Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” And he was right. Education has the power to change reality for generations to come. It can help address environmental issues, inclusion challenges, promote gender equality and more.
Education doesn’t just affect children, it affects parents too. Researchers have found that not only can a child’s education influence the parents in the short term, but it can also change behavior across generations.
With this in mind, education is truly the “silver bullet” capable of advancing the values of equality, tolerance and inclusion. But what happens when this silver bullet is weaponized to isolate, discriminate and spread half-truths and hate?
Right now, anti-Semitism is on the rise in schools and across the country. The FBI’s most recently published statistics show that 58 percent of religious hate crimes target Jews. In the last year, anti-Semitic incidents increased by 21% percent.
The California Department of Education recently proposed the inclusion of an Ethnic Studies model curriculum to stop hatred and bigotry like anti-Semitism. The state has an opportunity to promote a change to this phenomenon. But the first draft of this proposed curriculum included bigotry that could be irreversibly harmful to the Jewish community and the Israeli-American community. The state recently announced that it would “substantially” rework this curriculum, and for good reason.
The writers of the first draft curriculum included people whose public media profiles contain anti-Israel statements. They should not be writing this critical academic document when they themselves hold prejudice against a minority group. Their breed of anti-Israel bias has been substantively linked to rising anti-Semitism on campuses.
Teaching bigotry in public, taxpayer-funded schools can have an irreversible effect. History has shown how teaching hate leaves a lasting impact. From 1996-2006, American and Swiss researchers conducted an in-depth study of the effect of the anti-Semitic propaganda spread in Nazi Germany. Over 5,000 German citizens from over 250 villages and towns across Germany were questioned about their views on Jews. German citizens who were born in the 1930s held the most extreme anti-Semitic views, even 50 years after the end of World War II. One of the authors noted that, “It’s not just that Nazi schooling worked… it didn’t go away afterwards.” The most effective way to influence the public is to change the minds of the next generation.
Education is the most powerful agent of change. It should be used responsibly, ethically and morally by people who want to promote a tolerant, inclusive and just society. We’ve already seen the most extreme and horrific example of what happens when you teach a generation to have prejudice against an ethnic minority. Now, we need to use education to stop discrimination and hate. We can achieve this together.
We must continue making our voices heard. We must make sure that California knows there is no place for BDS, anti-Israel content, or anti-Semitism within school curriculum. We must remain aware of how the revised curriculum will include Jewish-American and Israeli-American narratives. And we must work together to achieve this.