedagogical Approaches

CAMERA used various pedagogical approaches in crafting Eyes on Israel. For example, Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences was used in the development of the lesson plans. As different individuals have greater and lesser strengths in the various intelligences outlined by Gardner, one way to encourage increased class participation and learning was to try to appeal to these various predispositions.

Another approach incorporated is based on “constructivism” which proposes that people learn best when they actively construct their own understanding of a phenomenon or a situation in conjunction with facts. Eyes on Israel tries to employ activities which enable students to explore a problem and come up with data, hypotheses, and solutions. Many activities are designed for use by small groups in which students assume the major responsibility for their own learning.

Two final, closely related methodologies that were adopted bear mention. The instructional systems design approach (ISD) is used extensively in business training applications and focuses on observable behaviors, i.e. what the student will do, rather than what the student will know, which is much harder to assess. A lesson plan which uses the ISD approach first determines the terminable objectives – the main “things” a student will display mastery of and only then fashions activities that will both enable and display attainment of the goal. In Eyes, assessment of students’ mastery of objectives tends to occur more through demonstrating critical thinking skills regarding media texts than via tests, even though there are options for such written evaluations in many of the lesson plans.

Similarly, “Understanding by Design” (UbD) developed by Wiggins and McTighe explains that since the fundamental goal of education is the development and deepening of student understanding, true learning only becomes evident when students are seen to apply knowledge and skills in a learning or real-life context.

It is our hope that by employing these various pedagogical approaches Eyes on Israel will be a tool that all students and teachers can use to their best advantage.

Age Suitability

CAMERA’s curriculum is designed to be used by students in a wide age range (7th-12th grades). Although the cognitive and behavioral skills of most students at the ends of this spectrum are far apart, simplified versions of some handouts, or vocabulary sheets to accompany others, help in adapting the materials to different groups. Only teachers working in their individual classroom setting can determine best whether their students have the developmental skills necessary to tackle the subject matter and concepts of each lesson.

Use of Technology

Eyes on Israel is presented as an educational CD that can be opened in either a Windows or Mac format on a computer. Each CD contains all the material needed to conduct a lesson from any and all of the four modules, with lesson plans, Student Handouts and Teacher’s Aids in PDF format. This allows teachers to print out as many copies of the material as needed by their classes.

Since Eyes focuses on Israel’s portrayal in the news media, the “texts” students examine run the gamut from traditional newspaper articles through radio, television and Web-based reporting. What this means, from a practical perspective, is that some materials are meant to be listened to, others viewed on a screen, others read from paper. In crafting this curriculum, we also recognize recent research which contends retention is best served by a combination of inputs as a supplement to reading. Thus we have tried to take advantage of some low-cost technologies available in the marketplace for developing more sensory-stimulating materials.

Since technology availability varies from school to school, we offer materials in a variety of formats. Thus, a particular Teacher’s Aid needed for an activity option may appear, for example, as a PowerPoint presentation on the CD, as a series of overhead transparencies or as a PDF document to copy and distribute to the class. In the cases of a video clip, there are no alternatives but this is indicated under the Materials section that opens each lesson plan.

When teachers insert the disk in their computers, they see an opening screen allowing them to choose the curriculum introduction or any of the four modules. When they select a module, a menu screen opens allowing them to select the entire module to read or print, or they may choose individual lesson plans and their accompanying Student Handouts or Teacher’s Aids. Teachers may choose to print all the materials in a module and put them in a binder or just the particular lesson plan they wish to use, along with its accompanying materials.

Evaluations and Revisions

The curriculum was piloted in approximately two dozen schools across the United States last spring. Pilot schools ran the gamut of day schools, Orthodox to Reform, 7th grade to 12th. While we did not hear from all those who participated in the pilot, responses from those we did hear from were encouraging. For example, a day-school teacher working with 11th-12th graders in an Orthodox setting wrote:

I thoroughly enjoyed using the curriculum. The information was clearly presented and readily understood…I was especially pleased with the activities. My students responded best to the mixed media presentations…

My principal dropped in for a surprise visit on the day that I did the unit on the Security Fence. She was very impressed by the PowerPoint Presentation and … delighted to see the students’ exercising critical thinking skills and evaluating the various sources that were quoted.

A 7th-8th grade teacher working in a Conservative setting responded:

Thank you for providing a fantastic curriculum to address journalistic integrity and advocacy for Israel… Kids in 8th grade are just beginning to look critically at the world around them and at how Israel is covered in the news. Public opinion can hold much sway in their lives. Thusly, the Oprah component was most fascinating to them…

In the several weeks we had to use the materials, I only wish we had touched more on other materials you included! More next time!

Currently, Eyes on Israel has been distributed to approximately 500 schools and educators across the United States, Canada and Mexico, as well as Israel, Britain, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. At this time we are still gathering data from these users.

CAMERA views Eyes on Israel as a work in progress and welcomes feedback from teachers in ways to improve and augment what we have currently developed. We have created an evaluation form appearing in the Introduction section which we ask every user to fill out and send us. Less formal observations and comments via phone or email are also encouraged. Once the initial phase is completed, we anticipate creating a dedicated Web site to allow for changes and revisions to the curriculum which teachers can then download as well as to provide a mechanism for educators to provide us with suggestions and feedback. Eventually, we hope to provide a space for student contributions as well.

The central goal of this curriculum is to help students become critical and educated media consumers, while focusing on the facts of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The developers of Eyes on Israel urge teachers not to rely exclusively on the media texts we have collected. Encourage students to monitor their newspapers, radio and TV with an eye towards accuracy and journalistic responsibility explored in these materials. (Methods and suggestions for how to do this are offered in Module 3: What You Can Do) You will not only be teaching students how to become lifelong critical consumers of the news, you will also give them an opportunity to “make a difference,” an appealing goal for many adolescents.