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Jewish Journal

Paving the Way for Anti-Israel Studies

by Gaby Wenig

October 16, 2003 | 8:00 pm

The woman in the cover illustration is called "Mother Palestine." Inside, articles by controversial Israeli historians Benny Morris and Avi Shlaim, and Palestinian historian Nur Masalha, tell the tale of a bellicose colonial Israel that displaced innocent Arabs from their homes in 1948, and from then on prevented peace by provoking and murdering Palestinians.

No, this is not a Palestinian Authority history text, but part of a curriculum being taught in regular Santa Barbara classrooms and paid for by your tax dollars.

The above items were published in "A Reader and Resource Guide Introducing the Middle East Into Social Studies Curriculum: A Workshop for K-12 Teachers," which was produced by UCSB in 2001 under a law called Title VI of the Higher Education Act. Title VI doesn't fund pro-Palestinian courses per se, but it does provide millions of dollars in grants to universities for "Foreign Language and Area Studies." There are some Jewish groups who feel that Title VI money is being used to teach courses and produce educational materials that are flagrantly anti-American and anti-Israel, and they are urging the U.S. Department of Education to employ some oversight for Title VI grant recipients.

Title VI is not a new part of the education act. The launch of Sputnik in 1957 had Congress convinced that the Soviets were ahead of Americans in education, particularly in areas of foreign languages and culture. Consequently, Congress voted to allocate money for tertiary and K-12 education in foreign studies, in the hope that Americans who knew more about the world could better serve America's national and international interests. Thus, as Centers for African Studies and Centers for Asian Studies were funded under Title VI, so, too, were Centers for Middle Eastern Studies.

After Sept. 11, Title VI funding increased dramatically, with the government spending more than $20 million to fund Middle East studies and language centers at universities across America. There are currently 14 universities in America that have Title VI-funded Middle East studies centers, including Harvard, UC Berkeley, UCSB and UCLA. In some cases, critics say, Title VI means that the government is paying for its own anti-government propaganda to be taught in universities and schools.

Take, for example, another UCSB publication, "The September 11 Crisis: A Critical Reader," which was distributed to K-12 teachers who attended a workshop held by UCSB's Middle East Studies Center. The workbook claimed that America was to blame for Sept. 11 because of its foreign policy and funding of Israel, conveniently glossing over Islamic fundamentalism.

Gary Ratner, the executive director of the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) Southwest Region, said teachers were eager to take these workshops because teachers need continuing education for advancement, and federal government funding of the workshops made them very attractive to teachers.

The AJCongress is one of several Jewish groups, including Hadassah, the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Santa Barbara concerned about Title VI.

"The problem is that the criteria for making these grants has nothing to do with the content of what is being taught," Ratner said.

Nevertheless, some people think that the Jewish groups are taking these and similar readers out of context. Stephen Humphreys, professor of history and Islamic studies at UCSB, said that the readers were approved by the Santa Barbara County Superintendent's office, and they were meant to provoke discussion and not be considered a comprehensive guide to the Middle East conflict. He also said that a pro-Israel professor's reading was left out of the guide because it was submitted late, but it was presented in the seminar.

"We feel that our seminars as presented to the teachers have been balanced and careful presentations," Humphreys said.

Still, Ratner and his organization have been lobbying Congress and White House officials to get some oversight on Title VI grants, or to allow local school boards to have input into seminars taught with Title VI money. In March, they petitioned U.S. Secretary of Education Rodney Paige complaining that these outreach programs were "biased and lacked balance" and asking that the law be amended so that the secretary could assess content.

In response to the petition, Ratner met with Sally Stroup, the assistant secretary of education for postsecondary education, who told him that the department is not authorized to monitor content.

But Stroup agreed to look into new laws that would allow the Department of Education and local school boards to monitor content of the teaching training sessions.

There is a Title VI reform bill that is curretnly being considered. In September, the House Subcommittee on Select Education and the full Committee on Education and the Workforce passed the International Studies in Higher Education Act. The bill, authored by Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), demands that Title VI academic programs reflect a variety of viewpoints, and it also establishes an independent advisory board to review Title VI-funded activities. The bill is now going to the House floor for a vote.

"All we ask is that it be fair and balanced and recognized as professional scholarship," Ratner said.

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